NASCAR wants no ‘muzzle’ on Kyle Larson’s love of dirt racing

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CHARLOTTE – NASCAR’s new president has a new policy for Kyle Larson: Speak your mind about what you love.

After the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said last month that he planned “to just keep my mouth shut” about his moonlighting in sprint cars because it angers NASCAR and its fans, Steve Phelps extended an olive branch Wednesday afternoon.

Phelps, who was announced as NASCAR’s new president last week, told reporters that stock-car racing’s major leagues need to do a better job of outreach to its grassroots tracks, the World of Outlaws and other forms of motorsports because “we can help each other.

“We may be at the pinnacle of (short-track) racing from a popularity standpoint, but we can learn from them, they can learn from us, and we can promote each other in a far better way,” Phelps said during an hourlong interview with nearly two dozen media members at NASCAR Plaza. “So this notion of NASCAR trying to muzzle Kyle Larson and his love of racing couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We want Kyle Larson to talk about NASCAR racing and dirt racing and things that are his passion. We think he can bring his fan base from other forms of racing that he’s doing to us. And we can take our fans and bring them down to that racing as well, so we all get stronger by doing something.”

In January, Larson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that winning the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals would mean more than the Daytona 500, which drew blowback on social media. During the Aug. 10-12 weekend when he commuted between Michigan International Speedway and the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa, Larson said his love of dirt racing “still made plenty of waves” within NASCAR.

Phelps said Wednesday that his industry needs to take a much less strident tone toward competing series and rebuild its bridges with feeder series and other auto racing disciplines that have proved to be avenues to NASCAR. Both Larson and rising star Christopher Bell made their names in dirt racing on the way into NASCAR, which has been reminiscent of past champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

“I totally agree that’s something we need to do, that will be part of the event promotion we’re looking at with our racetracks is if you look at the dirt event in Las Vegas, it was very successful,” Phelps said. “Kevin Harvick and I have had this conversation, he’s a champion for that whether it’s Bakersfield, or just in general what’s happening from short-track racing.

“What I would say is we need to reach out to home tracks. We need to reach out to World of Outlaws and other forms of motorsports because we can help each other. If someone is a fan of racing, we believe they can be a fan of all racing.”