NASCAR Star Kyle Larson Apologizes for Racial Slur During iRacing Event

Kyle Larson
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NASCAR star Kyle Larson used a racial slur on a livestream during a virtual race.

NASCAR star Kyle Larson used a racial slur on a livestream during a virtual race -- the second driver in a week to draw scrutiny while using the online racing platform to fill time during the coronavirus pandemic.

Larson was competing in an iRacing event Sunday night when he appeared to lose communication on his headset with his spotter. During a check of his microphone, he said, "You can't hear me?" That was followed by the N-word.

One week ago, Bubba Wallace "rage quit" an official NASCAR iRacing event that was televised live nationally and his sponsor fired him immediately. Wallace had been wrecked and, fed up, quit the game and admitted on Twitter that it was out of anger. Blue-Emu, a topical pain reliever that had sponsored Wallace for the virtual race and has an association with him in real life, replied to the tweet, firing Wallace.

Larson is half-Japanese -- his grandparents spent time in an internment camp in California -- and he climbed from short track racing into NASCAR through its "Drive for Diversity" program. He is the only driver of Japanese descent to win a major NASCAR race.

Larson, in his seventh full season in NASCAR, is in the final year of his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing. He was at the top of the list of a crowded free agent field when the circuit was suspended four races into the season as sports stopped during the coronavirus crisis.

NASCAR quickly pivoted to create an iRacing league of virtual racing that has engaged viewers and set records for esports television viewership. One of the draws of the platform is that drivers can link into one another on a live stream, where they banter, argue, make jokes and discuss the racing. Fans can eavesdrop through the gaming app Twitch.

Larson used the slur during a Sunday night race for fun against drivers from various series. The event wasn't part of NASCAR's official series.

Drivers in the chat immediately reacted to Larson's use of the slur, with one instantly alerting him, "Kyle, you're talking to everyone, bud." Others were in disbelief.

Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing had no immediate comment Monday.

Larson has six career Cup wins and finished a career-best sixth in the standings last season. He is 27 and the married father of two young children.

Among his sponsors at Ganassi are McDonald's and Credit One Bank.

He's considered one of the top sprint car racers in the country, and in January finally won the prestigious Chili Bowl after 13 attempts.

On Monday, Larson apologized via a video on Twitter.

Later in the day, news broke that Larson had been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR over his comments. The organization said in statement that they have "made diversity and inclusion a priority and will not tolerate the type of language" Larson used.

"Our Member Conduct Guidelines are clear in this regard, and we will enforce these guidelines to maintain an inclusive environment for our entire industry and fan base," the statement continued.

Additionally, two of Larson's sponsors, McDonald's and Credit One Bank, dropped their sponsorships in the wake of the controversy.

This story was originally published by CBS News on Monday, April 13 at 6:22 a.m.