Stock car driver Kyle Larson was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and without pay by Chip Ganassi Racing on Monday for using a racial slur on a livestream during a virtual race.
Larson was competing in an iRacing event Sunday night when he appeared to lose communication on his headset with his spotter. During a check of his microphone, he said, “You can’t hear me?” That was followed by the N-word.
“We are extremely disappointed by what Kyle said last night during an iRacing Event. The words that he chose to use are offensive and unacceptable,” Chip Ganassi Racing said in a statement. “As of this moment, we are suspending Kyle without pay while we work through this situation with all appropriate parties.”
Larson apologized in a video he posted to Twitter.
Larson is half Japanese — his grandparents spent time in an internment camp in California during World War II — and he climbed from short-track racing into NASCAR through its “Drive for Diversity” program. He is the only driver of Japanese descent to win a major NASCAR race.
“I just want to say I’m sorry,” Larson said in his Twitter video. “You know, last night I made a mistake, and, said the word that should never, ever, be said. And there’s no excuse for that. You know, I wasn’t raised that way, it’s just an awful thing to say.”
There may still be ramifications from Larson’s sponsors, which include McDonald’s, Credit One Bank and Chevrolet, but NASCAR and Ganassi were quick to act.
“NASCAR has made diversity and inclusion a priority and will not tolerate the type of language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event,” NASCAR said in a statement. “Our Member Conduct Guidelines are clear in this regard, and we will enforce these guidelines to maintain an inclusive environment for our entire industry and fan base.”
In 2013, NASCAR suspended Xfinity Series driver Jeremy Clements for using the same slur, the television station reported word Larson used while Clements was speaking to a reporter. Clements was reinstated after completing a sensitivity training course and still competes.
Larson is the second driver in a week to draw scrutiny while using the online racing platform to fill time during the coronavirus pandemic.
Bubba Wallace “rage quit” during an official NASCAR iRacing event televised live nationally, and his sponsor fired him immediately. Wallace had been wrecked, and, fed up, quit the game and admitted it was out of anger on Twitter. Blue-Emu, a topical pain reliever company that had sponsored Wallace for the virtual race and has an association with him in real life, replied to the tweet firing Wallace.
Larson was parked during the race by iRacing officials for intentionally wrecking another driver.
Larson, in his seventh full season racing at NASCAR’s top Cup level, is in the final year of his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing. He was at the top of the list of a crowded free-agent field when the circuit was suspended four races into the season as sports stopped during the coronavirus crisis.
NASCAR quickly pivoted to create an iRacing league of virtual racing that has engaged viewers and set records for esports television viewership. One of the draws of the platform is that drivers can link into one another on a live stream, where they banter, argue, make jokes and discuss the racing. Fans can eavesdrop through Twitch, a gaming app.
Larson used the slur in a race against drivers from various series. The event was not part of NASCAR’s official series, and Larson earlier Sunday replied to a tweet listing the lineup for the race saying “I don’t really ever remember confirming but if I am not busy with the family I might try and get on (the simulator).”
Drivers in the chat immediately reacted to Larson’s use of the slur, with one instantly alerting him, “Kyle, you’re talking to everyone, bud.” Others were in disbelief.
Larson has six career Cup wins and finished a career-best sixth in the standings last season. He is 27 and the married father of two young children.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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