Blame Game: Stop Rationalizing Kyle Larson’s Abysmal Mistake

Kyle Larson (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Sunday night NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson uttered a word that was broadcast live during an iRacing event. 

Less than 24 hours later Larson realized like the weight of an avalanche how that one word proved to be a career changing – possibly career ending – mistake.

As most anyone around racing knows by now, Larson said the N-word during the broadcast of an iRacing event Sunday night. 

Larson’s utterance spread across social media faster than he could turn a lap at Bristol Motor Speedway. 

Larson offered up what seemed a genuine video apology on social media Monday. By midday Monday he had been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and suspended without pay by his team, Chip Ganassi Racing. 

Then the big dominoes fell for Larson when his primary sponsors, McDonald’s and Credit One Bank each announced they were cutting ties with him. 

The decisions by NASCAR and Chip Ganassi Racing seemed expected. The decisions by McDonald’s and Credit One Bank seemed swift and fairly described as unexpectedly harsh.

But the most puzzling part of the wild and winding day of reckoning for Larson was observing the tidal wave of supporters defending the actions of the NASCAR veteran. 

The defense of Larson across all realms of social media was equal parts uncomfortably awkward and heatedly fierce. 

Ultimately though the only word to use for any of that defense is ignorant. 

Ignorant because the word Larson used is simply inexcusable and unacceptable. And ignorant because anyone’s defense of the word has no bearing whatsoever in the context of what took place on Monday for Larson. 

The most common refrain from so many on social media Monday was that Larson – and apparently the whole world – should get a pass on using the word because rappers use it in songs. 

And yes, that’s a societal argument about the word that anyone is fair to debate. But on Monday, that societal argument about word acceptance was about as worthless as Larson’s contract with his sponsors is now. 

Because no matter what you think about that word, or what your friends think about that word or whether you think it should be acceptable for some people to use because it’s acceptable for other people to use, none of that matters when it comes to NASCAR driver Kyle Larson and his use of that word on Sunday. 

In this instance the decision to use that word and the consequences of that decision are all about how NASCAR, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet, McDonald’s and Credit One Bank expect to be represented. 

That expectation of those companies has no bearing on whether some rapper made some catchy rhyme with that word. It doesn’t matter if 10,000 rappers used the word in 10 million songs. 

If McDonald’s doesn’t want to be associated with the word and Credit One Bank doesn’t want to be associated with that word, that’s all that matters. No debate necessary. 

This is not some referendum on societal acceptance of a word, it’s about how the people who pay the bills to let Kyle Larson race expect to be represented publicly.

The other peculiar arguments bandied about on Monday were that Larson is “Just a kid” and that “Everyone deserves a second chance.” Essentially arguments trying to somehow paint Larson as the victim in all this.

First, Larson is a 27-year old married father of two children who has been racing at the top level of NASCAR for eight years. He is not a kid. He gets how the business works. He gets how sponsors work. He gets how living under a microscope works. He understands that he makes millions of dollars because companies that make billions of dollars give him money to drive a race car. He also fully understands that when they give him that money he is expected to represent them in a certain manner.

And trying to play him off as some country bumpkin rube that just arrived in Charlotte from Shortrackville, USA is just sadly trying to make excuses for him.  

Larson is not a victim. He made a poor decision. People make poor decisions every day and suffer consequences for those decisions. That’s called life. Trying to make him the victim is beyond ludicrous. And that’s not to say he won’t get a second chance. Just because McDonald’s and Credit One Bank apparently had a one strike and you’re out policy when it came to Larson’s utterance that doesn’t mean there won’t be other sponsors or another team wanting to give him another shot. There’s nobody questioning Larson’s talent, so it’s more than likely he resurfaces at NASCAR’s top level. 

In a sport where at any given moment there are hundreds of people waiting for you to screw up so they can get a chance at your seat, and social media is waiting to broadcast any screw up to the masses, every driver needs to be on guard every second. Society’s judgment of a word didn’t cost Larson. The only one to blame for the tattered mess that is currently Kyle Larson’s NASCAR racing career is Kyle Larson. 

