Kyle Larson suspended for comments made during a sim race

Chip Ganassi Racing has suspended NASCAR driver Kyle Larson after he was heard using a racial slur during a livestream of an online race he was competing in on Sunday night.

Larson has joined drivers from NASCAR and other racing disciplines including sim racers for an unofficial iRacing event organized by Landon Cassill on a virtual version of the historic oval track in Monza, Italy, which hasn’t been used for real racing in decades.

A pop-up on the screen indicated that Larson was the one speaking when someone could be heard saying “you can’t hear me? Hey, n—-r.”

NASCAR XFinity Series driver Anthony Alfredo responded, “Kyle, you’re talking to everyone, bud.”

Competitor Aron MacEchern added, “Yep, we heard that.”

It wasn’t clear who Larson was directing the comment to.

The incident comes one week after NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace “rage quit” in the middle of the series’ televised iRacing event at a virtual Bristol Motor Speedway following a crash with Clint Bowyer. His sim-racing sponsor, Blue-Emu, quickly announced on Twitter it would no longer sponsor Wallace.

Larson is the son of a Japanese-American mother, whose parents were held in an internment camp in California during World War II. The Ganassi Racing driver is a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, which aims to support the careers of up and coming minority and female drivers, and in 2016 became the first person of Japanese descent to win a NASCAR Cup race.

NASCAR issued a statement Monday morning that said: “NASCAR is aware of insensitive language used by a driver during an iRacing event on Sunday and is currently gathering more information.”

Shortly after the Chip Ganassi team issued its own statement: “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. As of this moment we are suspending Kyle without pay.”

NASCAR followed up with an indefinite suspension issuing a behavioral level for an infraction under “Sections 12.1 General Procedures; 12.8.1 Member Conduct Guidelines” and adding that “Kyle Larson has been indefinitely suspended from NASCAR and must attend sensitivity training as directed by NASCAR.” They delivered the penalty report with a statement:

“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. 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.”

The iRacing platform also suspended Larson:

In 2013, Xfinity series driver Jeremy Clements was initially suspended indefinitely — a suspension that lasted two races — after using the same racial slur in a casual conversation with a reporter from MTV and a NASCAR official

The reporter, Marty Beckerman, said at the time that Clements used the word, though it wasn’t in reference to another driver. NASCAR suspended him for violating its Code of Conduct, which says “NASCAR Members shall not make or cause to be made a public statement and/or communication that criticizes, ridicules, or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, are, or handicapping condition.”

The rule goes on to say that such remarks “could result in a fine and/or indefinite suspension, or termination.”

Larson was seventh in the NASCAR Cup standings before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. He is among several drivers who have been taking part in various events being organized on the iRacing simulation racing platform, including the official eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.

Larson late apologized on Twitter:  “I want to say I’m sorry. Last night I made a mistake and said the word that should never, ever, be said. There’s no excuse for that; I wasn’t raised that way. It’s just an awful thing to say. 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. I want to let you all know how sorry I am. Finally, I just want to say that I hope everyone is staying safe during these crazy times. Thank you.”

Before the day was over, Credit One, McDonalds and Chevrolet had all dropped their sponsorship of Larson.

Greg Engle