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NASCAR Reinstates Racer Kyle Larson After Suspending Him For Using N-Word

Kyle Larson, shown here during a practice at Daytona International Speedway in February, has been reinstated by NASCAR after he was suspended in April.
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Kyle Larson, shown here during a practice at Daytona International Speedway in February, has been reinstated by NASCAR after he was suspended in April.

Six months after driver Kyle Larson was suspended for uttering a racial slur, NASCAR announced he's been reinstated and is eligible to return to the sport in January.

Larson, 28, was dropped from his racing team and quickly lost sponsors after saying the N-word in April while playing a video game that viewers could follow along. NASCAR moved to bar him indefinitely and ordered him to attend racial sensitivity training.

"Kyle Larson has fulfilled the requirements set by NASCAR, and has taken several voluntary measures, to better educate himself so that he can use his platform to help bridge the divide in our country," NASCAR said in a statement.

"Larson's indefinite suspension has been lifted. Under the terms of his reinstatement, he will be cleared to return to all NASCAR racing activities effective January 1, 2021," NASCAR added.

Larson, whose mother is of Japanese descent, told The Associated Press the work conducted since his suspension "has had a major impact" on him.

"The work I've done over the last six months has had a major impact on me. I will make the most of this opportunity and look forward to the future," Larson told AP's Jenna Fryer.

On April 12, while NASCAR was suspended because of the spread of the coronavirus like much of the sports industry, Larson took part in livestream event with other professional drivers.

"He said he had keyed his microphone to send a private message, but his use of a racial slur was instead broadcast to all participants in the race and to viewers on public live streams," NASCAR said.

In a clip posted to social media that contains the racial slur, one of his fellow competitors said "Kyle, you're talking to everyone, bud."

"Yep, we heard that," another one said.

Chip Ganassi Racing swiftly announced they were dropping him from the team, and Chevrolet, the only car that Larson had driven in NASCAR, also announced it would be suspending its relationship with Larson.

The driver opened up about his time away from the sport in an , where he touched on his grandparents being held in World War II internment camps and his parents being "an interracial couple who have gotten disapproving stares."

He added, "There's absolutely no excuse for my ignorance."

"Since April, I've done a lot of reflecting. I realized how little I really knew about the African-American experience in this country and racism in general," Larson said.

"Educating myself is something I should've done a long time ago, because it would've made me a better person – the kind of person who doesn't casually throw around an awful, racist word."

NASCAR continues to make diversity and inclusion a priority as it tries to expand the sport's reach beyond its largely white audience.

In June, NASCAR banned the Confederate battle flag at all of its events and properties.

Last month, NBA legend Michael Jordan announced that he and NASCAR star Denny Hamlin are teaming up to form a new racing team. When the team debuts in 2021, Bubba Wallace will be the team's driver.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.