Has Kyle Larson changed?
Kyle Larson has finally given an on-record interview concerning NASCAR and his time since departing from the sport.
In it, conducted by the AP’s Jenna Fryer, Larson revealed that he had spent a substantial amount of time learning about the history of the great racial divide in this country. He had been in Minnesota before and then following the death of George Floyd, even visiting the site of the incident, among other things.
For the first stop on the apology tour, it was pretty good. It was a fairly interesting account, and ultimately, I do think Larson is being genuine in the article.
For the most part, that is. I don’t buy his claim, “That’s not a word that I had ever used,” concerning the N-word. He said it way too casually in April on a simple mic check for me to personally believe him there. It’s harder to believe in when he also says in the interview, “I never really realized how privileged I was in the way I grew up.”
But as far as celebrity public rehab stories, and with nothing coming out about any other major racial incidents involving Larson when the fruit was ripe for one, I don’t think he’s racist or was knowingly racist.
Now, should he have been welcomed back so quickly with open arms by World of Outlaws? Absolutely not, and it’s clear WoO doesn’t care about anything outside of its little dirt track bubble.
What would Larson have to do to get back to NASCAR?
There will be two huge hurdles that Larson will need to cross in order to come back. The first will be getting approved by NASCAR to return.
Months ago, I’d have said getting approved would be the easier of the two hurdles. NASCAR wasn’t going to open its arms a week later for Larson, but after a couple of months, he probably would have gotten approved to come back if this happened a decade ago.
Then Floyd died and the biggest civil rights call to (largely nonviolent) arms moment in 50 years happened. Now NASCAR’s in a horrible spot to allow Larson to be back, especially with the spotlight being thrust on Bubba Wallace. Larson is going to need a total endorsement from Wallace to even think about coming back, and even if he gets one, NASCAR does not want the skeletons in its closet to come out yet again this summer.
The next hurdle is finding a team. It would be incredibly stupid for Larson to come back to NASCAR only to drive for a back-marker team. The one thing the bulk of people agree on with Larson, regardless of where they stand on this issue, is that he can wheel a racecar. Winning a bunch of races on the World of Outlaws tour is a good way to keep that perception. Bringing a Spire Motorsports car home 30th every week would ruin that perception.
Tony Stewart told SiriusXM he thinks NASCAR should allow Larson to race again. It has always been crystal clear that Stewart has wanted Larson to drive for him at the NASCAR Cup Series level and was probably going to make a push for the young driver in free agency prior to the racial slur.
The problem with hiring Larson right now, of course, is that he is an automatic turn-off for Madison Avenue. He’d need to be supported either by self-sponsoring (which he probably doesn’t have the money for) or by an internal sponsor. Like Haas Automation.
But it isn’t that simple with Stewart-Haas Racing. Haas is already sponsoring Cole Custer out of pocket, and Custer isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Kevin Harvick. Aric Almirola has done great things this summer, and even though sponsor Smithfield was hit hard by COVID-19, it’s hard to say he’s really in that much danger right now.
Clint Bowyer seems fairly vulnerable. But Bowyer is also significantly more marketable than Larson and isn’t that bad a driver. And finally, if all else fails, SHR already has Chase Briscoe burning a hole in its Xfinity Series pocket and is more than ready to take over a seat if need be. It’s not impossible to believe Larson could drive for SHR, especially with a co-owner that likes him as much as Stewart. But it’s hard to see Haas gold at the end of the rainbow for Larson for the 2021 season.
Who will drink some milk on Sunday?
The 104th Indianapolis 500 will finally be contested this weekend.
The event, traditionally run on Memorial Day weekend, will be the first 500 not held in the month of May. It will also be the first not held in front of fans, with COVID-19 putting heavy restrictions on new track and NTT IndyCar Series owner Roger Penske’s first 500.
The big story these past two weeks has been just how much better the Hondas are compared to the Chevrolets. Marco Andretti, the Kyle Petty of the Andretti family, won the pole for this year’s event, the first for the family since grandfather Mario’s third and final pole in 1987.
IndyCar was able to get 33 starters in the field this year despite everything going wrong in the world. Tony Kanaan will be racing in what was planned to be his final Indy 500, as will be Fernando Alonso, prior to his returning to the Formula 1 circuit in 2021.
One new thing to IndyCar this season that will probably be a story to watch on Sunday will be the new overhead visors on the cars. This has made the series much safer on ovals such as Indianapolis Motor Speedway but has had problems with a lack of air flow for the driver. This has made the cockpits significantly hotter in the series this year and may be a big factor on a hot and muggy August day in Indianapolis.
The favorite this weekend is probably Scott Dixon. Dixon has been almost unstoppable this season in his quest for a record sixth series championship, absolutely dominating at the last high speed oval the series has gone to, Texas Motor Speedway.
Who can survive The Monster Mile?
Meanwhile, on the east coast, the NASCAR industry is finally about to take a big breath.
This weekend at Dover International Speedway will be the final scheduled Cup double-header weekend, and outside of an Xfinity double-header at Richmond Raceway next month, the last of the season for the three national touring series. 21 Cup races will have been contested in a little over three months once the checkered flag flies on Sunday, the most brutal stretch in modern era history. And the end of the season is thankfully in sight, with just one last race before the playoffs after this weekend.
But first, they have to get through Dover. The Monster Mile has become a fairly tame racetrack in recent years, with not a lot of lead changes in green flag conditions outside of pit cycles. What’s going to be hard this weekend, though, will be the drivers just getting through both races, which total 624 scheduled laps/miles.
Dover is one of the smaller tracks on the schedule (no, it isn’t a short track), but it’s also one of the fastest feeling. The track feels like a roller coaster for drivers, thanks to its smooth concrete surface. The amount of G-forces being generated by these cars just makes them exhausting to drive, with a few drivers needing medical attention after prior Dover races. And now, instead of 400 miles, these guys have 624 miles in two days. Add that in with the heat, and it might not be a great sight on pit road after the race on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr., at his home racetrack, is going to have the edge this weekend. This is thanks to his recent success at Dover itself (with just one finish outside of the top five since 2016), his conditioning, and the fact he can lay it all out as a virtue of being locked in to the playoffs.
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