As of press time, Chase Elliott has not yet been granted a playoff waiver after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident last week. If NASCAR does grant him a waiver, the sport’s most popular driver would join an illustrious list of competitors who have been granted one for a menagerie of reasons.
Before we take a look at some of those reasons, let’s first address what a playoff waiver is.
NASCAR requires drivers to attempt to compete in every scheduled race in order to be eligible to win the championship that season. Thus, every Cup driver needs to try and qualify for all 36 events, while those in the Xfinity Series and Craftsman Truck Series need 33 and 23 attempts, respectively.
If a driver can’t meet these requirements, they can request that NASCAR grant them a waiver. NASCAR can choose whether to grant or deny the request. This is why the conversation about Elliott’s waiver status is so important, as he will miss at least six weeks of competition.
There has been much polarization and ambiguity centered around waiver qualifications. That said, Elliott’s situation would fall under the stipulations of waivers issued for other drivers, which have included on- and off-track injuries, age limitations, and even suspensions (stay tuned).
Elliott hopes to do what Kyle Busch accomplished in 2015. In the highest-profile case of a waiver being issued, Busch was injured in an undercard event before the start of the Cup season. The Nevada native was granted a waiver after missing the first 11 races of the season, but made the playoffs after winning and earning enough points in the regular season once he returned. Busch progressed through the postseason and won the championship.
It is the only time a driver has been crowned a champion after using a waiver earlier in the season. Still, if a waiver is issued to Elliott, he would not be the only driver this season vying to become the second to do so.
Craftsman Truck Series drivers Taylor Gray and Jake Garcia have already been granted waivers in 2023. Gray and Garcia had not turned 18 at the start of the 2023 season and thus were forced to miss multiple events until their respective birthdays. Coincidentally, Elliott served as Garcia’s substitute driver at Daytona International Speedway earlier this season.
This is a relatively common occurrence as Justin Haley (2017), Todd Gilliland (2018), and Tyler Ankrum (2019) were granted waivers for the same reason.
However, injuries and illness are more typical when issuing waivers. In the first known instance of a waiver being issued under the current 16-driver playoff format, Denny Hamlin has to sit out a race in 2014 with a vision condition but ultimately finished third at the season’s end.
Noah Gragson was runner-up in the 2018 Craftsman Truck Series championship in a very similar situation after falling ill before a race at Pocono Raceway.
Akin to Elliott, Tony Stewart was injured in an off-track dune buggy accident in 2016. With the waiver, Stewart made the playoffs but fell well short of the title. Waivers were also issued to Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher and Haley after each missed a race in their respective series due to COVID-19-related precautions.
While these ailments occurred off-track, injuries suffered on track are almost guaranteed to include a waiver if a driver requests one after being forced to miss time while healing, as was the case in Ryan Newman‘s horrifying accident on the 2020 Daytona 500, where he missed three races recovering.
Somewhat surprisingly, irregularities, legal matters and ambiguous controversies have also drawn waivers, none of which was more surprising than Matt Kenseth‘s waiver in 2020.
Kenseth was several years into retirement when the COVID-19 pandemic hit four races into the season. During the pandemic, Kyle Larson was fired from his Chip Ganassi Racing team during the season’s hiatus after using a racial slur on a video game live stream.
Ganassi tabbed the 2003 champion to take over the seat for the remaining 32 events once the season got back underway. In a move that drew ire from some, Kenseth received a waiver from NASCAR that only cited “extraordinary circumstances” as a reason.
His former teammate Kurt Busch made the playoffs in 2015 thanks to his waiver after being suspended for the first three races after allegations surfaced of his involvement in a domestic violence incident. NASCAR issued him championship eligibility once he was reinstated after criminal prosecutors determined there was not sufficient evidence to charge the 2004 champion with a crime.
But there is likely no more controversial yet forgotten instance of a waiver being handed to a driver than the 2019 case of Johnny Sauter. During his campaign to win a second Truck title in three years, Sauter intentionally wrecked another competitor under caution during a race at Iowa Speedway.
NASCAR issued Sauter a one-race suspension for his actions following this incident while simultaneously issuing him a waiver for his suspended race. This occasion marked the only known time a driver was granted a waiver without it first being requested.
While Elliott’s snowboarding accident is a bit more innocent than Sauter’s deliberate actions taken against a competitor, there are still plenty of eyes on NASCAR’s waiver decision.
If NASCAR elects to grant Elliott a waiver, he would join a growing list of drivers who have taken advantage of this valuable option to keep championship hopes alive.
If NASCAR declines his request, it would likely be setting a new precedent for off-track injuries in the future while simultaneously angering the legions of Elliott supporters.
The ball is in NASCAR’s hands.
About the author
Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young marketing professional from North Carolina who writes and talks about racing on the side. Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in a variety of roles. Currently, he pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece covering the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. In his free time, you can find Zach in the great outdoors, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with useless statistics about Delma Cowart.
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Let’s not get too silly here and pretend this is real. Every tier 1 driver has a permanent waiver already in place – and let’s face facts, Chase has a lifetime one.
I could see if he was racing a nascar sanctioned event while getting injured. Should not be granted a waiver for injury occuring on his own time. This is nothing like Busch’s case!
Nice summary of the history of waivers in NASCAR. From the information presented here it seems that waivers are the norm and not the exception when a driver misses a race. As such, we should all adjust our expectations accordingly. Elliott will get a waiver just like all the other drivers have. No favoritism, no conspiracy, no surprise.
This injury wasn’t a racing deal, it’s nothing like Busch’s case. Totally ridiculous with the favoritism to Chase, and Hendricks.