The night of Kyle Larson’s incident I remember saying “Oh boy, someone in NASCAR is in deep shit” and she said “Did they say the N-word?” Shortly after the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, back in mid-April Kyle Larson proved that the negative connotations associated with NASCAR were true when he spouted a racial epithet over his online-racing comms as easily as if he were saying hello. And just six months after losing his team, sponsors, and NASCAR sanctioning he’s been awarded a reinstatement of his license beginning on January 1, 2021.
The pandemic that kicked all of this off by pushing NASCAR racers into online motorsport via iRacing isn’t even over, but Larson’s mea culpa has been accepted and his sentence has been commuted. It would seem that sitting out a season of NASCAR Cup to instead race in lower-tier World of Outlaws has been enough of a penalty for him, and the sport is ready to welcome him back with open arms. While away from NASCAR competition Larson competed in 83 open-wheel dirt track events, winning 42 of them.
While Larson initially brushed off the incident as simple ignorance of the hate and pain intrinsic with use of that word, he’s spent a considerable amount of time outside of the race car attempting to educate himself and learn the true meaning of his actions. NASCAR has had to make a decision as to whether it was willing to bring Larson back to its series, and it has concluded that he has done enough to make up for his actions.
The terms of reinstatement are not without stipulation or continued personal development, however. In order to continue his reinstatement with the series, Larson will need to attend several speaking engagements from now until 2023 where he will share his learning experience with NASCAR, e-sports, and dirt track racing communities. “He will also be required to take further training and engagement classes through 2023, plus continue his work with the Urban Youth Racing School (UYRS) and Rev Racing, providing coaching and mentorship for those initiatives,” says NASCAR.
Larson is clearly a talented young man, but has he learned his lesson? According to NASCAR he has. Now we’ll have to wait and see which teams will be willing to take a gamble on Larson to drive in 2021. Clint Bowyer’s seat has already been filled (wisely) by Chase Briscoe. That leaves pretty much only the Richard Petty Motorsports seat open for him to take, which was recently vacated by NASCAR’s only Black driver, Bubba Wallace. And they say irony is dead.
Being reinstated by NASCAR doesn’t necessarily mean any team has to take him, or that he will be able to get a ride in the top tier Cup series by any means. Certainly that’s what he’ll be aiming for, having previously occupied a high-profile Chip Ganassi Racing seat. But it’s possible that while he’s earned NASCAR’s trust again, the fans, sponsors, and teams won’t be so quick to forgive and forget.