“The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: First Contact
It was going to happen.
I knew it.
You knew it.
Your uncle down the street who claims he hasn’t watched NASCAR since 2001 because “NASCAR died with Dale,” but yet he knows exactly what happened in last weekend’s race knew it was going to happen.
Chase Elliott was going to get a playoff waiver.
When the 2023 NASCAR Cup season got underway, I did not have “Corey LaJoie will drive Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 9 car in a race” anywhere on my bingo card.
Not even on my backup bingo card, where the really outlandish scenarios live, did I have the reason why.
Elliott, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, would end up suspended for a race.
There needs to be a limit.
Playoff waivers shouldn’t be given out like candy.
If you’d asked me three months ago, when Elliott sat out six races due to a broken leg, my thoughts on waiver eligibility, I would have likely said…
They should be given for illness, family emergency or an injury.
Stuff a driver can’t control.
And that’s about it.
If a driver is sat as a punishment for actions that happened in a race, like using their car as a weapon against another, your team should live with the fear that you won’t be eligible for the postseason.
Otherwise, all of this punishment is just dramatic theater NASCAR will still use in highlight reels for years to come.
While not 100% certain about my thoughts at the time, I’m pretty sure I believed the same in 2019, when NASCAR suspended Johnny Sauter one race for his on-track retaliation against Austin Hill at Iowa Speedway.
That involved Sauter turning Hill under caution and proceeding to ram Hill in the driver side door.
Who got a waiver?
And here we are again in 2023.
So, where is the line?
When will the sanctioning body say “no” to a request for a playoff waiver?
NASCAR has yet to define it in practice.
It’s clearly not Elliott, who will now have missed seven races – for reasons both in and outside of his control – and still have a shot to participate in the title chase if he simply wins a race (NASCAR did away with the top 30 in points rule for 2023).
Guess we can’t have NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver and his sponsors miss the playoff driver class photo. That’s just too much to ask.
2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can be found at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and SpeedSport.com.
The podcast version of “Dropping the Hammer” is presented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.
You can email him at email@example.com.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.