NASCAR: Kyle Larson officially receives playoff waiver after missing Coca-Cola 600

Larson stayed in Indianapolis to run the rain-delayed Indy 500

MADISON, IL - JUNE 01: Kyle Larson (#5 Henrick Motorsports Chevrolet) walks down pit road to his car to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by Ticketsmarter on June 01, 2024, at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, IL.  (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson's chances of winning a second NASCAR Cup Series title are back on in 2024. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kyle Larson will officially be able to compete for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series title.

NASCAR said Tuesday that it had granted Larson a waiver to make the playoffs after he missed the Coca-Cola 600. Larson was attempting to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the 600 in the same day on May 26, but rain delayed the start of the Indianapolis 500 by four hours. Larson flew to Charlotte for the 600 right after the 500 was over, but didn’t get in the car because rain halted the race after 249 of 400 scheduled laps. Justin Allgaier, Larson's substitute driver, finished 13th.

NASCAR rules state that drivers must start every race to be eligible for the playoffs. However, the sanctioning body has been very generous with playoff waivers. It seemed that the likelihood of a waiver influenced Larson’s decision to stay for the 500, but NASCAR waited over a week to grant it.

NASCAR even listed Larson without any playoff points in its official points report following Sunday's race at Gateway. Larson finished 10th and is second in the points standings behind Denny Hamlin. However, he was listed without any playoff points and was, at least temporarily, shown as ineligible for the title. Larson had accrued 17 playoff points through the first 13 races of the season before missing the 600.

NASCAR has rarely denied requests for playoff waivers over the past decade. It regularly grants waivers for injuries and has even twice granted playoff waivers to Cup Series drivers who had been suspended by the sanctioning body.

In 2015, Kyle Busch got a waiver to compete for the playoffs after suffering multiple leg injuries in the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona. When he returned to the Cup Series over the summer, he won multiple races to earn a playoff spot and went on to win his first Cup Series title. A season ago, Alex Bowman received a waiver to be playoff eligible — he missed the postseason — when he suffered a back fracture in a sprint car crash.

The same season Kyle Busch got his waiver, Kurt Busch also got a playoff waiver following a suspension. NASCAR had suspended Kurt Busch at the start of the season following accusations of domestic abuse. After those allegations didn't result in criminal charges, Busch was reinstated and allowed to compete for the championship.

In 2023, NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott for a race after he hooked Denny Hamlin head-on into the wall during the Coca-Cola 600. Elliott's suspension also came with a playoff waiver. It was the second time Elliott had received a playoff waiver that season after he missed early-season races following a leg injury while snowboarding.

NASCAR’s waiver decisions have also typically come quickly. That quickness is a big reason why it didn’t make much sense for the sanctioning body to drag out the decision to give Larson a waiver. The possibility of rain affecting both races was known for days, and Larson isn’t the first driver to have a double attempt derailed by rain either.

In a news conference Tuesday morning, NASCAR vice president of competition Elton Sawyer said the Larson situation was “uncharted waters” and that it was “unprecedented” that Larson had chosen to run the Indianapolis 500 over the Cup Series race. That unique situation, Sawyer said, contributed to the timeline, and he also noted Larson's willingness to get into the car if the race resumed after the rain delay.

And while there's no reason to believe Sawyer isn't telling the truth, this shouldn't have been a difficult decision for NASCAR to make either. Denying Larson the waiver would have caused an unnecessary firestorm.

NASCAR is far from the mainstream sports series that it was in the early 2000s. Larson's attempt to run the double was the only significant storyline of the famed Memorial Day race weekend.

By denying Larson a waiver, NASCAR would have looked petty, even if it could stand by its own rules and simply say that Larson and Hendrick Motorsports broke a rule that they knew was on the books.

NASCAR can't be in the business of losing PR battles, even if it's enforcing its own rules. Denying Larson a waiver after giving drivers waivers following suspensions could have looked quite hypocritical. Larson is arguably the best driver in the United States and one of the most popular. His championship ineligibility would have hung over NASCAR for the rest of the season.

Thankfully, NASCAR made the correct decision, even if it took longer than it should have.