Race Weekend Central

Dropping the Hammer: Let’s Talk About Playoff Waivers (Again)

You guys must really care about NASCAR giving out playoff waivers.

Maybe even more than me.

How do I know this?

My column last week on the subject – where I expressed my desire that drivers suspended for on-track retaliation like Chase Elliott not automatically receive playoff waivers from NASCAR – was my most read of the year.

Wait.

It was because of Elliott wasn’t it?

Oh, well.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: Just Say 'No' to Playoff Waivers Like Chase Elliott's

Regardless, last weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway, the question of whether suspended drivers like Elliott should remain playoff eligible was an obvious hot topic.

Kyle Busch was asked about it. He addressed it for 35 seconds. I posted it on Twitter.

It blew up.

“There are a lot of different ways you can wreck somebody,” Busch said Saturday (June 3). “So I don’t think wrecking somebody on purpose should deter a playoff position. I think a one-race penalty is plenty. I think that’s fine.

“You get to sit out you have to deal with the repercussions of your sponsor and your team and all the rest of that stuff. Trust me, I’ve been there.

“So I think all that is is very valid. If you’re a guy like myself that has two wins and I go out and retaliate against somebody who deserves it, just to set the record straight. And I shouldn’t take away my playoff berth. Yeah, I don’t agree with that.”

Legacy Motor Club driver Erik Jones, when asked what a one-race suspension amounted to in the grand scheme of things, said “Not much, it doesn’t seem, right?”

“Points [are] lost, but it’s not huge,” Jones continued. “I think a guy like Chase is gonna win a race before the playoffs, anyways. It’s not a huge, huge deal in that way.”

Jones has been in NASCAR since 2013 and made his first Cup start in 2015, the year after the waiver system was introduced. That coincided with the start of the playoff elimination format in Cup.

The 27-year-old driver remembers when being granted a playoff waiver “was a pretty big deal.”

Now, Jones observed that waivers are “kind of a formality more than a judicial call. So it’s a bit lenient, probably, right now.”

Denny Hamlin also shared his take.

Hamlin is the driver Elliott intentionally hooked, resulting in his one-race banishment.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver looked at the suspension through the prism of how many races Elliott had already missed. When you’ve already missed six races, any more spent on the sidelines would be a hit.

“I don’t know when anyone’s had a denial of a waiver, but there’s always different circumstances,” Hamlin said. “I understand what it was designed around, that way you don’t race part time.

“In that spirit of the rule, you would think waivers should given out no matter what as long as the driver intends to race full-time.”

For the record, I still come down on the side of, if a driver is suspended for an intentional action on-track that puts someone else in unnecessarily dangerous position, the waiver shouldn’t be a guarantee.

Knocking someone out of the way on the last lap at Martinsville Speedway is one thing.

Sending someone nose-first into the outside wall in the dogleg of a 1.5-mile speedway is a completely different discussion.

In Other News….

Corey LaJoie’s big weekend driving the No. 9 for Hendrick Motorsports didn’t exactly pan out.

See also
Happy Hour: Is Kyle Busch Winning the Breakup?

LaJoie started 30th, was outran by Carson Hocevar in his usual No. 7 Spire Motorsports car (before a broken brake rotor ended his day), and ultimately came home in 21st.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s not bad.

In 2022, the first year Cup raced at the track formally known at Gateway, Chase Elliott and the No. 9 team also finished 21st.

On top of that, like Hocevar on Sunday, LaJoie and the No. 7 were the first car out of the race due to an engine failure.

Days after Sunday’s race, LaJoie went on his podcast “Stacking Pennies” and shared what he hoped to take from his brief time with Hendrick Motorsports as he returned to his full-time job at Spire.

The main things he hopes to carry over are “professionalism and a little more structure.”

“Since (Spire Motorsports’ team leaders) just kind of know everybody’s cadence, everybody just kind of talks to each other unstructured,” LaJoie said. “We need to do a better job of structuring pre-race plans and also post-qualifying plans of what we think the balance needs to be.

“Because right now we just fire some texts off of thoughts or just phone calls. Then we get to a place Sunday morning like ‘okay, we’re gonna go with this, this and this.’ And then we also need to a better job of just getting the road crew and pit crew together before the race and just go over a general game plan of what to expect: potentially two tires, potentially this and that. Full cans (of gas), half cans, one can. Definitely do some different scenarios there, just to (ensure) nothing’s a surprise, right? Everything is touched on at least once.

“So that was something that you know (No. 9 crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) shows really good leadership with is guys being really prepared and ready to go to battle.”

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 danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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