NASCAR: Crucial championship decision taking unnecessarily long

NASCAR has still not made an official call on Kyle Larson's playoff waiver after he missed the Coca-Cola 600 for the Indy 500.
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

After rain delayed the start of the 108th running of the Indy 500, Kyle Larson opted to remain at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, meaning that Justin Allgaier needed to start the Coca-Cola 600 in his place behind the wheel of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

By the time Larson got to Charlotte, 249 of the 400 scheduled laps had already been run at the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) Concord, North Carolina oval. The race was red flagged as a result of rain, and though Larson had already given up his right to score points by not starting the race, he was present and ready to run the final 151 laps.

However, NASCAR decided to call the race, meaning that Larson never got the chance to compete, making him the first driver since 1995 to see a Memorial Day Double attempt end with a start in just one of the two crowl jewel races.

Kyle Larson playoff waiver saga unnecessarily continues

Because drivers are required to compete in all 26 regular season races to remain eligible for the Cup Series playoffs, Larson and his team needed to request a playoff waiver to effectively excuse him from his missed start.

Larson already locked up a playoff spot by winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, but that spot could be in jeopardy without a waiver.

Without a waiver, he is effectively excluded from the rest of the season as far as the playoff picture is concerned and can finish no higher than 17th place in the point standings.

The fact that the decision has taken this long is a bit concerning. NASCAR rarely, if ever, denies waiver requests, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the unexpected absence, and Larson could not control the weather at Indianapolis or Charlotte.

Sure, Larson did opt to remain at Indianapolis when it was clear he would miss the start of the Coca-Cola 600, but he made it to Charlotte with plenty of time to spare. It just so happens that bad weather affected that race as well.

There is no legitimate argument against Larson getting a waiver. It's not like he set out to miss the Coca-Cola 600 simply because he was already locked into the playoffs, which is the whole idea behind the 26-race requirement. It's basically a safeguard against load management.

Running 500 miles in the Indy 500 and immediately flying to Charlotte is anything but load management.

If anything, Larson missing the Coca-Cola 600 already cost him in a significant way, given the fact that he fell from the points lead, which he had held since early April, to third place in the standings. He also gave up the opportunity to score up to eight more playoff points, the most in any race on the schedule.

And to insinuate that the Indy 500 is "just another race" and that giving Larson a waiver "sets a bad precedent" is absurd. Until half the Cup Series field shows up to Indy 500 Bump Day and tries to get into the race, that argument is as laughable as the belief that the Indy 500 is nothing more than a local go-kart event.

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Should NASCAR make the inexplicable decision to exclude Larson from the remainder of the 2024 Cup Series championship, rest assured that there will probably be media outlets out there that calculate what the weekly playoff picture really should be with the 2021 champion included.