As Kyle Larson prepares to take pole position for the first race of the NASCAR Cup Series in Pocono on Saturday, he will be in position for four consecutive Cup Series victories as he continues to build on a recent streak.
But a year ago, Larson competing in another NASCAR event seemed unfathomable.
Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing and suspended by NASCAR in 2020 after he used a racial slur during a Twitch broadcast, leaving his future in the sport in doubt.
Since then, he has worked to correct his mistake, which he said left damage that was probably “irreparable.”
Here’s a look back at why Larson was suspended and what he’s done since.
What did Kyle Larson say to get suspended?
In April 2020, during an iRacing event on the game streaming platform Twitch, Larson used a racial slur and said, “Can’t you hear me? Hey n-” when he didn’t think he was talking to all the drivers.
The reaction was swift. He was suspended by NASCAR, fired by Chip Ganassi Racing, and all of his sponsors ended their relationship with him. He publicly apologized for the incident and apologized to Bubba Wallace, one of the few black drivers in motorsports, with whom he had several conversations about speaking.
“Last night, I made a mistake and said a word that should never be said and there is no excuse for that.” Larson said on Twitter. “I was not raised that way. It is terrible to say and I am very sorry for my family, my friends, my partners, the NASCAR community and especially the African American community. I understand that the damage is probably irreparable and I acknowledge that. But only. I want everyone to know how sorry I am and I hope everyone is safe during these crazy times. “
While Larson remained out of NASCAR for the remainder of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series, he competed in the World of Outlaws just under a month after completing the sensitivity training necessary to compete in the event.
Larson was not reinstated by NASCAR until October, when the racing body said he could return to the Cup on January 1, 2021.
While Larson continued to participate in dirt track racing over the summer, he spent time in other areas to educate himself.
According to a Associated Press report, Larson worked with Tony Sanneh, a retired soccer player and founder of the Sanneh Foundation, a nonprofit organization serving youth in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Larson worked with Sanneh to deliver and sort food a few weeks before George Floyd’s murder, then returned shortly after to see the site where Floyd was killed and visit areas where there had been protests, according to the report.
“I never realized how privileged I was in the way I grew up,” Larson said in the report. “I never really had to worry about anything and I guess I was naive. I didn’t fully understand that there are people who struggle with different things on a daily basis. It was very shocking, very moving. “
Larson also returned to Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia, where he had previously spent time volunteering, according to the report, to apologize face-to-face for his use of the insult and learn from founder Anthony Martin and his wife, Michelle. , on racial inequality in the history of the United States.
The report said Martin found Larson’s efforts to be genuine. They came from him wanting to learn from his mistake, not just an attempt to rebuild his public image.
Larson told NBCSports recently which continues to work with Urban Youth Racing School and its own foundation, the Kyle Larson Foundation, which is dedicated to helping youth, families and communities in need.
“I did a lot of things last year just to educate myself and become a better person. I feel like the entire past year was a humbling experience. I like that. I like to feel like I’m a normal person who just mixes in, and that was a good thing to do, “Larson told NBCSports.” It was always important to me to give back and just educate myself. “
Return to NASCAR, sponsors return
Speaking to NBC Sports, Larson said there was never a time when he didn’t think he would return to racing, but he did believe that a return to NASCAR might not happen. He said it wasn’t until August or September that he began to think he could return to the Cup Series.
“I probably appreciate going to a NASCAR race even more because I didn’t think I’d do it again,” Larson said.
He continued: “But I was also hoping for the whole of last year, ‘Well, this is my new life, and I am going to compete 100 times a year, I will love it and do the best of it. There are many things you think about. ‘God, am I going to have to homeschool my kids now?’ There are a lot of sacrifices and things like that and traveling from one side of the road to the other. It is a fun lifestyle, but really difficult. So I’m grateful to be back in NASCAR. “
NBC Sports had previously reported In October, Henrick Motorsports signed Larson to a multi-year contract shortly after NASCAR reinstated him.
Now, sponsors are beginning to return to the most victorious driver of 2021 in the Cup Series. A recent report from NBC Sports said Larson received his Valvoline sponsorship again ahead of the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway. Valvoline CEO Sam Mitchell said the company felt that a “vast majority of people” believed Larson was ready for a second chance, and Mitchell said Valvoline felt he was making the most of the new opportunity.
Larson said she felt she had learned a lot from the past year and that it has helped her become a better and smarter person today.
“Obviously I wish last year didn’t happen, but in many ways I’m glad it happened because it helped me grow as a person,” Larson said. “It brought me so much closer to my friends, my family, and others I have never talked to before, and it helped me educate myself. It is a great teaching moment for my children and other growing children.
“There were certainly more good things than bad. … Life was terrible for a few weeks (after being fired and suspended), but when I got over the low end, I realized that it was going to come out okay. “
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.