The NASCAR driver walks through his darkest times before returning to claim the Cup Series championship
Back on April 2020, the world was shutdown. NASCAR drivers turned to a digital world, racing night after night on iRacing.
Thousands of fans tuned in to watch races, with no tv coverage. That’s when Kyle Larson made a mistake that went viral.
While attempting to reach his personal spotter on a private channel, Larson used the N-word. A push of the wrong button sent out the communication to every driver in the race and every fan watching from home.
Within days, the 27-year-old was suspended from his team, Chip Ganassi Racing as well as the sport of NASCAR itself.
Kyle Larson talks the darkest of times
“When it all first happened, you instantly know you made a huge mistake. Really dark, emotional days because you realize you’re losing your job. And, that’s everything you worked really hard for,” Kyle Larson told Danica Patrick via the ‘Pretty Intense’ podcast.
“Confusion at that point too. Because you don’t know where you’re career is heading. You don’t know what you’re going to be able to do. I knew I could always fall back on dirt racing and that’s what I did.”
“But, even there, yes, that’s something I dreamed of doing what going back to full-time (dirt) racer. But, not at 27 or 28 years old when it first happened. I thought that was something I’d do in my 40’s.”
“Didn’t really know how to feel about it. Was happy that I was doing something that I still loved, and racing. When you have a job and you’re in NASCAR, you have a plan. You know what your life’s going to be like for however long you want it to be that.”
The light switch
Larson explained, “Like a light switch, it all changes. What am I going to do to make money? Schooling for my kids? How are people going to treat my kids? It was a lot of rollercoaster emotions.”
He listed both his North Carolina homes for sale and went home to family in California. Then, he did the only thing he could, Larson went dirt racing.
That’s were he turned the eyes of everyone in the racing world, back on his career. Larson won over 50 races with a win percentage over 50%.
“Then, you’re winning races, which makes you feel happy. But, you’re still not doing exactly what you wanted to do at that time. I didn’t see much hope of getting back to NASCAR, for months. Even with me winning a ton of races.”
Return to NASCAR
“I finally got to a point where I’m like, ‘Ok, this is fine. This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.’ I’m going to love it, we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to travel a lot and live in the motorhome.”
“About that time is when things started coming around, where I could see a path of maybe getting back to NASCAR. It all worked out better than I ever thought it would.”
Kyle Larson returned in 2021 to drive the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports. He claimed 10 regular season races with a bonus win in the $1M All-Star race. Then, he raced his way through the playoffs and claimed the championship.
Dirt Racing is accepted
Following the championship and a dominating season, NASCAR team owners have removed previous limitations on their drivers. Hendrick Motorsports was one of the teams that rarely allowed their drivers to venture outside of NASCAR. Those rules likely stemmed from a horrible fire Dale Earnhardt Jr suffered in a sportscar race, 20 years ago.
In more recent years, even Larson himself had strict rules about when he could race on dirt. At Chip Ganassi Racing, he couldn’t race too close to the start of a race weekend, meaning Friday practice.
Now, the NASCAR team owner mentality has completely flipped, in one year.
Now, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and others are returning to the dirt track. William Byron and the pavement junkies are running more local short track on the pavement side.
Across the board, NASCAR drivers are running more than just NASCAR. It’s a complete shift, all brought to you by champion driver, Kyle Larson.
Kyle Larson think dirt racing played a part in his NASCAR championship
“I feel like I can talk about it a little bit more now. When I first got into ‘my other racing’ that was maybe frowned upon a little bit, talking about my love for dirt racing. It’s nice that I can at least talk about my dirt racing even more now.”
“Before, I would have success in the dirt stuff and maybe not in the NASCAR stuff. I feel like you could view my dirt racing as a distraction. After the season last year, I don’t think you can view it as a distraction at all. If anything, it’s the opposite. Myself and my team view it as it helping me.”
Larson added, “The crossover between both kinda helped grow the sport over the last couple years.”
Now, he and his family have two merchandise trailers, one for dirt sprint cars and one for dirt late models. With a busy schedule, Larson can catch a flight as his haulers meet him in two different locations from night to night.