Kyle Larson Getting NASCAR Waiver Puts Series in a Tough Spot

nascar cup series go bowling at the glen
Larson's NASCAR Waiver Puts Series in a Tough SpotChris Graythen - Getty Images

As expected, NASCAR granted Kyle Larson a waiver on Tuesday for missing the Coca-Cola 600 and officially punched his ticket to the Cup Series Playoffs.

Sure, it was expected. After all, Larson is already qualified for the Playoffs as a two-time race winner this season. And, despite missing the Coca-Cola 600 entirely because of a rain delay at the Indianapolis 500, Larson is still second in the Cup Series points. He's totally worthy of a spot in the Playoffs based on the numbers.

However, NASCAR's allowing the waiver was the wrong call and sends a message it might regret later. Series officials clearly caved, or at the very least need to sit down and re-write a section of the NASCAR Rule Book.


A NASCAR's rule for qualifying for the Playoffs is clearly spelled out in the NASCAR Rule Book (Section for those scoring at home):

“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.”

Larson failed to start one lap of the 600. He didn't even get in the car for one lap on race night at Charlotte. At the very core, Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports team made the decision to blow off a NASCAR race so so could race in another series.

the 108th running of the indianapolis 500
Kyle Larson ran in the top-10 much of the Indy 500 before finally finishing 20th. He was named the Rookie of the Year at this year’s race.James Gilbert - Getty Images

Not a good precedent.

Granted, rain played a factor, but without a waiver deal already cut, Larson should have skipped the 500 and headed to Charlotte for the 600 as soon as the rain in Indianapolis made it clear he wouldn't be able to make it to Charlotte in time TO START the race.

Sure, he was in Charlotte, helmet in hand, during the rain delay and ready to jump into the car that was being driven by Justin Allgaier. But that point is irrelevant. The Rule Book says that Larson needed TO START the race.

Bottom line, Larson violated a NASCAR Playoff eligibility rule when he skipped one of NASCAR's biggest events to race in another series.

The waiver, while intent is not stated specifically in the rules, is intended for drivers who qualified for the Playoffs—by either winning a race or scoring enough points to qualify—but who due to injuries or illness were forced to miss time in the Cup Series.

Kyle Busch was granted a waiver in 2015 after he was suffered leg injuries in a crash at the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona. Busch missed 11 races, but then won multiple races and was granted a waiver for the Playoffs.

Chase Elliott was granted a waiver last year after being injured in snow-boarding accident that caused him to miss some time. Fortunately for NASCAR, that somewhat controversial waiver didn't need to be used because Elliott failed to win a race or score enough points to even make the playoffs. NASCAR got off easily, or at least quietly, on that one after Elliott missed time for an 0ff-track incident.

No question Larson brought a lot of positive attention to NASCAR, to Hendrick and to both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 for his what turned out to be aborted attempt at the double. But, ultimately, he and his team just assumed the driver and Hendrick Motorsports were bigger than the waiver rule.

Surely they'll let Larson in the Playoffs, had to the assumption and core of the discussion in Larson's camp during the four-hour rain delay at Indy.

We all know what happens when you assume, right?

NASCAR's Larson ruling just set a precedent that it's okay for a Playoff-qualified driver to miss a regular-season Cup Series race to compete in another series during the season.

Say another driver—one already with a Cup Series win or two in his or her back pocket and a spot secured in the Playoffs—decides to skip a Cup Series event and participate is some big-money short-track event. That's now okay.

Say a few other drivers want to try the Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 double in the future. NASCAR has now said, fine, go for it—and if you don't happen to make it back in time for the 600, that's okay, too. Don't worry about it.

“We didn’t take it lightly,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, was quoted by on Thursday. “There was a lot of discussion internally.

"We ultimately landed at giving Kyle a waiver. Essentially our decision-making was, although we had the inclement weather in Indianapolis as well as Charlotte, Kyle made every attempt to get to Charlotte. He was standing in the pitbox with his helmet on ready to go.

“Unfortunately we had weather in Charlotte as well, and were unfortunately not able to get the race going again. That’s how we landed on our decision.”

Section apparently doesn't matter anymore. The rule includes the phrase, "Unless otherwise authorized by NASCAR ..." Many fans—and many of us in the media—just assumed Larson and Hendrick had already received some kind of authorization with NASCAR before the decision was made to stay through the rain delay at Indy that put his Coca-Cola 600 participation in jeopardy.

However, there is no indication that Larson or Hendrick Motorsports—Hendrick was a sponsor of Larson's Arrow McLaren Indy 500 effort—approached NASCAR for any authorization prior to the decision to wait out the rain delay in Indianapolis that led to Larson missing the 600.

In the week prior to the double attempt, Larson said that he would abort his Indy 500 effort if there was rain or other delay at Indy that might keep him from making the start in Charlotte.

On race day, the plan changed.

Ultimately, Larson and Hendrick chose the Indy 500 over the Charlotte 600, and stayed during a rain delay at Indy knowing it would not be able to adhere to one of NASCAR's key eligibility rules for the Playoffs.

Some drivers and teams are just bigger than the rules.