More than four months have passed since Kyle Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing and suspended indefinitely by NASCAR after he was caught saying the N-word while racing in an online video game.
Now, after reverting to his roots in dirt track racing and dominating the lower series with an absurd 31 wins over the past few months, Larson is eying a return to the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I was just ignorant. And immature,” Larson told The Associated Press on Wednesday, the first interview in which he has addressed the racial slur he used in April. “I didn’t understand the negativity and hurt that comes with that word. That’s not a word that I had ever used. I grew up in Northern California, all I ever did was race and that’s all I was focused on. There’s probably a lot of real-life experiences I didn’t get to have and I was just ignorant to how hurtful that word is.”
Added Larson: “NASCAR is where I always wanted to be and I do believe I proved I can compete at the Cup level. I’d like to get back there and we’ll see if there’s a way. All I can do is continue to improve myself and let my actions show who I truly am.”
MORE: The Kyle Larson suspension timeline
Larson has met all of NASCAR’s requirements for reinstatement, which included a sensitivity training course. He told the AP that he has not yet officially requested reinstatement. Fox Sports reported Wednesday that “NASCAR has discussed with Larson about being reinstated and the procedures, but Larson has not formally requested.” Larson remains indefinitely suspended.
The AP reported that Larson has gone beyond NASCAR’s sensitivity training requirements. He visited Tony Sanneh, a retired soccer player who has a youth empowerment foundation in Minneapolis, and he returned after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. Larson connected with Max Siegel, the CEO of USA Track & Field who is involved with NASCAR’s diversity program, and continued his work with the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia. He also hired a personal diversity coach.
“I never really realized how privileged I was in the way I grew up,” Larson told the AP. “I never had to really worry about anything and I guess I was naive. I didn’t have a full understanding that there are people struggling with different things on a daily basis. It was very impactful, very moving.”
The ball is now in NASCAR’s court regarding when and if Larson will be reinstated. There are 13 races left in the 2020 Cup Series season, but race teams are currently working to fill seats in their cars for the 2021 season. Multiple drivers with rides in the Cup Series for 2020 are in contract years.
For example, Matt Kenseth is unlikely to return to drive the No. 42 CGR Chevy in 2021 after he replaced the fired Larson in April. Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver, reportedly has been offered that seat.
But whether a race team and sponsors will forgive Larson and welcome him back is irrelevant if he is not reinstated by NASCAR.
“Kyle has done everything NASCAR has asked him to do,” retired NASCAR driver and current race team owner Tony Stewart told Motorsport.com. “I think there are a lot of things besides what NASCAR has asked him to do that he’s done on his own to try to make this right and to try to do the right thing.
“Ultimately, NASCAR has to be comfortable with that. It’s going to be their decision if and when he comes back.”
Credit: Source link