NASCAR got Kyle Larson’s waiver decision correct, but not without frustration

NASCAR made the right decision in granting a waiver for Kyle Larson to remain playoff eligible. In fact, it seemed to be a no-brainer.

Which is why, while it took NASCAR eight days to get to the right decision, the whole situation still leaves a lingering, exhausted feeling of frustration amid the relief.

The rule requiring a driver to start every race to be playoff eligible, at least from what was communicated when it was instituted in 2014, was for two primary reasons:

–Competition: To keep a driver who makes or advances through the playoffs with a win from skipping a race or to keep drivers from skipping races to be well-rested or more focused on a specific race to try to make the playoffs.

–Fans: To make sure that fans see the drivers they buy tickets for, much like more recently implemented NBA load management rules.

There was never anything communicated that it was implemented to keep other series from potentially luring a NASCAR star for a weekend.

So when Kyle Larson opted to stay in Indianapolis for the rain-delayed Indy 500 and missed the start of the Coke 600, there shouldn’t have been anything more than an immediate “don’t worry about it, you’ll get a waiver.”

He wasn’t doing it to take a break because he already had two victories or to improve his chances of making the playoffs.

His fans in attendance likely understood the situation. Larson’s fans love him because of his ability to race a variety of vehicles. His quest to do the double had enamored race fans as he attempted a feat no driver since 2014 had accomplished and only four drivers had done since lights at Charlotte made the Indy 500-Coke 600 “double” possible. It was a positive storyline for the two weeks leading into the event. If anything, more people watched the 600 hoping Larson would get in the car.

Larson already was taking a regular-season points hit and a potential playoff-point hit by not making it back and not earning a possible 70 regular-season points and eight playoff points on the day.

Kyle Larson gives his view of the contact with Kyle Busch at the end of the second stage at Gateway

Kyle Larson gives his view of the contact with Kyle Busch at the end of the second stage at Gateway

What about Larson and Hendrick Motorsports saying that the 600 was the priority in the weeks and months leading up to the event? That always seemed as a public face to show respect to NASCAR in hopes that there was never a decision to be made. Anyone who has been to the Indy 500 knows just how big an event it is and how special it is and no one would think that a driver would voluntarily leave unless, as Robby Gordon once had to, his NASCAR sponsor commitments required him to forego a shot at an Indy 500 win. 

There is no way Hendrick thought the decision would be denied when it decided Larson would stay at Indianapolis. Whether Hendrick or Chevrolet or Larson himself would have sought a legal challenge is unknown, and even if NASCAR prevailed in court, it no way would win in the view of public perception, in addition to the PR nightmare of this being a possible storyline through the event.

NASCAR says it couldn’t rule on the waiver before Larson actually missed the start of the race. And while it is understandable it doesn’t like to rule on hypotheticals, this is a rare instance — the Indianapolis 500! — where a policy should have been set ahead of time with clear parameters of what gets a waiver and what doesn’t. That way the team, the driver and the fans all know the decision (either way) without eight days of angst and questions.

Moving forward, NASCAR would be best off to just ditch the waiver rule and say a driver loses playoff points (somewhere between two and five) if the driver doesn’t compete in a regular-season race and must compete in every playoff race. 

Anything would be better than going through this week of uncertainty again.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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