Denny Hamlin spent his Friday media availability shooting down any notion of something nefarious taking place with the withdrawal of Kurt Busch’s playoff waiver helping another Toyota team.
“It didn’t play into our decision or anything like that,” Hamlin said. “If anything, maybe it benefited [Ryan] Blaney more than [Martin] Truex.”
Busch earned his spot in the postseason by winning at Kansas Speedway in May. However, by withdrawing his medical waiver because he will not be back in the car to start the playoffs, Busch has been taken off the playoff grid, further solidifying Blaney’s spot and moving the winless Truex, who was below the cutline, to the last provisional spot with one race left (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, NBC) to determine the championship field.
Hamlin, however, noted that Truex jumping above the playoff grid cutline might put him into the postseason, but it doesn’t help Joe Gibbs Racing at this point. The reason comes down to business.
In the owner’s championship, Busch’s No. 45 car is still in contention because of the team’s win at Kansas Speedway. The No. 19 car of Truex is not because the team is winless. And so, while Truex might make the playoffs for the driver’s championship, the No. 45 car would still be in the owner’s championship.
To change that scenario, Truex would need to win the race Saturday night at Daytona to put his car in the owner’s championship and kick out the No. 45. If the No. 19 only makes the playoffs on points, not wins, then 23XI Racing will reap the financial benefits of still being the in owner’s championship, and JGR would not (charters are tied to the owner’s title).
When the news of Busch’s decision broke, there were claims of one Toyota team helping another. Truex has a much better shot with Busch’s withdrawal but is not a lock. A new winner at Daytona would keep him from the postseason.
“If the people want 16 drivers to battle for a championship, then you have to add somebody; otherwise, there’s 15,” Hamlin said. “I don’t know that it matters from our standpoint, but certainly, I think NASCAR wants a bracket with 16 drivers, so you put the next one that earns a spot in.”
Hamlin also made it clear the decision to withdraw the waiver was Busch’s and his alone. It was not brought up by Hamlin or 23XI Racing.
“This was a Kurt thing,” he said. “This was definitely not us by any means. We’ve been very clear and transparent with Kurt that we’re going to support him no matter what. If he wants to stay in there and come in for the last race of the first round, like, let’s go. Let’s go try to win it.
“He just felt like this was the best decision for him not to hold somebody else back from going for a championship that he thought had a better chance at it. It’s still unknown whether he would be able to come back. This is all Kurt’s decision, and his future will always be his decision.”
Hamlin acknowledged it was a hard decision for Busch to make.
“It’s very hard; I can’t imagine,” he said. “Honestly, I can’t imagine.”