As Kyle Larson prepares to clinch pole position for the first NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono on Saturday, he will be in a position to claim four straight Cup Series wins as he continues to build on a recent streak of success.
But a year ago, Larson competing in yet another NASCAR event seemed unfathomable.
Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing and suspended by NASCAR in 2020 after using a racial slur during a Twitch stream, leaving his future in the sport uncertain.
Since then, he has worked to correct his mistake, which he says caused probably “irreparable” damage.
Here’s a look back at why Larson was suspended and what he’s been up to since then.
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 by saying, “Can’t you hear me? Hey, n—” when he didn’t believe not that he was talking to all the pilots.
The backlash 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 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, ever be said and there is no excuse for it”, Larson said on Twitter. “I wasn’t raised that way. It’s just a horrible thing to say and I’m so sorry for my family, friends, partners, the NASCAR community and most of all, the African American community. I understand. that the damage is probably irreparable and I admit it. But I just want to let you know how sorry I am and hope everyone stays safe during these crazy times. “
While Larson stayed out of NASCAR for the remainder of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series, he competed in the World of Outlaws just under a month later after completing the sensitivity training necessary to compete in the event.
Larson wasn’t reinstated by NASCAR until October, when the racing body said he could return to the Cup Series on January 1, 2021.
While Larson continued to compete in track races over the summer, he spent time in other areas to educate himself.
According to an Associated Press report, Larson worked with Tony Sanneh, a retired football player and founder of the Sanneh Foundation, a non-profit organization that works with 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 really realized how privileged I was in the way I grew up,” Larson said in the report. “I never had to worry about anything and I guess I was naive. I did not fully understand that there were people struggling with different things on a daily basis. It was very impactful, 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 insult and to learn from founder Anthony Martin and his wife, Michelle. , on racial inequality in the history of the United States.
The report says 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 recently told NBCSports that he continues to work with Urban Youth Racing School and his own foundation, the Kyle Larson Foundation, which is dedicated to helping young people, families and communities in need.
“There were a lot of things I did in the last year just to educate myself and become a better person. I feel like the whole past year has been humiliating. I like this. I like to feel like I’m a normal person blending in, and that was a good thing to do, ”Larson told NBCSports. “It was always important for me to give back and educate myself. “
Back to NASCAR, sponsors come back
Speaking to NBC Sports, Larson said there was never a time when he didn’t think he would return to racing, but he believed a return to NASCAR might not happen. He said it wasn’t until around August or September that he started to think he might be able to return to the Cup Series.
“I probably enjoy going to a NASCAR race even more because I didn’t think I could ever do it again,” said Larson.
He continued, “But I was also expecting throughout last year, ‘Well, this is my new life, and I’m going to run 100 times a year, and I’m going to love it and do my better of it. ‘ There’s a lot of things you kind of think about. “My God am I going to have to house school my kids now?” There’s a lot of sacrifice and stuff with that and road travel. a fun lifestyle, but it’s really tough, so I’m grateful to be back in NASCAR.
NBC Sports previously reported in October that Henrick Motorsports signed Larson to a multi-year contract shortly after his reinstatement by NASCAR.
Now the sponsors are starting to return to the most successful driver of 2021 in the Cup Series. The recent report from NBC Sports stated that 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” thought Larson was ready for a second chance, and Mitchell said Valvoline felt like they were making the most of the job. new opportunity.
Larson said he felt he had learned a lot from the last year and that it had helped him become a smarter and better person today.
“Obviously I wish last year hadn’t happened, but in a lot of 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, family and other people I had never spoken to before, and it just helped educate me. It’s a great teaching time. for my children as well as for other children who are growing up.
“It came out more good than bad for sure. … Life has been terrible for a few weeks (after being fired and suspended), but as I walked through the lowest I realized there would be good coming out of it.