CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As sponsor after sponsor dropped Kyle Larson after he used a racial slur during a live-streamed virtual race, his NASCAR team owner was backed into a corner.
Chip Ganassi could let McDonald's and Credit One Bank and Chevrolet pull their funding and bankrupt his team or he could cut ties with the driver he had plucked from sprint car racing and groomed into an elite stock car driver.
It was essentially out of Ganassi's hands.
He fired the 27-year-old Larson on Tuesday in what he described as “an emotional call” — the only move possible to stabilize his organization.
“I told Kyle he can come back from this; he can even come back from this with our team,” Ganassi told The Associated Press. “But there really wasn't any choice.”
Larson's stunning downfall took less than 48 hours, unusual in its details and coming with sports everywhere basically shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic. The most coveted upcoming free agent in NASCAR lost almost every sponsor he had in what could ultimately be an eight-figure blunder.
Larson loses his 2020 salary plus the massive payday expected from his next contract. If he eventually lands with another team, it will surely be at a far discounted rate than the value he had built since moving full-time to NASCAR in 2013.
The unraveling began Sunday night when Larson appeared to lose communication on his headset with his spotter while competing in one of the iRacing virtual events that have grown in popularity during the sports hiatus.