As NASCAR’s Kyle Larson works to redeem himself off the track, he’s finding success on it

As NASCAR’s Kyle Larson works to redeem himself off the track, he’s finding success on it

Kyle Larson is a NASCAR driver who has been struggling to find success on the track. However, he’s found it in other areas of his life.

Kyle Larson is the latest NASCAR driver to find success on the track. He has won his first two races of the season and is currently ranked second in the Monster Energy Cup Series standings. Read more in detail here: nascar meaning.

The sport’s oldest proverb is also its most profound reality. Nothing beats horsepower when it comes to solving issues — and there are a lot more than you may imagine.

Kyle Larson has the most horsepower when the 2021 NASCAR playoffs get off at Darlington Raceway on Sunday. No one had more difficulties a year ago.

It’s difficult to recall a racer having a season like the 29-year-old Northern Californian has had this year in American motorsports.

He won the NASCAR regular-season championship (yep, they have a trophy for it) with a Cup Series-best five victories. His 14 top-five finishes in 24 races are almost double that of his nearest championship opponent, Martin Truex Jr., who has eight, and his 1,566 laps led are nearly double that of the next driver on the list, Denny Hamlin, who has 821.

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Larson also won the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway on June 13, capping up a two-month run that included three consecutive victories, six consecutive top-two finishes, and three pole positions.

He’s won two dozen dirt track races in between day jobs, including a trio of trophies from the prestigious Chili Bowl, King’s Royal, and Knoxville Nationals. On Aug. 18, he won the USAC BC39 on a dirt track dug into Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s high holy infield turf. Roger Penske, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and 18-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, said to the audience, “Maybe I’ll be able to find a 500 driver tonight! What are your thoughts? Have you given me a name?”

Before his death last week, legendary racing journalist Robin Miller’s final column was titled “Larson’s childhood hero, dirt-tracker-turned-NASCAR demigod Jeff Gordon, was quoted as saying, “He’s Mario Andretti, he’s Mario Andretti, he’s Mario Andretti, he’s Mario Andretti, he’s Mario Andretti, he’s Mario Andretti, he’s Mario Andretti, he’s Mario Andretti, he’s Mario Andretti, he Who has ever had a season like this, and it’s just halfway through?”

For those who earn a livelihood on the racetrack, Larson’s narrative is all about the victories and the opportunity to win a NASCAR title for the first time. To the outside world, however, mentioning Kyle Larson is more likely to spark a discussion about race than about racing.

Larson is the best person to tell you that. Simply type his name into a search engine or browse his social media mentions. There will always be a part of his identity linked to the evening of April 12, 2020 for the rest of his life.

“My responsibility today is to make sure that if and when that happens, it’s a lesson for everyone,” Larson says now. “What do you do when you do something that hurts others and demonstrates how serious a mistake may be? I hope that when people think of me and what I accomplished, they think of what I’ve attempted to do since then.”

During the early weeks of the COVID-19 epidemic, he used the N-word during a live iRacing broadcast, which was heard by thousands of sports fans stranded at home. Larson has lost his sponsors, his Cup Series seat at Chip Ganassi Racing, and was banned indefinitely by NASCAR in less than 48 hours.

In the aftermath of his friend’s use of a racist slur in April 2020, Bubba Wallace did not return Kyle Larson’s calls. John Locher/AP Photo, File

In the 19 months afterwards, the man formerly known as “Yung Money” has grown older in every way. From members of his own pit crew to fellow Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace, he has phoned, met, and spoken with black racing friends and colleagues. Larson has apologized to young racers of all ethnicities, kids from different programs who looked up to him as an inspiration for their own racing ambitions, and a multiracial youngster who graduated from NASCAR’s nascent diversity talent identification program.

He also had to confront Janet, his mother. Janet Larson (née Miyata) is a first-generation American of Japanese ancestry, with parents who were interned at the Tule Lake internment camp in California during World War II because they were Japanese Americans and deemed likely to be more loyal to Japan than the United States. Miyata is Larson’s middle name.

Larson was not let off the hook by any of them. In the hours after the slur was dropped, Wallace failed to answer his friend’s frantic calls, and when they did speak, he was the first to remark, “You used that term far too casually.”

His mother screamed, then sobbed. When he went to Philadelphia to visit the Urban Youth Racing School, a program with which he had worked for years and with which he had kids pose with him in Dover’s Victory Lane, the school’s husband-and-wife founders, Anthony and Michelle Martin, held him there all day. Mrs. Martin gave him an unvarnished two-hour lecture on the history of race in America, after which he visited with each Urban Youth Racing School student personally to discuss what he did and was doing to rectify the course of events that followed.