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  1. I could not agree with you more. from my experience in high level motorsports it is made very clear that you are representing them and their sponsors at all times and any actions or behaviors that affect how the team looks in a negative way will not be tolerated.

  2. WELL im not going to McDonalds anymore..kyle messed is what it is. bUT TO take away a MANS lively hood is .worst than the the word he spoke,, Roger PENSKE..PICK THIS GUY up..good fit sure he meant no harm.

  3. He made a very stupid mistake that is going to likely cost him his ride. It may cost him his career in Cup. It is perfectly within the rights of the sponsors, team, and NASCAR to terminate their relatiinships with him. I kinda realized his aptitude when he honestly thought he made the playoffs after winning the All Star race,

  4. I just think if it was anybody else like Jimmy Johnson and Dale jr. Or top tier drivers it would be different

  5. Maybe the NFL should take a closer look at this scenario,after that Thursday night football game when Myles Garrett beat Mason Rudolph to a pulp with his own helment { for using the n word} in front of a live audience . At any rate , If credit one interest rates don’t kill us Surely Mcdonalds fast food will !

  6. yup, i get it. McDonald’s, Capital One, Chip Ganassi et all have the right to fire Kyle Larson, and probably should. What happens when any employee shoots their mouth off? Apparently, we no longer have the right of free speech. (1st amendment to the constitution) maybe someone needs to pay a little more attention to that.

  7. Chuckie,
    Just stop with the “First Amendment” and “Freedom of Speech” argument. All anyone does when they argue that is show that you slept through civics class. The First Amendment, which offers you “Freedom of Speech” protects your right to not be persecuted by the government for what you say. It has NOTHING to do with giving you the right to say whatever you want. Now, if the police barged in and arrested Kyle Larson for what he said, then maybe you might have a little leg to stand on with your outlandish argument. You really think you can walk into work and tell your boss off and call him every name in the book and you believe he can’t fire you because you’re protected by the First Amendment and Freedom of Speech? Nope, not for a second. It’s amazing how many people live in this country and don’t have any clue what Freedom of Speech in the First Amendment actually means.

  8. Bob Byron says

    I fell bad for Kyle Larson. He is not a demon.He made a mistake and it’s going to cost him his life,for that one Moment. Ask yourself this? if his sponsors want to leave than so be it. Words like that should not be used by any professional athlete whether it’s NASCAR or the NFL or the NBA. But the people judging him right now are the wrong ones to judge.they are white rich people that live in rich white communities. They can tell you it’s wrong but yet people of color are very few and far between in NASCAR.Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace were a step in the right Direction. He is a good young man ,that made a mistake and should have another chance.Im sure McDonald’s will survive.

  9. coupes4ever says

    He was wrong and there is no excuse and he will pay the price. Personally, I believe he is done in NASCAR, Okay, so he’s got enough people tearing into him right now. He is also a husband, a father of two young children and a mother’s son. He did not rape or murder anyone. He will be punished enough for what he did. Think of his family if you cannot think of him.Hope the piling on of kyle Larson for higher ratings/ more readers will not last too much longer. That’s pretty bad in and of itself. Peace to all.

  10. Just another bad look for Nascar and racing in general. Nascar has pretty much the only live action sports on TV right now albeit a simulated video game event. You would think Nascar could capitalize on the attention and possibly build an audience and fans for when they get back to live races. Then this happens. This is attention you really do not want when you are trying to diminish the Southern Red Neck reputation the sport has been associated with for years. It is just disappointing and further proof that the sport will probably never rid itself of the stereotype it has with the general public.

    Aside from Chase Elliot who are the up and coming future Nascar stars. I would argue Kyle Larson was one of the younger racers to show promise that unfortunately never really materialized. I am thinking now Larson is probably untouchable for sponsors and will be let go as money and sponsorship land rides not talent. Nascar needs young stars to replace the likes of JR, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson. If I were a car owner I would sign Hailie Deegan and pray she does better than Danica. The sport needs a young star to reinvigorate fan attention. I cant think of anyone who would generate more curiousity in the sport right now. Unfortunately she is probably a few years away from making nascars upper divisions.

