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NASCAR recently made the announcement that Kyle Larson was being reinstated and would be eligible to return to racing on January 1st, 2021. Larson was suspended indefinitely in April for using a racial slur during an iRacing event that was going on during the Covid-19 quarantine. He was also fired from Chip Ganassi Racing after several companies such as McDonalds, Chevrolet, and Credit One Bank terminated their sponsorships of him.
He completed sensitivity training as a condition for possible reinstatement but NASCAR has also said he will have continued requirements he’d have to fulfill to keep his NASCAR membership.
Considering that, did NASCAR make the right decision to reinstate Larson as fast as they did? The answer is yes and no.
While historically NASCAR has been a predominantly white sport, it’s slowly starting to see diversity come into the sport with the “Drive for Diversity” program and the start of Revolution Racing, which fields members from the “Drive for Diversity” program for its pit crews and drivers.
Even legendary basketball player Michael Jordan is getting involved, having started a race team with driver Denny Hamlin and hiring Bubba Wallace to race for them.
With the integration of more minorities in racing, it means that incidences like Larson’s shouldn’t be tolerated to any degree. The word he used is highly offensive to the African-American community and shouldn’t be used in any context. The fact it was broadcasted online only makes it even worse as many people were watching that race.
It wasn’t deserving of his race career to be given a death sentence, however an extra half year may have been more in the cards. This isn’t the National Football League or Major League Baseball where it’s better integrated, this is NASCAR, a sport that’s finally seeing more integration after decades of failing to see it. A more severe penalty may serve well in his instance.
The flip side of the coin is that he’s taken responsibility for his actions. According to Bubba Wallace, Larson instantly texted him. “I saw the incident the night it happened and within five minutes Kyle texted me,” said Wallace in a tweet. “He called me the next morning as well. Finally I called him back with a FaceTime to talk ‘face to face,’ and we had a good conversation, his apology was sincere. His emotions and pride were shattered.”
He would later to go on to say he deserves a second chance. “I am not mad at him, and I believe that he, along with most people deserve second chances, and deserve space to improve,” continued Wallace. “I do wish him and his family nothing but the best. And I am more than willing to work with him to address diversity and inclusion in our sport.”
In addition to apologizing to and consoling with Wallace, Larson also apologized to all of NASCAR, showed support by visiting the George Floyd Memorial in Minneapolis and as mentioned previously, attended sensitivity training. While what he said was definitely wrong, the steps Larson has taken are more than what most would. Add in those extracurriculars activities and there’s a case to be made that he’s gone above and beyond.
This seems to especially be true when a former driver turned race team owner like Tony Stewart believes he deserves a chance:
“I feel like it’s time to get Kyle back in the sport,” Stewart said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think he’s paid his dues. I think he served his penalty as far as society is concerned. I think it’s time for NASCAR to let the kid have an opportunity to get back to where he belongs and that’s behind (the wheel) of a stock car.”
While the jury is still out in the court of public opinion, the support he’s gotten seems to lean towards NASCAR making the right decision. In a tough case like this, there may not be a truly right answer.