NASCAR announced Monday that it has reinstated Cup driver Kyle Larson six months after he was suspended from the sport for using a racial slur. He will be eligible to return to competition next season.
"NASCAR continues to prioritize diversity and inclusion across our sport," a statement from NASCAR said. "Kyle Larson has fulfilled the requirements set by NASCAR, and has taken several voluntary measures, to better educate himself so that he can use his platform to help bridge the divide in our country."
Larson, previously the driver for the No. 42 for Chip Ganassi Racing, was fired by the team and dropped by major sponsors after he said the N-word during a virtual racing event in April. He was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR and swiftly completed a mandated sensitivity training.
The driver was in communication with the sanctioning body over the course of his suspension for guidance on the reinstatement process, but he has remained out of the public eye until recently. He detailed his efforts to educate himself about the history of the word and racism in the United States in an essay he published to his personal website two weeks ago titled "My Lessons Learned."
Last week, Larson formally requested NASCAR reinstatement and appeared on CBS with correspondent James Brown discussing the steps he has taken to make amends to the African-American community, including hiring a personal diversity coach and working with the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia. He said that he would "fully understand" if he was never allowed to compete in NASCAR again, but with the platform, he could help teach others.
"I'm truly grateful to everyone at NASCAR and appreciative of their process," a statement from Larson said on Monday. "The work I've done over the last six months has had a major impact on me. I will make the most of this opportunity and look forward to the future."
The Observer reported Friday that high-ranking NASCAR officials, including the sport's Board of Directors, were reviewing the request in consultation with sponsors, manufacturers and other business partners. A decision was expected to shortly follow.
NASCAR drivers Bubba Wallace, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin have expressed their support for Larson's full-time return, which could come next season if he secures a ride with a team and its sponsors. On Monday, NASCAR confirmed that Larson is able to sign with a team before the 2021 season.
Many in the industry expect Larson to land in the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports, a Chevrolet-backed team. Chevy also backs Chip Ganassi Racing and the manufacturer's statement in April said it would "suspended its relationship with Kyle Larson indefinitely, as we do not tolerate this behavior." Larson's relationship with NASCAR, however, was also "indefinitely suspended" before he was reinstated, so a Hendrick return is not impossible. Larson, 28, has won six races in NASCAR's top series.
In 2013, driver Jeremy Clements was reinstated by NASCAR for only two weeks after saying the N-word in an interview, but NASCAR said recent events around the sport's push for social justice and inclusion have sparked a "new day" in handling similar incidents, meaning there will be more time from suspension to reinstatement.
"We are resetting the road back for these types of violations," a NASCAR spokesperson told The Observer on Friday. "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)."
NASCAR also outlined a unique set of ongoing requirements for Larson to fulfill as part of the reinstatement process. Those requirements include speaking engagements at NASCAR's grassroots level and within the esports and dirt racing communities, as well as training with RISE, a nonprofit that addresses racism and inclusion in sport, through 2023. He has also agreed to serve as a coach and mentor for the Urban Racing School and Rev Racing.
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