What is a Playoff Waiver in NASCAR? All you need to know

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day (Photo: Getty)

The NASCAR playoffs, also called the 'Chase for the Cup', is a championship format that is used in the three divisions of NASCAR's national series. The playoff system was officially introduced in 2004 for the Cup Series, but in 2016, the Xfinity Series and Truck Series also became part of the system.

There are 36 races in the NASCAR Cup Series season, out of which, 26 come under the regular season. In order to earn a spot in the playoff round, NASCAR drivers must compete during the regular season. As per NASCAR's rulebook, 16 drivers qualify for the 10-race playoff format. A driver can guarantee their spot in the playoffs with just one victory during the regular season. If fewer than 16 drivers have won a race in the first 26 races of the season, the remaining spots get filled based on regular season points.

According to NASCAR, drivers must start every race of the regular season to be eligible for the playoffs. If the drivers are unable to participate in all 26 races due to unfavorable circumstances, NASCAR will provide the team with a waiver so they will not miss the playoffs.

Recently, Kyle Larson made headlines thanks to his attempt at completing Double. He had made up his mind to compete in the Indy 500 and Coke 600 races on the same day. However, on account of uncontrollable weather conditions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 got delayed by several hours. As a result, Larson, with every intention to race for points in the Cup couldn't start the Coca-Cola 600.

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Before the 14th race of the Cup Series season at Charlotte, Larson was at the top of the overall standings with 486 points under his belt. He had also notched up two wins in the regular season. However, due to the setback at Coca-Cola 600, the #5 Chevrolet driver, Larson is ineligible to take part in the playoffs. But this can change if Hendrick Motorsports requests NASCAR's governing body to grand a playoff waiver.


Kyle Larson's Playoff waiver for 2024 season sparks debate in the NASCAR community

Kyle Larson would have become only the fifth driver to take part in the 1100-mile race if it weren't for inclement weather. As such, the 31-year-old Larson's future in the 2024 NASCAR playoffs is completely uncertain at the moment.

NASCAR insider Jordan Bianchi, in a recent episode of The Teardown podcast, said that 2021 Cup Series champion Larson prioritised his debut at the Indy 500 over the Coke 600 and hence, doesn't deserve a waiver.

"I don't think he [Kyle Larson] deserves a waiver. I think it opens up a Pandora's box and it is a bad precedent to set," he said.
"You look at this scenario and this was a choice they made. You knew going to Indy brought risks and there was consequences. You just skipped which is supposed to be a marquee Crown Jewel Race. A race that awards more points so technically more important than any other regular season race," Bianchi added via Dirty Mo Media on X.

Nonetheless, despite Bianchi's argument, NASCAR icon Kenny Wallace thinks Larson ought to receive a waiver.

"I agree with him. However my ruling is to give @KyleLarsonRacin the waiver 🏁," Wallace wrote via X.

Wallace also mentioned a scenario wherein Chase Elliott got the waiver when he injured his left leg while snowboarding last year and had to miss six regular season races. As per Wallace, going skiing was a choice Elliott made.

"Maybe a press conference by @NASCAR (detailing) the NEW waiver rules? BECAUSE THEY ARE VAGUE. However you give @KyleLarsonRacin the waiver. And after this, you have to have a physical injury to get a waiver. “Skiing is a choice too” We can go on and on."

Only time will determine whether Larson gets a waiver. Currently, Denny Hamlin leads the Cup Series standings with 492 points and has a buffer of six points over Larson.

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