Monday July 15th, 2024 1:18PM

NASCAR grants Larson a waiver to compete in playoffs

By Jenna Fryer AP Auto Racing Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR on Tuesday granted Kyle Larson the waiver he needs to remain eligible to compete in this year's playoffs despite missing the Coca-Cola 600 because he instead ran the Indianapolis 500.

The decision came after nearly nine days of internal NASCAR debate over whether Larson should be punished for choosing to stay in Indianapolis, where rain delayed the May 26 race by four hours. That meant Larson had zero chance of making it back to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600.

But it was always his intent to race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Larson did make it to the track, only for the race to be called for rain before he ever turned a lap in his No. 5 Chevrolet. Justin Allgaier started in Larson's place and was credited with a 13th-place finish.

“This was without a doubt unchartered waters; in the past, those waivers had been given mostly for medical reasons or for drivers suspended from our event, and those waivers were granted fairly quickly," said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. “This one was unprecedented in that we had a driver miss one of our races, one of our Cup championship events, to be at another event. That’s why it took as long as it did. The time we took, which was a week, was exactly the right time we needed to make the decision.”

Larson reacted to the waiver with a meme he posted on social media of him giving the thumbs-up, but it was quickly deleted.

Larson, who has two wins this season that make him automatically eligible for the playoffs, had his Cup Series standings altered after Sunday's race outside St. Louis. Although he was listed as second in the overall standings, all his playoff points had been wiped away.

The playoff points were restored in Tuesday's standings.

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

Larson, who finished 18th at Indianapolis in large part because of a late speeding penalty, had worked out a minute-by-minute plan with Hendrick Motorsports to ensure he'd make the start of the Coke 600. But when rain disrupted the Indy 500, Rick Hendrick decided to keep Larson in Indianapolis.

All of Hendrick Motorsports was in constant contact with NASCAR and under the impression there was no issue so long as Larson made it back to compete in the 600.

Sawyer said no one from Hendrick was ever guaranteed a waiver if Larson did not make the NASCAR race.

“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," Hendrick said. "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 program 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 was the fifth driver in history to attempt to run the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Only Tony Stewart in 2001 completed all 1,100 miles.

There is concern now that NASCAR's tough stance will deter drivers from trying the feat in the future. Larson had a two-year deal with Arrow McLaren and Hendrick to run Indy again in 2025, but it is not clear if NASCAR's lengthy deliberations will upend those plans.

WHAT IS A WAIVER
Waivers in NASCAR until now have been handed out like candy.

When NASCAR launched the playoff system in which a regular-season victory locked a driver into the playoffs, it wanted to ensure the driver wouldn’t start skipping races because their slot in the championship playoffs was guaranteed.

So NASCAR said the drivers still needed to participate in all the events. But if they got injured? Well, then a waiver was available to excuse the absence from the Cup Series event.

Since then, the issue has become murky at best. NASCAR has granted waivers for physical injuries and illness but also for mental health and a suspension for accusations of domestic violence. Matt Kenseth, who had not driven in the Cup Series since 2018 when Chip Ganassi hired him during Larson’s suspension in 2020 for using a racial slur, even got a waiver.

Age waivers have been given in the Truck Series for drivers who missed the start of the season because they weren’t old enough to compete full time. Chase Elliott, Larson's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, last year was given two waivers: one for missing races while injured, the second for missing a race while he was under NASCAR suspension for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin.

The rulebook states that “Unless otherwise authorized by NASCAR, driver(s) and Team Owner(s) must start all Championship Events of the current season to be eligible for The Playoffs. If a starting position was not earned, then the driver(s) and Team Owner(s) must have attempted to Qualify, at the discretion of the Series Managing Director, for the Race.”

Sawyer conceded that although the rain in Indianapolis meant Larson was not at Charlotte in time for the start of the race, Larson made every attempt to race the 600.

“Our decision-making was, although we had the inclement weather in Indy as well as Charlotte, Kyle made every attempt to get to Charlotte,” Sawyer said. “He was standing in the pit box with his helmet on, ready to go, and unfortunately we had weather in Charlotte, as well, and we weren't fortunate enough to get the race going again.”

  • Associated Categories: Sports, NASCAR News, NASCAR Cup
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