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NASCAR driver Larson suspended after racial slur during virtual race

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Los Angeles (AFP)

US driver Kyle Larson has been indefinitely suspended from the NASCAR stock car series after using a racial slur during a live-streamed virtual race on Sunday.

"NASCAR has made diversity and inclusion a priority and will not tolerate the type of language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday's iRacing event," NASCAR said in a statement on Monday.

"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."

Larson himself has benefitted from NASCAR's attempts to increase diversity in its ranks.

His mother is Japanese-American and he rose from short-track racing into NASCAR's upper echelon through its "Drive for Diversity" program.

The 27-year-old posted a video on social media platforms on Monday apologizing.

"I just want to say I'm sorry," he said. "Last night I made a mistake and said the word that should never, ever be said. There's no excuse for that."

Larson offered apologies to his family, his coworkers and the African-American community.

"I understand the damage is probably irreparable," he said. "I own up to it."

By the time NASCAR completed its fact-check and suspended Larson, his Chip Ganassi Racing team had already banned him without pay.

"We are extremely disappointed by what Kyle said last night during an iRacing Event," the team said in a statement. "The words that he chose to use are offensive and unacceptable."

Larson was taking part in the Monza Madness iRacing exhibition race late on Sunday.

The virtual races are a chance for fans to connect with drivers as sports are shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A video from another competitor's Twitch stream picked up the slur on the audio channel that allows competitors to hear each other.

In the video, Larson said: "You can’t hear me? Hey (racial slur)."

Xfinity driver Anthony Alfredo then said: "Kyle, you're talking to everyone, bud."

Larson isn't the first NASCAR driver to spark controversy for his conduct during a virtual race.

Last week Bubba Wallace was dropped by a sponsor after he "rage quit" when he was cut off by a rival during an e-race being broadcast live on Fox Sports.

"You find out that you aren't sponsoring a NASCAR driver, you are sponsoring someone like my 13-year-old son who broke his controller playing some game where he builds houses," Ben Blessing, an executive for Wallace sponsor Blue-Emu, said in condemning the driver's behavior.

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