Wanting again on Kyle Larson’s suspension from NASCAR as victories, sponsors are returning
As Kyle Larson prepares to take pole position for the first NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono on Saturday, he will be able to take four Cup Series wins in a row while continuing on his most recent hot Series builds up.
But a year ago, Larson seemed unfathomable at another NASCAR event.
Larson was fired from Chip Ganassi Racing and banned from NASCAR in 2020 after using a racial slur during a Twitch stream that put his future in the sport in question.
Since then he has worked to make amends for what he said left behind what was likely “irreparable” damage.
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, Larson used a racial slur during an iRacing event on the game streaming platform Twitch and said, “You can’t hear me? Hey, n— “when he didn’t think he was talking to any of the drivers.
The backlash was quick. He was suspended from NASCAR, fired from 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 motorsport, with whom he had several conversations about his use of the word.
“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 wasn’t brought up that way. It is just a terrible thing to say and I am very sorry to my family, my friends, my partners, the NASCAR community, and especially the African American community. I understand that the damage is likely.” is irreparable and “I stand by it. But I want you all to know how sorry I am and I hope everyone stays safe during these crazy times. “
While Larson didn’t stay with NASCAR for the remainder of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series, he entered the World of Outlaws just under a month later after completing the sensitivity training required for the race.
Larson wasn’t reinstated by NASCAR until October when the racing panel said he could return to the Cup streak on January 1, 2021.
While Larson continued to compete in dirt track races during the summer, he spent time in other areas for further training.
According to an Associated Press report, Larson worked with Tony Sanneh, a retired soccer player and founder of the Sanneh Foundation, a nonprofit that works with youth in the greater Twin Cities area. Larson worked with Sanneh to deliver and sort groceries a few weeks before George Floyd’s murder, and then returned a short time later to see the location where Floyd was killed and to visit areas where it was had protested, according to the report.
“I never really realized how privileged I grew up,” said Larson in the report. “I never really had to worry and I guess I was naive. I didn’t fully understand that there are people who struggle with different things every day. It was very powerful, very moving. “
Larson also returned to Philadelphia’s Urban Youth Racing School, where he had previously volunteered, the report said, to apologize face-to-face for his use of the bow and from founder Anthony Martin and his wife Michelle to learn about racial inequality in United States history.
The report said Martin found Larson’s efforts real. They came because he wanted to learn from his mistake and not just try to restore his public image.
Larson recently told NBCSports that he continues to work with the Urban Youth Racing School and his own foundation, the Kyle Larson Foundation, which is dedicated to helping youth, families and communities in need.
“Last year I did a lot to educate myself and make myself a better person. I feel like all of last year has been humbling. I like it. I like to feel like a normal person who just fits in and that was a good thing, “Larson told NBCSports.” It was always important to me to give something back and just keep learning. “
Back to NASCAR, sponsors are coming back
Speaking to NBC Sports, Larson said that there was never a time when he didn’t think he was going back to racing, but he believed a return to NASCAR couldn’t happen. He said that it wasn’t until August or September that he began to believe that he might get back to the Cup streak.
“I probably appreciate going to a NASCAR race even more because I didn’t think I would ever do it again,” said Larson.
He continued, “But last year I kind of expected, ‘Well, this is my new life and I’m going to race 100 times a year and I’m going to love it and make the most of it.’ There is a lot to think about. “Gosh, do I have to homeschool my kids now?” There’s a lot of sacrifice and so on and traveling up and down. It’s a fun lifestyle, but it’s really tough. So I’m grateful to be back at NASCAR. “
NBC Sports previously reported in October that Henrick Motorsports signed Larson to a multi-year deal shortly after being reinstated by NASCAR.
Now sponsors are starting to return to the winning rider of 2021 in the Cup series. The latest report from NBC Sports said that Larson got his Valvoline sponsorship again in front of the Ally 400 on the Nashville Superspeedway. Valvoline CEO Sam Mitchell said the company feels a “vast majority of the people” Larson is ready for a second chance, and Mitchell said Valvoline feels they are making the most of the new opportunity.
Larson said he felt he learned a lot over the past year and that it helped him be a smarter and better person today.
“Of course I wish last year hadn’t happened, but in many ways I’m glad it did because it helped me grow as a person,” said Larson. “It brought me a lot closer to my friends and family and other people I had never spoken to, and it just helped me develop myself further. It’s a great teaching moment for my kids and other kids growing up.
“There was certainly more good than bad there. … Life was horrible for a couple of weeks (after I got fired and suspended), but when I got through the worst I realized it was going to be good. “
Hendrick Motorsports announced on July 14, 2021 that Larson had received a one-year contract extension until 2023.
The team also announced that its corporate brand, Hendrick Automotive Group, will be the majority sponsor of Larson and the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Team for 35 races during the 2022 and 2023 Cup Series seasons. HendrickCars.com will sponsor Larson at all non-NASCAR events.
“The chance to renew my contract with Hendrick Motorsports and to have such a great sponsor with HendrickCars.com is not a given for me,” said Larson in the press release. “I have the feeling that I am racing for the best team and the best sponsors in the sport. Knowing that our on-track performance has a positive impact on off-track business is very important because I want to give back the incredible support they have Everyone at Hendrick Automotive Group made me feel part of their team and it’s exciting to represent a company that loves racing as much as I do. I have the feeling that we are only scratching the surface of the possible. “
Hendrick Motorsports said in the press release that HendrickCars.com has seen traffic spikes as a result of sponsoring with Larson and the # 5 team. Five of the six busiest days this year are related to Larson. Four of them were on race days of the Cup Series where he won the race or led the most laps.
Larson enjoyed a 2021 breakout campaign. His four wins (as of July 14th) are more than any other driver and he is level on points with 11 top five finishes (Denny Hamlin) and 14 top 10 finishes (Hamlin, Kyle Busch, William Byron and Kevin Harvick) . He led 1,441 laps, almost double Hamlin’s 770 laps in second place.
The extension ensures that Larson will continue to race with his teammates Byron, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott until at least the 2022 season.