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NASCAR finally avoids giving itself a big black eye

After Kyle Larson did not compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports requested a playoff exemption from NASCAR.

Larson initially planned to compete in the 400-lap race around the four-turn, 1.54-mile (2.414-kilometer) Concord, North Carolina, but bad weather at two locations prevented that.

The 31-year-old native of Elk Grove, California competed on Memorial Day Sunday attempting to become just the fifth driver to ever attempt the Memorial Day Double, competing in both IndyCar’s Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 participated. .

A four-hour rain delay in Indianapolis forced him to make a decision: skip the Indy 500, or show up late to the Coca-Cola 600. He chose the latter, and Justin Allgaier filled in for him behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet.

After finishing in 18th place in the Indy 500, Larson flew to Charlotte, arriving with 151 laps remaining. But NASCAR had stopped the race due to rain, and even though the track dried, they opted to end it after 249 laps.

As a result, Larson was unable to compete, making him only the second driver ever – and the first since 1995 – to see a Memorial Day Double attempt end with a start in just one of the two crown jewel events.

Larson had already done more than enough to secure his spot in the 2024 Cup Series playoffs, winning races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway earlier this year. He also led the points standings heading into the Coca-Cola 600.

But drivers must compete in all 26 races of the regular season to remain eligible for the playoffs, and that was lost for Larson when he missed the Coca-Cola 600. He was officially ineligible for the playoffs, and therefore for the championship, unless NASCAR granted him a waiver.

Given the wide range of reasons why waivers have been granted in the past, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Larson would get one. But after more than a week had passed, and after NASCAR removed his playoff points from the playoff standings, the possibility that he wouldn’t get any became very real.

Barring something unforeseen over the course of the final eleven races of the regular season, Larson is locked into the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, and all 17 of his playoff points (10 thanks to his two wins, seven thanks to his series-leading seven stage wins) victories) have been restored.

Although the wait was completely unnecessary, NASCAR avoided giving itself a black eye by making the right decision.

The 26-race rule is implemented for two reasons. First, it’s designed so that full-time drivers can’t choose which races they want to run. It’s essentially a ‘load management’ safeguard and a way for fans who buy tickets to ensure that their favorite drivers will participate in every race.

And second, it’s designed so that a part-time driver can’t “steal” one of the 16 playoff spots with a win in a limited schedule. For example, AJ Allmendinger won the 2021 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but was unable to secure a spot in the playoffs.

Although he decided to stay in Indianapolis, thereby ensuring he would miss the start in Charlotte, he did secure a starting position by qualifying for Saturday’s race, and he showed up with more than enough time to spare. compete.

He never intended to miss the race, and while he prioritized another race over a NASCAR race, it’s not like we’re talking about a local karting tournament; it’s the Indianapolis 500, the biggest race in the world.

Ultimately, it was bad weather at both locations and a baffling decision by NASCAR to end the Coca-Cola 600 more than 200 miles before the checkered flag was set to fly that ultimately kept it from competing in Charlotte.

Given previous waiver decisions, that should have been more than enough reason to grant him one on the spot.

If NASCAR had decided to effectively exclude Larson, who is still second in the points standings, from playoff consideration under those circumstances, it would have been a major black eye for the sport.

It would have been a shambolic decision on many levels after Larson promoted motorsports in a way no driver had done since Kurt Busch in 2014.

Next one. NASCAR: Austin Cindric is not in the playoffs after Gateway. NASCAR: Austin Cindric is not in the playoffs after Gateway. dark

Fortunately, the right decision was finally made, ending a crazy saga of uncertainty surrounding Larson’s 2024 championship eligibility.

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