Kyle Larson went from a talented young driver with a promising NASCAR future to persona non grata in an instant. One word has put him at a career crossroads. One ugly, inexcusable, unnecessary word.
At 27, Larson had gone into the Easter weekend with the NASCAR world at his fingertips. He had a full-time job at the premier level, driving for a legendary team owner and was he considered one of the good guys. His name was being thrown about in silly season conversations about other big-time teams.
But in less than 24 hours, he was indefinitely suspended, told he needed to attend sensitivity training, and lost all his sponsors. This morning, the last remaining domino fell when Larson was fired from the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet.
Ganassi had no choice. Once the sponsors starting pulling out, there was no reason to try to salvage the partnership. It wasn’t long ago that Ganassi had to shutter his NASCAR Xfinity Series program because he had a driver but no sponsor after the demise of DC Solar. This time around, the sponsors are still tied to the team, and should Ganassi keep the car and fill the seat, he’ll have companies with logos ready to go.
Ironically, the driver who was left out in the cold when the CGR Xfinity program disappeared is likely going to benefit from Larson’s foolishness. Ross Chastain should keep his phone on and close by, ready for the call.
Chastain is still a Ganassi man. Although he runs for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series, competed for the Truck Series championship with Niece Motorsports last year, and is the substitute for the injured Ryan Newman, Chastain has always made it clear he remains tied and contracted to Ganassi. Why wouldn’t he be at the top of the list when it comes to the organization’s next move?
For Larson, his next step need to be taking his licks and working on repairing his reputation and finding a way to move forward.
“I just want to say I’m sorry,” said Larson in a 42-second video clip posted on his Twitter and Instagram pages Monday afternoon. “(Sunday) night, I made a mistake and said the word that should never ever be said, and there’s no excuse for that. I wasn’t raised that way. It’s just an awful thing to say, and I feel very sorry for my family, my friends, my partners, the NASCAR community, and especially the African American community.
“I understand the damage is probably unrepairable, and I own up to that. But I just wanted to let you all know how sorry I am, and I hope everybody is staying safe during these crazy times.”
This does not need to be the end of Larson’s NASCAR career; there will be those willing to give him a second chance. It’s going to take time, however, to remove the stink he’s placed upon himself and change the way folks now view him.
Chevrolet followed the news of Larson’s release from Ganassi by saying it is terminating its relationship with him, meaning Larson no longer has a personal services agreement with the manufacturer, and will not receive support should he drive for a Chevrolet team. Such ramifications will also reach his sprint car operation, where Chevrolet was a supporter.
No company wants to be associated with someone who uses a racial slur, regardless of its intent. Larson shouldn’t have said what he said, whether he thought his communication was private or not. The word has no use in anyone’s vocabulary, and it rolled off Larson’s tongue so easily it raises questions over the extent to which it had been part of his before Sunday.
The future for Larson looks bleak right now, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Although it took less than one second to blow up his career, it’s going to take a lot longer for Larson to put it back together.