NASCAR explains decision to grant Kyle Larson a playoff waiver

NASCAR had “a lot of discussion internally” and “everything was on the table” before officials decided to grant Kyle Larson a playoff waiver, Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday.

Sawyer acknowledged the “unprecedented” situation of a driver who had qualified for the Cup playoffs missing the start of a series race race because they were racing in another event.

Sawyer said that’s why it took so long for NASCAR to grant the waiver.

With the waiver, Larson is qualified for the playoffs with his two victories.

“As we went into that weekend all communication with (Hendrick Motorsports) was (the 600) was their priority,” Sawyer said in response to a question from NBC Sports. “That was their day job. And unfortunately, the weather situation threw them a curveball, threw the industry a curveball, something we had to deal with.

“Ultimately, the effort that they made, without the weather, they’re going to be there. We feel confident that was going to happen.

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

A possible option could have been for NASCAR to have granted the waiver but also penalized in some form — perhaps deducting playoff points — but NASCAR chose not to do so.

“Everything was on the table,” Sawyer said. “If you look at the rulebook, the two options were to grant it or not to grant it and anything in between that or outside of that would have been us digging deep into the rulebook to do something that just didn’t feel right to do that. Every effort was made to, with all good intentions (to get to Charlotte). I go back to this, all of our fans were looking forward to seeing Kyle compete in both the Indy 500 and the Coke 600 and that didn’t work out.”

Larson needed a waiver because the start of the Indianapolis 500 was delayed about four hours because of rain. That race started about 90 minutes before the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Shortly after finishing 18th in the Indianapolis 500, Larson got in an SUV on pit road and was driven to the helipad outside Turn 2 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to fly to the airport to board a plane for Concord, North Carolina.

Larson arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the race and was set to relieve Justin Allgaier in the No. 5 car before rain stopped the race. The race was not resumed.

So, what about the future? The rule is not changing but could be reviewed after the season. Should NASCAR amend the rule to not grant a waiver for a driver competing in another event, even the Indianapolis 500, the idea of a driver in racing in that race and the Coca-Cola 600 would be over. But Sawyer suggested that won’t be the case.

“We embrace the double,” Sawyer said. “We think it’s great. We want to see other drivers have that opportunity. So, we just have to make sure that we’re looking out, first and foremost, for the fans that, again, buying a ticket that we’re here in Charlotte and felt like Kyle did and the team gave every effort to be able to get here and he was ready to go and had his helmet on (before the rain).”