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June 4, 2024

Kyle Larson granted eligibility waiver for Cup Series Playoffs

NASCAR officials granted Kyle Larson a waiver on Tuesday to restore his eligibility for the Cup Series Playoffs.

Hendrick Motorsports applied for the exception after Larson missed the Coca-Cola 600 on May 26, with his arrival at Charlotte Motor Speedway delayed by rain at the Indianapolis 500, where he finished 18th in his IndyCar debut. Larson has qualified for the Cup Series’ 16-driver postseason field as a two-time winner this season.

The NASCAR Rule Book covers eligibility in Section, which states: “Unless otherwise authorized by NASCAR, driver(s) and Team Owner(s) must start all Championship Events of the current season to be eligible for The Playoffs. If a starting position was not earned, then the driver(s) and Team Owner(s) must have attempted to Qualify, at the discretion of the Series Managing Director, for the Race.”

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“We didn’t take it lightly,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday. “There was a lot of discussion internally. … We ultimately landed at giving Kyle a waiver. Essentially our decision-making was, although we had the inclement weather in Indianapolis as well as Charlotte, Kyle made every attempt to get to Charlotte. He was standing in the pit box with his helmet on ready to go.

“Unfortunately we had weather in Charlotte as well, and were unfortunately not able to get the race going again. That’s how we landed on our decision.”

Larson earned the 10th starting spot for his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on May 25 at Charlotte in the Cup Series qualifying session, then flew to Indianapolis as he attempted to become the fifth driver to run both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. When storms delayed the Indianapolis event by roughly four hours, Larson stayed to begin the 500-mile race, and standby driver Justin Allgaier suited up to start the 600 in Charlotte for the No. 5 team.

Allgaier, an Xfinity Series regular, dropped to the rear for the green flag but worked his way up in the running order when rain and lightning halted the action at Charlotte with 249 of a scheduled 400 laps complete. Larson flew in from Indianapolis and arrived at the No. 5 team’s pit box when the race was stopped. He prepared to enter the car for the remainder of the 600-mile event, but after the progress of the track-drying efforts had slowed, the race did not resume.

“This was without a doubt uncharted waters for us,” Sawyer said. “In the past those waivers have been given mostly for medical reasons. … This one was unprecedented in that we had a driver miss one of our races, a championship event, to be at another event. That’s why it took as long as it did.

“There were different views from different people. Everyone had a view on it. The ultimate decision we wanted to get to was the right decision, and we feel like we got there.”

As the official starter of record, Allgaier was credited with 13th place in his first Cup Series start since 2022. Larson did not earn any championship points for the race, and he fell from the lead in the Cup Series standings. After Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway where Larson finished 10th, he was second in the points standings, 21 points behind Denny Hamlin.

“To not have Kyle Larson in our playoff and give our fans the opportunity to see him race for a championship … at the end of the day, didn’t feel like that’s the right decision for us to make,” Sawyer said. “So we didn’t. We felt like we got to the right spot.”

Larson, the 2021 Cup champion, has won twice in the Cup Series this season, first with a dominant victory in March at Las Vegas. Two months later, he prevailed at Kansas Speedway by 0.001 seconds in the closest finish in series history, notching his 25th career win in NASCAR’s top tour.

“Under normal circumstances, completing ‘the double’ is one of the toughest tests in sports,” Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports said in a statement. “Despite our best efforts, this year’s combination of weather conditions in Indianapolis and Charlotte made it impossible. We hoped race day would play out differently, but the program was still incredibly positive for everyone involved. Kyle’s performance throughout May was a great reflection on the level of talent competing each week in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“Although losing ground in the standings was hard to swallow, we were especially disappointed for the fans at the Coca-Cola 600 who were not able to see Kyle race. I’m extremely proud of everything he did to prepare and the months of planning by our team and our partners at Arrow McLaren to run these two crown-jewel events. We appreciate NASCAR communicating with us throughout the effort and granting our request for a playoff waiver.”