It’s been a rough year for Kyle Larson, who’s widely regarded as one of the best drivers not only in NASCAR, but in all of racing.
It was almost a year ago that Kyle lost his ride with Chip Ganassi Racing after using a racial slur during an iRacing livestream event. In addition to being fired by his team, Kyle was also dropped by his sponsors, his car manufacturer, and suspended indefinitely by NASCAR.
After undergoing sensitivity training, as well as being required to participate in speaking engagements and further training over the next two years, Kyle was eventually reinstated by the sport’s sanctioning body – and picked up a ride for 2021 driving for Hendrick Motorsports, one of the top teams in the NASCAR garage.
Kyle made his debut in the #5 Hendrick Chevrolet at this year’s Daytona 500. And just four races into the season, Kyle completed his redemption story by driving his car to victory this weekend in Las Vegas.
To make the win even sweeter, Kyle’s victory came on a day he was driving a throwback scheme to honor Ricky Hendrick, team owner Rick Hendrick’s son who was killed in a tragic plane crash on his way to a race at Martinsville in 2004.
Many wondered whether Kyle would ever have a future in NASCAR again – but if there was any remaining doubt about whether the sport was ready to welcome him back, it was erased when he got a special visitor in victory lane: Bubba Wallace, the sport’s only black driver.
For his part, Bubba has remained supportive of Kyle throughout the last year, saying after the incident that what he said was wrong but that Bubba wasn’t mad at Kyle and that he thought Kyle deserved a second chance.
Obviously people are watching Kyle’s comeback closely to see what the path forward might look like for Morgan Wallen, who’s currently embattled in his own controversy after being caught dropping the same racial slur that got Kyle suspended.
Now of course these are two separate situations, and two very different industries. And Morgan is still enjoying record success with his latest album despite being suspended by his label and pulled from major radio stations.
But the fact that Kyle managed to salvage his career and make his way back to the top may give us a glimpse of what’s possible for Morgan – with the same long road of self-reflection and growth ahead of him that Kyle had to take over the past year.