NASCAR should grant Larson the waiver, then rewrite the policy

The introduction of a waiver policy in 2014 was well-intentioned. However, the version the sport is operating under a decade later has flaws that need fixing.

NASCAR put the system in place when the playoff format was implemented. It was labeled a medical waiver or exception – a policy to keep drivers from racing while hurt because they needed the points. The language in the rule book stated that a driver must attempt to qualify for each race.

It didn’t take long for the “except in rare instances” (EIRI) clause to kick in, and NASCAR backed into a broad wall. NASCAR has since granted waivers for injuries, illness, mental health, suspensions, age, or returning the sport after over a year away to drive for a team that needed a driver.


Matt Kenseth was the latter. Kenseth had not driven a Cup Series car since 2018 when Chip Ganassi hired him in the spring of 2020 to drive the No. 42 car after Kyle Larson’s suspension.

Age waivers have been in the Craftsman Truck Series for drivers who missed the start of the season because they weren’t old enough to compete full-time. Josh Williams and Chase Elliott are the most recent drivers who have been given waivers for suspensions.

In 2014, Tony Stewart missed three races after the death of Kevin Ward Jr. in a sprint car race. It was the choice of Stewart – who was dealing with the grief from the incident – to not compete in three Cup Series races.

The injury waivers have been for drivers affected in NASCAR-sanctioned races and those outside of stock car racing. COVID-19 was considered an illness.

Larson is the latest driver looking for a waiver. Hendrick Motorsports made the request last week because Larson did not compete in the Coca-Cola 600. Instead, he was in Indianapolis and missed the start of the Cup Series race.

Per section of the NASCAR Rule Book, the language reads, “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.”

There is no arguing Larson didn’t start the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But the argument around this waiver request has nothing to do with Larson, even if technically denying the waiver would make sense by letter of the law. Unfortunately, the precedent has been set, so he should be granted a waiver.

It would be bad publicity for NASCAR not to grant one. Not only because of the precedent but also because of all the publicity the sport received. NASCAR and the NTT IndyCar Series had a ton of eyeballs on their sport because of the hype around Larson’s double attempt.

Rain affected both parts of Larson’s attempt at the double, but NASCAR’s dithering over a waiver means it could also have knock-on effects on his championship hopes. Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images

So, grant the waiver and move on. But it appears it’s not as simple as that since NASCAR is having serious discussions about the request and the waiting for a decision continues.

One can only hope this is because NASCAR understands the waiver system needs improvement. It’s not hyperbole to say there is a common refrain around the industry: NASCAR has never met a waiver it didn’t like. Even when it should.

Certainly, there is a need for a policy to keep an injured driver from trying to get behind the wheel or hiding the fact that they aren’t in 100% health. If the language in the rule book is going to remain as it is about a driver needing to start every race, then reverting the policy to be solely for medical exceptions makes sense.

An injured or ill driver should remain playoff-eligible if they cannot compete. No one should want them trying to do so when they are clearly hindered.

All conversations stop there, though. If it’s not medical, it’s not a waiver conversation. There is no need for the system under its current evolution.

More often than not, waivers granted by NASCAR over the years weren’t even needed because the driver would be in the playoffs from performance. In this case, Larson is perfectly capable of making the playoffs without a waiver by sitting inside the top five in points after missing one race.

Simplicity is the answer. A championship-eligible driver should be one who competes full-time in a series. They will qualify for the postseason by winning a race or being in the top 16 in points.

No full-time teams or drivers are willingly skipping races. The loss of points, performance, violating contracts, and so on make that an illogical thought. Therefore, why need a waiver system unless for medical exceptions?

Over the years, too many questionable waivers have been granted to continue with the status quo. The suspensions are the best examples.

NASCAR suspends a driver because their actions are severe enough to warrant a penalty, but then grants the driver a waiver to remain playoff eligible. By the letter of the law, a driver “must start” all the races but not the one NASCAR doesn’t want you to because you’re in trouble. Don’t worry, though, you’re still allowed to compete for the championship.

It’s easy to see why there is debate, confusion, and frustration whenever a waiver request is made. The system needs to be more well-defined, and by going back to just a medical waiver, it would be. No more handouts – if a driver wants to compete for a championship, the performance should be what puts them there, whether they miss a race or not.

Welcome to your wake-up call, NASCAR. The path forward with limited damage is to grant Larson the waiver and then explain how things will be different going forward, because the time has come for needed rulebook revising.

Story originally appeared on Racer