ELK GROVE, Calif. — The greatest year of Kyle Larson's professional career was celebrated in his hometown of Elk Grove on Monday.
Larson's win at the Phoenix International Raceway became his 10th win of 2021 and earned him the NASCAR Cup Series championship. It was the final win of a dominant run on the racetrack.
"(I'm) thankful that I won the cup championship and everybody was able to come together and put this event on," Larson said. "Elk Grove will always be home."
While Larson's time on the track saw him in the lead, the story of Kyle Larson's 2021 win was ultimately a comeback story.
Last year, Larson used a racial slur that nearly cost him his career. It happened during a night of virtual racing when Larson used the N-word to address his spotter over the livestream.
Larson lost his sponsors and his team. But he eventually returned after educating himself in racial inequality and injustice and got a second chance with Hendrick Motorsports. He's also stepped up his charitable initiatives and has become Hendrick's face of its community programs.
"At that time, I thought the sponsors should cancel him"
Harold Armstead, a lifelong NASCAR fan, was at the celebration in Old Town Plaza. At the time of the incident, he had his issues with Larson.
“I think the punishment has to fit the crime, and he did exactly wrong. I was upset as a minority person. I was upset, because as a fan… I just didn’t like what had happened. At that time, I thought the sponsors should cancel him,” Armstead said.
However, Armstead found himself at the celebration because he felt Larson did the right things afterward. He said Larson did the right things, worked with others and came to understand the mistakes he made.
It's why he and others believe Larson earned his second chance.
For racing fan Jaxon Johnson, one of Larson's younger fans, he was disappointed in Larson, but believes Larson has become more respectful since that time.
“I’ve never disliked him, but I knew that he did say the bad word," Johnson said. "I guess he does deserve a second chance, because you learn from your mistakes and if he wasn’t given a second chance. I don’t know what could have happened.”
Sharie Wilson, owner of Dream Girls salon, said the incident was a hurtful one to many people at the time.
“What he did was hurtful, especially to all the little black boys that was following him, all the little black boys that saw him as a hero or someone they wanted to be like and he had many of those,” said Sharie Wilson, owner of Dream Girls salon.
However, she too doesn't think that a second chance is entirely off the table if the person is sincere in how they apologize and make amends.
“We need to make sure we keep that same energy across the board, especially when we’re talking about African American, especially our men,” Wilson said.