NASCAR: The appeal that saved Kyle Larson’s season

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by Logan Whitton/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by Logan Whitton/Getty Images) /

If not for a successful appeal of a March penalty, Kyle Larson would no longer be in contention to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson is one of four drivers who are set to enter Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway with a chance to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship, and he is the only one of the four who is already a former champion.

The other three are teammate William Byron, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. Like Larson, Bell and Blaney advanced to the Championship 4 by winning a race in the round of 8. Larson won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Bell won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and Blaney won at Martinsville Speedway. Byron got in on points.

But had it not been for the decision of an appeals panel to overturn part of an early season penalty, Larson would not have even made it to the round of 8.

Following the March race at Phoenix, all four Hendrick Motorsports teammates and their three full-time drivers at the time (Chase Elliott was out with an injury) were docked 100 points and 10 playoff points as a result of a hood louver violation. Four-race suspensions and $100,000 fines were issued to each crew chief as well.

A few weeks later, the points and playoff points portion of these penalties were rescinded by a NASCAR appeals board.

This penalty would have cost Larson 14 playoff points, since he finished the regular season in seventh place in the standings and thus scored four additional playoff points. The 100-point deduction would have dropped him outside of the top 10, and he would not have scored those points. He would have started the playoffs with three playoff points instead of 17.

Larson won his way into the round of 12 by opening up the playoffs with a victory at Darlington Raceway, but he did not win in the round of 12; he advanced to the round of 8 on points, but not by much. Had the penalty not been reversed, he would have been eliminated in the round of 12 for the second year in a row.

Instead, he advanced to the round of 8, won at Las Vegas, and positioned himself to potentially become a two-time champion this Sunday at Phoenix, the site of what would have ultimately proven to be a massively detrimental penalty to his championship hopes.

Byron also wouldn’t be a Championship 4 driver if that penalty had not been rescinded, though he would have been eliminated in the round of 8.

FanDuel Sportsbook, which is offering fans a $150 bonus on any successful $5 bet, lists the 2021 champion as the favorite to win this year’s title.

Odds and availability are subject to change.

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Tune in to NBC this Sunday, November 5 at 3:00 p.m. ET for the live broadcast of the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race from Phoenix Raceway. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now if you have not already done so!