CHARLOTTE, N.C. – NASCAR is in the process of reviewing a request by Cup driver Kyle Larson to return to competition after he was suspended indefinitely from the sport in April for using a racial slur during an iRacing event. A NASCAR spokesperson told the Observer Friday that Larson requested reinstatement earlier this week and that the leadership team is communicating with Larson about his potential return.
"We're also talking to our stakeholders," the spokesperson said. "Sponsors, OEM partners, things like that, because this is a decision that's high-profile. We want to make sure that any feedback they bring to us, we'll take that into account."
The core group reviewing the request includes NASCAR's five-member Board of Directors, which includes NASCAR president Steve Phelps. Executive vice president and chief marketing officer Jill Gregory, vice president of diversity and inclusion Brandon Thompson and vice president of racing operations John Bobo are also part of the leadership team reviewing the request.
The spokesperson declined to comment on a timeline for if or when Larson's request would be approved, but according to Sports Business Journal, approval is expected in the coming weeks.
Larson, formerly the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, was fired by his team and dropped by major sponsors McDonald's and Credit One Bank, as well as team manufacturer Chevrolet, after he was recorded on a public channel saying the racial slur while communicating with his spotter during a virtual racing event.
The 28-year-old driver has said he hopes to make a return to NASCAR. He detailed his work to make amends to the African-American community and to educate himself on the use of the word, which he deemed, "is not mine to use," in a personal essay he published to his website last week. He spoke with CBS correspondent James Brown in his first television interview Friday about his use of the word and subsequent learning process.
"What I said was extremely hurtful," Larson told Brown. "And I would fully understand if I was never allowed to race another NASCAR race again, but I hope I will get that opportunity to race with them."
"With that platform I think I could do some good things," Larson said.
NASCAR confirmed that Larson quickly completed the mandated sensitivity training issued through Dr. Richard Lapchick's Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. In addition to the course, Larson hired a personal diversity coach, Doug Harris of The Kaleidoscope Group, as well as traveled to Minnesota to work with retired professional soccer player Tony Sanneh and his charity in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. He also met with members of the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia to learn about the "the ugly history of racism and derogatory slurs," Larson wrote in his essay.
He also said that he spoke with Black athletes such as Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, golfer Harold Varner III, motorsports drivers Bubba Wallace, J.R. Todd and Willy T. Ribbs about their experiences with racism.
Some in the motorsports community, including drivers Wallace, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, as well as former full-time Cup driver and team owner Tony Stewart, have expressed their forgiveness and support of Larson.
Driver Jeremy Clements was reinstated by NASCAR two weeks after using the same racial slur in an interview with a reporter in 2013, but the NASCAR spokesperson said it's a "new day" regarding this type of violation of its member conduct guidelines and that there will be more time from suspension to reinstatement.
"We are resetting the road back for these types of violations," the spokesperson said. "And that's due to our own internal policy of being pretty up front that we need to do better in this area (of diversity and inclusion)."
There is no NASCAR rule preventing Larson from discussing employment opportunities with teams, but the progression would be reinstatement by the sanctioning body followed by a team announcement if he were to return to competition for the 2021 season.
There are currently a handful of open seats with top teams, and Larson, with six career wins in the highest series, is considered a competitive talent. He has won over 40 sprint car races, which he has continued to run since his exit from NASCAR this season.
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