Kyle Larson entered 2020 hoping to compete for a NASCAR Cup Series championship. The 28 year old already had six wins under his belt at the highest level of racing and was considered by many to be one of the best young talents in the sport.
All of that was seemingly erased when Larson uttered a racial slur towards a colleague during an iRacing event on Easter Sunday. Larson was having trouble hearing his spotter and used the n-word to get his attention. The incident was recorded and then broadcasted to the rest of the world.
Within days Larson was dropped by his sponsors and released by Chip Ganassi Racing in a free agent year where he was expected to cash in big. After a few days, Larson issued an apology on his now-disabled Twitter account and went into the shadows.
"I was just ignorant. And immature. I didn't understand the negativity and hurt that comes with that word," Larson told The Associated Press. "That's not a word that I had ever used. I grew up in Northern California, all I ever did was race and that's all I was focused on. There's probably a lot of real-life experiences I didn't get to have and I was just ignorant to how hurtful that word is."
Per FOX Sports, NASCAR is reviewing the possibility of reinstating Larson, although he has not yet requested reinstatement. However in order to be reinstated, he was tasked with undergoing sensitivity training, which he has already completed.
In addition to sensitivity training, Larson also reached out to soccer star Tony Sanneh, who has a foundation that works on youth development and empowerment in the Minneapolis area. Sanneh then connected Larson with former Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who has a foundation of her own. Larson also spoke with Max Siegel, the CEO of USA Track & Field, who has ties to NASCAR's diversity program which Larson, an Asian-American, came up through.
"I just felt like there was more that I needed to do — and I wanted to show through actions that I am a better person than I was before," Larson said to the AP. "The sensitivity training was great but I felt like it was just a starting point to what else I needed to do."
Larson hasn't been out of racing entirely, as he's been on the dirt racing circuit quite frequently. More often than not, when Larson hits the dirt, he wins. 31 times to be exact since his exile from NASCAR.
As NASCAR free agency talk heats up, some speculate that Larson could land a ride with fellow dirt racer Tony Stewart's team. Stewart-Haas Racing could have up to two vacancies to fill next season.
"NASCAR has gotta get off their ass and do the right thing and give this kid an opportunity to get back in a car," Stewart said in an exclusive interview with CBS Sports. "I think he's paid his penalty and he's served the penalty long enough where you know we've had similar instances in the sport that have happened and the penalties didn't last as near as long as this has lasted with Kyle.
"It's changed Kyle's world, it turned everything upside down and not only did it affect him. It affected his family and a lot of other people that didn't deserve to be affected. So I think it's been long enough. I think it's time for NASCAR to get off their ass and to do the right thing and allow him to come back to the series now."
"I made a mistake and I'm paying for it and I accept that," Larson said to the AP. "NASCAR is where I always wanted to be and I do believe I proved I can compete at the Cup level. I'd like to get back there and we'll see if there's a way. All I can do is continue to improve myself and let my actions show who I truly am."
NASCAR has been in the public spotlight for social issues in 2020, with it's ban on the Confederate Flag as well as a noose being found in Bubba Wallace's No. 43 garage. The FBI found that the noose placed in the garage was not part of a hate crime against Wallace.