NASCAR granted Kyle Larson a waiver to remain playoff eligible, ending an eight-day saga about whether the former series points leader would have a chance to go after a second NASCAR Cup Series title.

Larson required a waiver because he did not start the Coca-Cola 600 on May 26 after he stayed in Indianapolis to compete in the rain-delayed Indianapolis 500. He eventually did arrive in Charlotte, but rains fell as he arrived and the Charlotte race was deemed official after 249 of the scheduled 400 laps, so Larson never got in the car.

NASCAR’s rules state: “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.”

NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer said Larson’s efforts to get to Charlotte were enough, as the rule exists so fans don’t buy tickets and their favorite driver doesn’t compete.

“We’re looking out, first and foremost, for the fans that buy the ticket and were here in Charlotte,” Sawyer said. “We felt like Kyle and the team gave every effort to be able to get here. He was ready to go, had his helmet on and unfortunately, we were not able to get going.”

NASCAR typically grants waivers for injuries — whether or not suffered during NASCAR competition — and in cases where it suspends drivers (except for substance-abuse policy violations).

The argument not to grant the waiver is simple: He failed to start the race, a race he could have chosen to compete in and instead competed somewhere else. 

But if NASCAR had denied the waiver, it would have had to answer many questions, including:

–How it could grant waivers in so many other circumstances — Matt Kenseth got a waiver in 2020 when he replaced Larson after Larson was indefinitely suspended for using a racial slur four races into the season — and not grant this one in a situation where a driver had brought so much attention to NASCAR in trying to do two of the biggest races annually in the United States on the same day (hoping to be the fifth driver to do it).

“In the past, those waivers had been given mostly for medical reasons or situations where drivers were suspended from our event,” Sawyer said. “And those waivers were granted fairly quickly. This one was unprecedented in the fact that we had a driver miss one of our races, one of our Cup races, a championship event to be at another event. So that’s why it took as long as it did.”

–How come this wasn’t clear to Hendrick Motorsports? Hendrick obviously felt it would get the waiver and weather is a concern on any race weekend.

“There wasn’t a waiver needed prior to 6:22 p.m. green flag Sunday night in Charlotte,” Sawyer said. “So a lot of that is hypotheticals, what if this, what if that — we had gone through some of them, but you let the process take its course.

“A lot of things could have happened in between — weather just happened to be the one that was in front of us in this particular situation. So at no point would we grant any waivers prior to — that would not have been the process.”

–How would this impact drivers trying the double in the future? Would drivers still try it if they had to worry about being able to get back to Charlotte in case of rain, travel issues, et cetera?

–What would the impact be of one of its most popular drivers, Larson, not being in the playoffs based on a decision by NASCAR?

“To not have Kyle Larson in our playoff and give our fans the opportunity to see him race for a championship and compete against some of the best drivers in the world, at the end of the day, didn’t feel like that’s the right decision for us to make,” Sawyer said. 

–How would it handle what could be a PR nightmare with at least some of the biggest names in NASCAR having come out in support of a waiver even though they would have a better chance of winning the title or making the playoffs if Larson was not eligible?

–What would Larson do going forward? Would he not enter additional races? 

NASCAR now won’t have to answer those questions in the light of denial. Larson did lose the opportunity to earn eight playoff points (points that can help a driver advance through the playoffs) as well as additional playoff points based on his regular-season points finish. He fell from first to third in the standings after that race.

Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, who sponsored both the Larson cars for the Cup and IndyCar races, said he appreciated getting the waiver. 

“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,” Hendrick said. “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.”

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.

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