He was had to attend obligatory sensitivity training as part of his NASCAR-designed rehab-to-reinstatement plan. He hired Doug Harris of The Kaleidoscope Group as a diversity coach, and in addition to discussions with Black racers like Wallace, drag racer J.R. Todd, and Willy T. Ribbs, he also worked with former Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee and retired pro soccer player Tony Sanneh, who founded a charity to help Minnesota heal after George Floyd’s murder.

They all said the same thing about their initial encounters with Larson: they all wanted to look into his eyes to see whether his professed sorrow and commitment to change were genuine and not just a ruse to return to the big leagues.

They’ve all expressed satisfaction with what they’ve seen.

Larson describes the effect such ongoing discussions have had on his life as “just a more mature guy today, on and off the racetrack.” “Growing up has made me a better person in every way. I hope it has helped me grow as a person. I hope that is still the case and that it continues to do so every day. However, I am certain that it has improved my racing abilities.”

How? This is a two-part response. First and foremost, no better motivation for any athlete than having their favorite sport taken away from them, whether due to Father Time, injury, or a blunder.

Second, Larson’s failure to compete at the top level of American racing left him with nothing but time on his hands. During his NASCAR ban, he filled that schedule by returning to his dirt track origins full-time, competing in 96 bullring events.

Suddenly, the guy who claimed to have spent the spring of 2020 seeking sanctuary in the obscurity of wearing a mask in public was welcomed back into a community with wide arms, in the same way that anybody seeking safety from public humiliation would return to family. The dirt track world wasn’t going to let him forget what he’d done, but it also wanted to offer him a second shot.

He raced at night after visiting, apologizing, and learning throughout the day. In addition, he won 46 of the 96 races. Larson has always been criticized as a racer for losing long-range concentration, whether it was during a 500-mile race or NASCAR’s arduous 10-month season. Focus did not seem to be a problem by the time fall arrived in 2020.

During the NASCAR playoffs media day on Tuesday, he remembered, “I was in a position to pursue a victory in probably 80 races or more.” “I believe that placing myself in that situation has made me a lot more psychologically tough driver these days. A driver with a lot more experience.”

Kyle Larson was given a second shot by Hendrick Racing, and the result has been five Cup Series victories this season. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton

Most significantly, Larson had regained his smile. Yes, most issues can still be solved with horsepower. However, this is not completely true. He began discussions with Hendrick Motorsports, the team for which he had been speculated to one day drive, replacing retiring Jimmie Johnson, while he worked toward his NASCAR reinstatement. That was, however, before the events of April 12.

Larson spoke with Gordon for a long time, since he was set to become Rick Hendrick’s formal successor at the racing team. He had even lengthier conversations with Hendrick, who was in the midst of his own discussions with prospective sponsors, particularly Chevrolet, who had severed relations with Larson after the racist insult.

“What struck me about Kyle was the things he was going above and above what NASCAR had requested of him, flying across the nation by himself to educate himself,” Hendrick said earlier this summer.

Larson, the most successful NASCAR owner in history, wanted the same validation he had sought from people he had flown across the country to meet with.

Hendrick said, “I wanted to see his eyes and his heart to realize that he was really genuine.” “Not only that, but this is what I need to accomplish in order to compete in NASCAR again.” It had to be the fact that he wasn’t scared to tell everyone that he’d done something awful. He expressed regret and promised to put things right.

“Kyle said that he intends to continue with this and expand on it as time goes on. He has told me that he would not let this to come to an end. And I have faith in him. I would not have employed him if I didn’t know who he was.”

Hendrick recruited Larson, placed his personal sponsorship on the vehicle via his car dealerships as a gesture of support, and promised to let Larson race on whatever short track he chose. He’s already signed a contract extension that runs through 2023. Larson’s charity foundation has also been boosted by Hendrick, who has placed a greater focus on supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives.

They are now the favorites to win a NASCAR Cup Series championship as a team. Larson’s first title and Hendrick’s 14th would already be considered important in auto racing history. They both hope it goes even farther.

“Kyle Larson’s success demonstrates that you can make a horrible mistake and yet rebound,” Hendrick remarked earlier this month. “More significantly, you may develop as a person. In my capacity as a human being. You may also assist others in their development. He’s done a lot of work and still has a lot to do, but he’s committed to getting it done. That is what I believe.”

Larson feels the same way.

He remarked, “It’s been a wild couple of years.” “However, I am grateful for the chance I have today.”

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