Esports, NASCAR

Larson controversy overshadows Monza Madness NASCAR event

Apr 13 2020
By Jack Benyon

A one-off NASCAR simracing event using the old Monza oval was won by esports regular Justin Botelho, but the race was overshadowed by controversy over Kyle Larson appearing to use a racist slur.

The event – organised by Cup Series regular Landon Cassill in the absence of a NASCAR Pro Invitational Series race this weekend – featured a number of NASCAR and IndyCar star drivers and personalities.

McLaren Arrow SP duo Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew joined Colton Herta and Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly, Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe from IndyCar. NASCAR drivers included Denny Hamlin and Bobby Labonte, while former NASCAR and Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr also joined the field.

During the race, Chip Ganassi Racing Cup driver Larson – who was streaming on Twitch – was heard using a racist term that was broadcast.

Other drivers in the race reacted with shock to the comments, with Xfinity Series driver Anthony Alfredo pointing out to Larson that he was speaking to everyone.

Larson himself is a graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity programme run by the stock car sanctioning body to broaden participation in its series.

NASCAR and Ganassi have yet to comment on the incident.

It is not the first time a NASCAR driver has been shrouded in controversy due to conduct in an esports event during the current break from real-life racing.

Richard Petty Motorsports driver Bubba Wallace was dropped by a sponsor after he was deemed to have ‘rage quit’ following a crash with Clint Bowyer during the NASCAR Pro Invitational race at Bristol.

Botelho takes victory amid chaos

The race itself resembled a rocket league battle for those familiar with that game, as cars littered the circuit last used for an F1 grand prix in 1961.

A combination of over 60 cars on track and narrow straights and banking meant multi-car crashes were a lap-by-lap occurrence, creating a calamitous affair where the stream was rarely able to keep up with the leader of a race that lived up to its ‘Monza Madness’ name.

With no one driver seemingly able to hold the lead, Botelho – owner of the Outrun eSports team – started 53rd on the grid but emerged as the dominant leader with 10 laps to go after all the drivers had made a stop for fuel.

With eight laps to go he narrowly saved a big slide while avoiding spinning traffic in front, and then a certain win looked to be in jeopardy when he caught slow-moving traffic on the last lap again.

Tommy Joe Martins had come out on top of a great battle in the last 10 laps for second with Casey Kirwan and Ray Alfalla, and ran down Botelho on the final tour after his traffic woe.

Botelho’s lead fell from over two seconds to just 0.6s, but he held on ahead of Martins, Kirwan and Alfalla.

Event organiser Cassill took eighth and was the highest-finishing Cup Series driver. Herta was the top IndyCar driver in 17th.

Kyle Larson

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