NASCAR: The real reason why Kyle Larson was fired

Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Kyle Larson lost his job with Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR Cup Series team as a result of his use of a racial slur, but not before he lost multiple sponsors.

When former Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson, who was recently confirmed as the driver of the #5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports for the 2021 season, was heard saying the N-word during a virtual iRacing event which was being live streamed on Twitch back on Easter Sunday, April 12, what happened next was inevitable.

While it took until two days later, the 28-year-old Elk Grove, California native was officially fired from his role as the driver of the #42 Chevrolet after just four races in the 2020 season, and he hasn’t competed in a Cup race since.

However, it wasn’t his use of the racial slur in itself which ultimately cost him his job.

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Sure, that was the obvious root of what transpired and he clearly wouldn’t have lost his job had he not said it.

But this reality was — or at least should have been — obvious from the get-go.

It wasn’t even an issue of how he used the word (the fact that Larson is not black, the use of GA vs. the use of a hard R, etc.). Why? Because after the incident happened, Chip Ganassi Racing suspended him indefinitely, as did NASCAR. Sensitivity training completion was required before he applied for reinstatement.

He wasn’t fired by that point, and if this action alone had caused him to be fired, that would not have been the case.

Look at a similar scenario that transpired a few years ago. Team owner/driver Jeremy Clements missed two races back in the 2013 Xfinity Series season after using the same word, and he used it in an interview with ESPN.

He was back behind the wheel for his mid-pack team a few weeks later after completing sensitivity training.

Why does this matter?

Because the real reason why Larson’s career took the turn it did was lost sponsorship.

Yes, this obviously stems from Larson’s mistake. His sponsors didn’t just cut him for no reason.

But the main point here is this.

We all hear about “money over talent” and what not when it comes to rich kids getting rides with top teams, whether that’s in NASCAR, IndyCar or Formula 1.

This is a perfect example of this sentiment, but from the exact opposite direction.

Sponsorship deals are the lifeblood of NASCAR drivers. Making a mistake off the track that, in itself, may not necessarily cost a driver his/her job but may cause the loss of sponsors is simply not something that a driver can afford — because the financial ramifications of that could end up costing that driver his/her job, whether the mistake itself warranted it or not.

Sure, what Larson said isn’t acceptable; no one can argue against that. Chip Ganassi Racing and NASCAR were well within their right to penalize him.

That’s exactly why he was suspended.

But not until he was dropped by Chevrolet, Credit One Bank, McDonald’s among others did Chip Ganassi Racing pull the plug and fire him.

At that point, the team really had no choice, unless they wanted to lose millions and millions of dollars by running a blank #42 Chevrolet for the six-time race winner for the remaining 32 races of the 36-race season, a car that 2003 champion Matt Kenseth ended up being able to run full-time with sponsorship that Larson had lost.

Ganassi even confirmed this over the summer, months after the firing had taken place, amid Larson winning dozens upon dozens of dirt track races, and he has stood by this sentiment.

Take a look at a similar, if not worse, scenario involving a professional athlete for further verification that money talks.

Then-Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper, a white man, used the same word Larson used back in July of 2013. Unlike Larson, he used it — and most importantly, he intended to use it — in a racist and bigoted context.

“I will jump that fence and fight every n***** here,” said Cooper after a dispute with an African-American security guard at a Kenny Chesney concert, according to WHYY.

Not to sound too much like Cris Collinsworth, but here’s a guy who makes a living in a sport dominated by African-American athletes, and he did not get as much as a slap on the wrist for something that led to Larson losing his job.

Cooper was not cut, he was not suspended by the NFL and he was not suspended by the Eagles.

Sure, the story made headlines exactly like Larson’s did, but not for those reasons. Cooper went on to play in every game from the 2013 season through the 2015 season, and he had a career year in 2013, catching 47 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. He even scored a touchdown in the team’s Wild Card playoff loss against the New Orleans Saints.

Larson went on to record zero more wins, zero more top five finishes and zero more top 10 finishes in zero more starts in 2020.

While NFL players can absolutely lose separate endorsements for making idiotic mistakes like this one, that is completely separate from what sponsorship means to NASCAR drivers.

With that being said, I’m sure there are many people out there who would have fired Larson just for using the word, irrespective of sponsors dropping him.

One comment made on social media shortly after his firing still stands out to me: “Rot in silence piece of shit. You’re lucky I’m not there to whoop your ass!!”

But the people making these kinds of comments and taking this point of view aren’t making the business decisions that Ganassi was forced to make.

This comment clearly wasn’t in response to a sponsor dropping him, and it clearly wasn’t something you’d see coming from the Ganassi organization leading to any sort of official decisions about Larson’s status.

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Fortunately for Larson, he is rightfully back (not rotting in silence, I might add) after doing everything he has done over the last few months to improve himself as a human being, and he is set to make his Hendrick Motorsports debut on Sunday, February 14, 2021 in the 63rd annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.