NASCAR reinstates Kyle Larson effective January 1

Kyle Larson will be eligible to race in NASCAR in 2021.

NASCAR said Monday that Larson had been reinstated. Larson was suspended indefinitely in April after he said the N-word during a virtual race that was broadcast on NASCAR’s website. Larson’s use of the racial slur led to his firing from Chip Ganassi Racing.

“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.”

Larson, 28, was in the last year of his contract at CGR and was in line to be one of the most coveted free agents in the series. Now that he’s eligible to return to NASCAR there aren’t many rides open ahead of the 2021 season.

But that doesn’t mean that Larson will be on the sidelines again next season. According to numerous reports, he’s seen as a likely contender to drive at Hendrick Motorsports next season. HMS has four cars and just three drivers — Alex Bowman, William Byron and Chase Elliott — signed to drive in the Cup Series in 2021. The team recently moved Bowman over to Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 car. Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion, is retiring at the end of the season and will race part-time in the IndyCar Series the next two seasons.

Kyle Larson climbs in his car as he gets ready for a NASCAR auto race practice at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Kyle Larson could be back in NASCAR as soon as next season. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Larson has six Cup wins

Larson established himself as one of the best drivers under the age of 30 in his time at Chip Ganassi Racing. While CGR has shown flashes of success in NASCAR it hasn’t constantly fielded top-level cars able to compete with the likes of Hendrick, Team Penske and Joe GIbbs Racing. There was always a real chance that Larson would leave the team at the end of the 2020 season for a better opportunity.

If Larson winds up at Hendrick, that better opportunity could happen. But not like anyone could have envisioned. Larson was fired after sponsors Credit One and McDonalds had disassociated themselves with him in the days after he used the N-word. CGR replaced him with Matt Kenseth for the rest of this season and has signed Ross Chastain to drive Larson’s old No. 42 car in 2021.

Larson spent his time during his suspension racing and winning in sprint car races at dirt tracks across the country. He again showed that he was too talented for racing’s smaller stages and that he still had the ability that made him a prized NASCAR free agent.

Larson has apologized

The reinstatement by NASCAR comes after Larson detailed the growth he’s had in recent months in an open letter on his website earlier in October. That open letter was succeeded by a television appearance on “CBS This Morning” where Larson was interviewed by CBS’ NFL host James Brown about the things he’s done since he was fired.

“I know deep down I’m not a racist,” Larson told Brown.

NASCAR has been conscious of its status on a socially-evolving sports landscape in recent months. The sanctioning body held a moment of silence ahead of its race at Atlanta amid protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. It also banned fans from flying the Confederate flag from its tracks in June on the same day that Bubba Wallace — the only Black driver racing full-time in NASCAR — ran a Black Lives Matter car at Martinsville.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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