  11. Well said. I 100% agree with SC in this case.

    Carl Block, you are 100% wrong about the Mason Rudolph situation. The NFL looked and listened to every soundtrack and video on the field and found no evidence the word was ever said. No other player or coach on either team heard it either. Worse yet, Myles himself did not make the claim until several days later when he realized how much public backlash was coming his way. That case is almost worse because a guy who didn’t say the word has no real way to defend that fact other than to rely on teammates and league officials.

    To all you freedom of speech people, go scream FIRE in the movie theatre. See how that goes for you. Better yet, go say the word Kyle Larson said in your place of employment. Let me know how that works out for you as well.

  12. Thanks for that Shawn, puts things in the right perspective. Yes the word is common in rap songs, you hear it in movie’s, everyone has most likely uttered it at least once in their life. Doesn’t make it ok for what Larson did. Words hurt, sometimes more than actions, and I hope everyone learned from this there is no excusing what he said, especially given his place in society.
    It’s funny how words are interpreted by the skin color of the person saying them.

  13. I like Kyle Larson, but the article is absolutely right. He has no one to blame, no excuse, and he is most certainly not a victim (except of his own stupidity) His mistake was not only blurting it out when he was on a broadcast, but also the thought process that brought the word to his lips. Yes, I understand that the word was not used as a direct attack upon a particular ethnicity , and I guess the damage is not as bad as it could have been because of that, but it makes it no more acceptable or excusable. Does it make him a horrible person? No, it certainly wasn’t uttered out of hatred, but it is a situation that should not have happened, and he is someone who should know very well to stay away from such a situation, let alone initiate it. I hope he can be “rehabilitated” in the eyes of NASCAR and can find future success in the sport, but I don’t believe he will ever completely move out of the category of “damaged goods”

  14. Does anyone know what actually led up to him uttering that word?

  15. “On Sunday night, superstar NASCAR racer Kyle Larson said the N-word during a company iRacing event while testing the sound on his microphone. NBC News reported that Larson was frustrated with the soundcheck and blurted out the word in a chat with his fellow drivers who were perplexed and shared that they heard him.”

  16. So, it wasn’t an incident during the actual race, but a pre race incident, an emotional response brought on by frustration that his mic wasn’t working properly. Goes to show, when you live life in the spotlight keep your emotions in check, but a hard way to learn that lesson.

  17. ted Baxter says

    Anyone defending this kid and saying it was a one time incident is plain foolish. How do you just get mad and use that word? What does that word have to do with a faulty microphone? I cant say I ever used that word in my life when I was angry.

  18. Ted, there is no defending him. He screwed up, and nothing he says or does is going to make this disappear. I’m sure that it’s not the first time he’s used that slur, face it about 99% of us have probably said it at some point in our lives. But, him being in the public eye made it tenfold of just a slip up. As for CGR and NASCAR they did what they had to do, to save their reputation. With Social media being what it is, slip ups are caught imediatley, and spread throughout the world instantly. Proffesional sports figures are held to a high level now. The world See’s things that 20 years ago they wouldn’t have.

  19. HEY JD , There likely be no way of settling the two different accounts of the situation , which makes understanding the conflict all the more complicated .We know Garrett swung a helment and it wasn’t a kiss Rudolph blew to him earlier in the game .The NFL did not need to air this dirty laundy in prime time , especially at a time when fans had gotten over the long running ANTHEM controversy . Open your mind and think about it !

  20. Getting paid tens of millions per year wasn’t enough to control his behavior.

  21. Well, here it is in October of 2021, and Kyle Larson is sitting on top of the NASCAR world in points, position, popularity, and probability of a Championship. His talent has been called “once in a generation,” and likened to AJ Foyt (who I grew up watching in person in USAC champ cars, midgets, Indy cars, and NASCAR). True greatness cannot be suppressed, even by one’s own occasional shortfalls.

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