Kyle Larson Granted Waiver for Missing Coca-Cola 600, Secures NASCAR Playoff Eligibility

Larson double quest exemplifies NASCAR, IndyCar cooperation
Larson double quest exemplifies NASCAR, IndyCar cooperation

NASCAR announced on Tuesday that Kyle Larson has been granted the waiver needed to remain eligible for this year’s playoffs, despite missing the Coca-Cola 600 to participate in the Indianapolis 500.

After nearly nine days of internal deliberation, NASCAR decided not to penalize Larson for staying in Indianapolis when rain delayed the May 26 race by four hours, making it impossible for him to return to Charlotte in time for the Coca-Cola 600. Larson had intended to race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but the race was called off due to rain before he could turn a lap in his No. 5 Chevrolet. Justin Allgaier, who started in Larson’s place, finished 13th.

“This was without a doubt uncharted waters; in the past, those waivers had been given mostly for medical reasons or for drivers suspended from our event, and those waivers were granted fairly quickly,” said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition. “This one was unprecedented in that we had a driver miss one of our races, one of our Cup championship events, to be at another event. That’s why it took as long as it did.”

Larson responded to the waiver news with a meme of himself giving a thumbs-up on social media.

Larson, who has two wins this season, making him automatically eligible for the playoffs, had his Cup Series standings altered after Sunday’s race in St. Louis. Initially listed as second in the overall standings, his playoff points were wiped away but were restored on Tuesday.

“To not have Kyle Larson in our playoff and give our fans the opportunity, the chance to see him race for a championship, at the end of the day, that didn’t feel that was the right decision for us to make,” Sawyer said.

Larson, who finished 18th at Indianapolis due to a late speeding penalty, had meticulously planned with Hendrick Motorsports to make the start of the Coca-Cola 600. However, the rain in Indy led team owner Rick Hendrick to decide to keep Larson in Indianapolis.

Hendrick Motorsports believed there would be no issue as long as Larson made it to Charlotte, but Sawyer clarified that no guarantee of a waiver was given if Larson did not make the NASCAR race.

“Under normal circumstances, completing ‘The Double’ is one of the toughest tests in sports. Despite our best efforts, this year’s combination of weather conditions in Indianapolis and Charlotte made it impossible,” Hendrick said. “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.”

“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.”

Larson was the fifth driver in history to attempt “The Double” of running the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day, with only Tony Stewart completing all 1,100 miles in 2001. NASCAR’s tough stance may deter future attempts, despite Larson’s two-year deal with Arrow McLaren and Hendrick to run Indy again in 2025.

Waivers in NASCAR have historically been given for physical injuries, illness, mental health, and suspensions. Chase Elliott, Larson’s teammate, received two waivers last year for missing races while injured and while under suspension for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin.

The NASCAR rulebook states that “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.”

Sawyer noted that although Larson wasn’t in Charlotte due to the weather, he made every effort to race in the 600. “Kyle made every attempt to get to Charlotte,” Sawyer said. “He was standing in the pit box with his helmet on, ready to go, and unfortunately we had weather in Charlotte, as well, and we weren’t fortunate enough to get the race going again.”

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