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Kyle Larson gets first win since suspension by NASCAR for using racial slur

Las Vegas — Kyle Larson wasn’t sure he’d ever race again in NASCAR, and if he could, he didn’t know who would even hire him. It was Rick Hendrick who took the chance on a driver many believed was radioactive for sponsors.

Larson’s use of a racial slur while participating in an online race last April cost him his job, his reputation and his ability to attract the corporations that fund a race team.

Hendrick said he’d pay for the car himself because he was that confident that Larson, reformed after months of self-work, could be redeemed.

On Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Larson raced to his first NASCAR victory since he was reinstated from a nearly yearlong suspension. He ran just the first four races last season and was hired by Hendrick Motorsports when NASCAR said the suspension would lift at the start of this year.

“Thanks Mr. H. for believing in me,” Larson radioed to boss Rick Hendrick after crossing the finish line.

He then celebrated his first career win on an intermediate track with smoke-filled burnouts, including one on the backstretch for friends watching from a motorhome on the hillside above the track.

Larson said he became emotional as he took the white flag but had composed himself by the time he finished his burnouts.

“I didn’t know if I’d ever have an opportunity to win a NASCAR race again,” said Larson, who again thanked Hendrick for taking “a massive chance on me.”

Hendrick was both thrilled and surprised by the victory in Larson’s fourth race with his new team. He figured it would take time for Larson to build a relationship with his new crew chief and find a rhythm in the No. 5 Chevrolet. There is no practice because of pandemic protocols so Larson is learning in real time.

“I didn’t really expect it to come this quick because I really thought it would take time to gel,” Hendrick said by phone after the race. “He’s a champion, really, and I am so lucky to have him.”

Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only Black fulltime driver, was one of the first competitors to congratulate Larson.

AUTO: MAR 07 NASCAR Cup Series - Pennzoil 400
Bubba Wallace, left, congratulates Kyle Larson after Larson won the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube NASCAR Cup Series race on March 7, 2021 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Jeff Speer / LVMS via Icon Sportswire / Getty


“It meant a lot for Bubba to come to victory lane,” Larson said. “He’s always believed in me. That was special.”

Larson’s move to Hendrick was expected to be electric.

Larson is considered one of the top talents in NASCAR but won just six times in six seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing. Paired with the mighty Hendrick, everyone suspected Larson would at last reach his full potential.

“He got in a great car, he’s a great driver and he’s going to make things happen,” runner-up Brad Keselowski said. “That’s what he does. He’s a wheelman.”

Mario Andretti on Twitter called Larson’s victory the most entertaining NASCAR race he’d ever watched and praised Larson for driving “the race of his life” and Hendrick: “Ol’ Rick knew what he was doing when he hired him.”

Larson’s last victory was Oct. 6, 2019, at Dover. 


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bourbiza

Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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