NASCAR has reinstated Kyle Larson, who was suspended indefinitely and released by Chip Ganassi Racing following the use of a racial slur in an iRacing event in April. Larson will be cleared to return to all NASCAR racing activities on January 1, 2021.
The governing body of the sport released the following statement.
"NASCAR continues to prioritize diversity and inclusion across our sport. 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's indefinite suspension has been lifted. Under the terms of his reinstatement, he will be cleared to return to all NASCAR racing activities effective January 1, 2021."
"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," Larson said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Per terms of the reinstatement Larson will also be required to participate in speaking engagements with weekly series, eSports and dirt racing communities in addition to completing follow-up training through 2023. He will also continue to serve as a coach and mentor for the Urban Youth Racing School, which he did prior to his suspension.
Larson has made constant attempts to repair his reputation in an effort to return to NASCAR. He began by issuing an apology on his social media accounts before disabling those accounts and going dark publicly. Larson went on to complete mandated sensitivity training by NASCAR, hired a diversity coach, spoke with African-American leaders in the sport and traveled across various states to educate himself on matters of race. Larson, who is half-Japanese, came up through NASCAR's diversity program.
In early October, Larson penned an essay on his website titled 'Kyle Larson: My Lessons Learned', where he explained everything he had done since his suspension. Two weeks later, Larson appeared on 'CBS This Morning' in his first television interview since the incident.
"I know deep down I'm not a racist," he said. "I said a racist word and I can fully understand why people would label me a racist."
Larson noted in that interview that he used the slur casually as a greeting when racing in Australia and that carried over into his every day vocabulary. He also admitted in the interview that he did not think enough about the impact and meaning of the word.
"I guess I didn't think of how it took African Americans and ... took them back to slavery and things like that, and injustice and stuff they've had to work so hard to overcome," he said.
One person who will be happy to see Larson reinstated is Tony Stewart, who was one of the first public supporters of Larson following the incident.
"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 back in August. Other drivers including Bubba Wallace, Martin Truex Jr, Kurt Busch and Willy T. Ribbs also spoke publicly in support of Larson's return.
While Stewart, a team owner, is high on Larson's talent, he has chosen to go with Chase Briscoe to fill the empty vacancy at Stewart Haas-Racing with an announcement expected Tuesday. The other big name on the market, Erik Jones, is finalizing a deal with Richard Petty Motorsports to drive the No. 43.
That leaves one major ride available for Larson: The seat vacated by the retirement of Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports
We already know that Alex Bowman will be moving to Johnson's famed No. 48 next season while the team has planned for an announcement regarding Bowman's current ride, the No. 88, in the near future. Industry chatter suggests that Larson will fill that seat, with the team expected to rebrand to a different number. A change back to the No. 5, most recently driven by Kasey Kahne in 2017, is most likely according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation.
Hendrick's manufacturer, Chevrolet, suspended Larson indefinitely following the Easter Sunday incident. A company spokesperson released the following statement to CBS Sports.
"Chevrolet fully supports NASCAR's efforts to provide an inclusive environment for all race fans. Since Kyle Larson has met the criteria set forth for his return to the series, we support NASCAR's decision."
Per NASCAR, Larson is eligible to sign with a new team immediately.