No Drama Expected, But Kyle Larson Now Needs a Waiver to Make NASCAR Playoffs

the 108th running of the indianapolis 500
Larson Now Needs Waiver to Make NASCAR PlayoffsJustin Casterline - Getty Images

Surely, you didn’t think it would end any other way, did you?

Surely, you didn’t think Rick Hendrick and Kyle Larson and NASCAR would risk losing a former champion and an enormously popular driver from this year’s Cup Series championship playoff series simply because it rained much of Sunday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It may not happen for a few days, but the suits in Daytona Beach and Charlotte will surely grant Larson a waiver into the 16-driver, 10-race Playoff Series. By rule—many fans claim they’re written in pencil with an eraser—all full-schedule, regular-season winners are eligible for the championship series if they have started the season’s first 26 races.

the 108th running of the indianapolis 500
Kyle Larson spent much of the Indy 500 racing in the top-10 before fading to 18th late.Justin Casterline - Getty Images

But when rain forced a 4-hour delay in the start of the 108th Indy 500, the Hendrick camp chose to stay put, knowing full well that Larson would miss the 6:30 p.m., start of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. With two Cup Series victories this year and the points lead, the 2021 champion has been a shoo-in since early in the season to make the Playoff Series that opens in September.


It's all speculation right now since neither the 500 nor the 600 is even 24 hours old—and on a holiday weekend to boot. One media report says NASCAR executives and Hendrick have already spoken about the matter, but Hendrick couldn’t formally request a waiver until Larson missed the 600. When Hendrick makes his request, NASCAR may hem-and-haw a day or so before granting it.

In the past, officials have been fairly lenient with such requests. Given the hype and hoopla surrounding Larson’s ill-fated attempt to be the fifth driver to accomplish the “double,” it’s likely the waiver policy will remain in place.

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Kyle Larson arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway during a weather deal on Sunday after finishing the Indianapolis 500.Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

Kyle Busch missed the first third of the 2015 season after breaking his right leg and left foot in an ugly Xfinity Series race in Daytona Beach. He returned in May, won summer races at Sonoma, Kentucky, Loudon, and Indianapolis, then won the first of his two Cup titles by winning the season-finale at Homestead.

Busch-hating fans—lots of them—carped that he shouldn’t have been in the Playoff Series after he missed 14 races. Executives defended their decision by saying he had been injured in a NASCAR support race at a NASCAR track, so the waiver was perfectly acceptable.

Chase Elliott missed seven Cup Series starts last year, but was still allowed into the Playoff Series. He missed six races after being injured while skiing in Colorado, then was parked another weekend for wrecking Denny Hamlin in the May race at Charlotte. Teammate Alex Bowman missed four races in 2022 after a Sprint Car flip that happened during the Playoffs, so no waiver was needed.

Clearly, Larson’s situation is different, but almost as compelling. He and Hendrick and the people at Indy and McLaren-Arrow began working on this year’s Indy/Charlotte “double” almost two years ago. As time drew near, both sanctioning bodies and the speedways involved relentlessly hyped the first “double” since Kurt Busch in 2014.

With unprecedented media attention throughout the IndyCar and NASCAR world during May, it would be unseemly for NASCAR to turn down a waiver.

Larson finished 18th at Indianapolis after spending much of day in the top-10. He led four laps.