Former NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson posted a lengthy open letter detailing his experiences after he was fired from Chip Ganassi Racing in April.
Larson apologized for using the N-word in a virtual race in April. Larson was competing in the sim race broadcast on NASCAR’s site and uttered the word over the public radio. He was subsequently suspended by CGR and NASCAR and fired from his ride as the driver of the No. 42 car after his sponsors disassociated with him.
“Since April, I’ve done a lot of reflecting,” Larson wrote. “I realized how little I really knew about the African-American experience in this country and racism in general. Educating myself is something I should’ve done a long time ago, because it would’ve made me a better person – the kind of person who doesn’t casually throw around an awful, racist word. The kind who makes an effort to understand the hate and oppression it symbolizes and the depth of pain it has caused Black people throughout history and still to this day. It was past time for me to shut up, listen and learn.”
“The first lesson: The N-word is not mine to use. It cannot be part of my vocabulary. The history of the word is connected to slavery, injustice and trauma that is deep and has gone on for far too long. I truly didn’t say the word with the intention of degrading or demeaning another person, but my ignorance ended up insulting an entire community of people who, in the year 2020, still have to fight for justice and equality. When I look back at these last few months and see all the protests and unrest in our country, and the pain Black people are going through, it hurts to know that what I said contributed to that pain.”
Larson hasn’t raced in NASCAR since he was fired in April. He’s spent his time racing sprint cars across the country and has dominated the dirt track ranks. The 28-year-old has six Cup Series wins in over 200 starts and was widely considered one of the best NASCAR drivers under the age of 30 before he was essentially removed from the series.
Assuming Larson’s words in the letter are genuine, he’s experienced real change and growth since his departure from NASCAR. Larson was a part of NASCAR’s diversity program because of his maternal family’s Japanese heritage and has been the most successful participant of that program.
Larson back in NASCAR in 2021?
The letter is the most Larson has spoken or written publicly about the usage of the racial slur that got him fired this spring. Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver racing full-time in the Cup Series, was one of the few drivers who spoke out against Larson’s usage of the N-word. Two months later, NASCAR found itself moving forward and addressing its systemic racism shortcomings and it also banned fans from flying the Confederate flag at races.
Larson was set to be a free agent at the end of the 2020 season and was the most coveted free agent on the market because of his youth and talent. But the NASCAR free-agent market has mostly gone on without him. Ross Chastain is set to take over Larson’s seat in the No. 42 car in 2021 after Matt Kenseth’s replacement stint and drivers like Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski have re-signed with their teams.
There’s still one big team that doesn’t have a driver for 2021. Jimmie Johnson is retiring at the end of the 2020 season and Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t announced a replacement for the seven-time champion. Could Larson be in line for that ride?
Larson drove a Chevy for CGR, though he lost his personal services deal with the manufacturer after the usage of the racial slur. He’s been mentioned as a likely choice for HMS in 2021 and since he’s not currently in the Cup Series, Hendrick would be under no pressure to make an announcement soon if it wanted to hire Larson.
Larson made it clear in his letter that he wants to be back in the Cup Series next season. Is Hendrick or another team going to make that wish a reality?
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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