NASCAR: Kyle Larson playoff situation takes another bizarre turn

NASCAR has excluded Kyle Larson from the playoff points calculation following Sunday's Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR / Sean Gardner/GettyImages

Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Larson has earned 17 playoff points so far in the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series, 10 thanks to his two race wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, and seven more thanks to his series-leading seven stage wins.

But following Sunday afternoon's race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, NASCAR listed the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet with zero playoff points.

The omission of Larson's 17 playoff points continues a saga of uncertainty surrounding his playoff status.

Larson presumably locked himself into the four-round, 10-race postseason with his two victories, but drivers are required to compete in all 26 regular season races to maintain playoff eligibility, unless they are granted a playoff waiver.

Larson missed the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which was shortened by 151 of its scheduled 400 laps due to rain, because he stayed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and competed in IndyCar's rain-delayed 108th running of the Indy 500.

It was never Larson's intention to miss the Coca-Cola 600; he did, after all, qualify for the race the day beforehand.

Even after the Indy 500's four-hour rain delay, Larson showed up at Charlotte with more than enough time to finish the Coca-Cola 600. But with the track drying, NASCAR inexplicably decided to call the race.

Hendrick Motorsports requested a waiver for Larson, but well over a week later, no official decision has been made by NASCAR.

The longer the situation drags out, the more concerning it looks for the 31-year-old Elk Grove, California native, given how quickly waivers have been handed out in the past -- and for a wide variety of reasons.

Kyle Larson playoff points excluded from NASCAR report

Let's not forget why the 26-race rule is in place. It is used to prevent full-time drivers from picking and choosing which races to run, thus preventing the kind of "load management" that other sports deal with.

It is also used to prevent part-time drivers from "stealing" one of the 16 playoff spots with a victory in a limited schedule. For example, A.J. Allmendinger did not get into the 2021 playoffs, despite winning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Sure, Larson decided to stay in Indianapolis, and NASCAR may not take too kindly to his late decision to prioritize the Indy 500 over the Coca-Cola 600, even though it's not like the Indy 500 is some random local go-kart race like some are making it out to be.

But it was bad weather in both locations, plus a bizarre decision from NASCAR, which ultimately kept Larson from running the Coca-Cola 600.

Screwing over the full-time driver and perennial championship favorite who sits in second place in the point standings by using a rule that is in place for reasons which have nothing to do with why he actually missed a race would be a shambolic decision and a black eye on the sport. There is simply no way around that.

One could even argue that, given the IndyCar vs. NASCAR debate, it is a decision that could be made for no other reason than spite. Yet as more times passes, it becomes more and more possible that that's the decision that will be made.

Based on the exclusion of Larson's playoff points, one thing is clear: the 2021 Cup Series champion is currently ineligible for the playoffs and the championship. Only NASCAR can change that. Will they make the obvious right decision?

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Will a decision be made before the next Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway? The Toyota/Save Mart 350 is set to be broadcast live on Fox beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET this Sunday, June 9. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don't miss any of the action!