What is the R word in racing? Kyle Busch apology tweet explained

Bruno Cooke November 2, 2021
What is the R word in racing? Kyle Busch apology tweet explained
Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images


Pro stock car racing driver Kyle Busch tweeted an apology yesterday for using what many news outlets have referred to as “the r-word” during a post-race interview, when discussing a move of rival driver Brad Keselowski. What does the r-word mean in racing, and how have audiences and fans reacted to the events?

What is the r-word in NASCAR racing?

The r-word doesn’t specifically relate to racing, NASCAR or otherwise. But during the last two days, discussion of it has dominated some conversations about stock car racing driver Kyle Busch.

In Busch’s apology tweet, he wrote that he “used a word I should never use”. Several outlets have referred to the word he used as “the r-word” – but what did he say, and what does it mean?

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

During a post-race interview yesterday, Kyle Busch described a move of rival driver Keselowski’s as “fricking retarded”. While “fricking” isn’t considered profane or insulting, the latter is – which is why people refer to it as “the r-word”. 

What does the r-word mean?

Campaigners have fought to end casual usage of the word “the r-word” refers to for years. 

The r-word is a derogatory, catch-all term for people with intellectual disabilities. A Special Olympics (SO) editorial about it describes the word as a form of hate speech.

While the phrase “mental retardation” was once an accepted medical term, it has since devolved into a slur. It is a form of bullying, writes SO.

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MORBIUS | Official Trailer

MORBIUS | Official Trailer

“Using the R-word is the same as using any slur against a minority group”, . Eliminating this word is a step toward respect for all.”

Spread The Word (formerly Spread The Word To End The Word) is a global campaign working towards inclusion for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Eliminating the r-word from casual, daily use – whether in jokes or in flippant remarks – is a key part of the campaign

How have audiences reacted to what Kyle Busch said yesterday?

Kyle Busch’s use of the word has proved divisive. His apology tweet has been liked over 7,000 times, but public opinion on whether or not it was merited is hardly unanimous. 

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Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

One Twitter user wrote that he “shouldn’t have to apologise for anything”, citing Busch’s “right to freedom of speech”. Another argued that NASCAR should apologise for “wanting to interview driver (sic) 5 seconds after they exit a car with adrenaline at a high”.

Others disagree, however. One user described the r-word as “the most offensive word”, and recalled an apology Busch made only last week, to fellow driver Bubba Wallace. Meanwhile, another suggested he “walk a mile in the shoes of a special needs child or family”.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.