Why NASCAR Decided To Give Kyle Larson A Playoff Waiver

Why NASCAR Decided To Give Kyle Larson A Playoff Waiver

NASCAR granted Kyle Larson's request to remain playoff eligible on Tuesday morning. Elton Sawyer, NASCAR's Senior VP of Competition, explained why.

Jun 4, 2024 by Rob Blount

NASCAR announced on Tuesday morning that the request from Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports for a waiver to remain eligible for the 2024 playoffs has been approved. Larson needed a waiver after missing the Coca-Cola 600 to compete in the Indianapolis 500. But why did it take so long to be approved? And in the end, why was Larson’s waiver granted, when this was so different from other waiver requests?

To start off, it’s worth discussing why this request was so different from other waiver requests like those for Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, and Erik Jones. In their cases (Kurt Busch and Elliott received multiple waivers), their requests were due to injuries or NASCAR-issued suspensions that kept them from attempting to start every race, as is the rule. 

In Larson’s case, Larson chose to miss the Coca-Cola 600 in favor of competing in the Indianapolis 500 after a storm delayed the start of the 500 and it was apparent that he could no longer do both in one day.

But Larson did attempt to race in the Coca-Cola 600. He just didn’t attempt to be there for the entire 400-lap affair. Larson made it to Charlotte Motor Speedway after finishing 500 miles in Indianapolis with a little more than 150 laps remaining in Charlotte. But another storm, this time in Charlotte, caused NASCAR to end the race early, which kept Larson from ever turning a lap in Charlotte.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s Senior VP of Competition, said via a Zoom conference on Tuesday that was a key part of their decision-making process in ultimately approving Larson’s waiver request.

“Kyle made every attempt to get to Charlotte,” Sawyer explained. “He was standing in the pit box with is helmet on ready to go.”

Sawyer also explained that this decision took a while to be reached because of the nature of the situation. 

“This was, without a doubt, uncharted waters,” Sawyer said. “This was unprecedented in we had a driver miss one of our Cup races to be at another event. That’s why it took as long as it did.”

Larson’s car owner, Rick Hendrick, released a statement on Tuesday following NASCAR’s decision:

“Under normal circumstances, completing ‘the double’ is one of the toughest tests in sports. Despite our best efforts, this year’s combination of weather conditions in Indianapolis and Charlotte made it impossible. Although losing ground in the standings was hard to swallow, we were especially disappointed for the fans at the Coca-Cola 600 who were not able to see Kyle race. I’m extremely proud of everything he did to prepare and the months of planning by our team and our partners at Arrow McLaren to run these two crown jewel events. We hoped race day would play out differently, but the programs was still incredibly positive for everyone involved. Kyle’s performance throughout May was a great reflection on the level of talent competing each week in the NASCAR Cup Series. We appreciate NASCAR communicating with us throughout the effort and granting our request for a playoff waiver.”

Larson himself offered up a very simple response to the news on the social media site X, formerly Twitter. Larson shared a gif of himself giving one thumb up.

Following Sunday’s race at Worldwide Technology Raceway, Larson finds himself second in points, 29 markers behind Denny Hamlin for the regular-season championship with two victories and seven stage wins. It’s hypothetical, but it’s tough to argue that Larson would not be closer in points to Hamlin if he was able to compete in the Coca-Cola 600.

As a result, NASCAR feels that Larson missing a race was a penalty in itself, and therefore will not be issuing any additional penalties to Larson for skipping the 600.

“We don’t feel any additional penalty or any type of asterisk would have been right,” said Sawyer.

In the end, it’s worth remembering that this process, the rule, the waivers, all of it exist for the fans. The point is to make sure that a ticket-buying customer is guaranteed to see their favorite drivers when they come to the track. Even though that did not happen at Charlotte, Sawyer explained that making sure their fans could watch Larson compete for the championship the rest of the year was important to NASCAR.

“To not have Kyle Larson in our playoff and give our fans the opportunity, the chance to see him race for a championship, at the end of the day that didn’t feel like that was the right decision for us to make.”

Larson’s continued quest for his second NASCAR Cup Series championship resumes on Sunday at his home race track of Sonoma Raceway.

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