NASCAR is unlikely to rule on Chase Elliott’s playoff waiver request until the driver is close to returning to competition, but there is no reason to believe it won’t be granted.
“We’re still in the very early stages of this, and I can’t emphasize this enough, our focus as an industry is to make sure Chase gets healthy,” said NASCAR senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’re looking at the process to date as we gather more information. (When) he’s medically cleared to come back, then I wouldn’t see any reason that he wouldn’t be granted a waiver. But we’ll go through that process and make sure we’re checking all the boxes.”
Elliott underwent a successful three-hour surgery Friday evening for a fractured tibia in his left leg. It is unclear what the timeline is for a possible return. The 2020 series champion was injured in a snowboarding accident earlier in the day in Colorado and did not compete in the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Sawyer noted NASCAR is not in unchartered waters in granting medical waivers. Kyle Busch was given a waiver in 2015 after missing 11 races in the Cup Series for injuries sustained in the Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
However, the series has also issued medical waivers for injured drivers outside NASCAR competition.
“Very similar situation to Tony Stewart a few years back,” Sawyer said. “Tony was injured in (the California sand dunes) in the preseason, and the waiver wasn’t granted until, I believe, April, and then he was cleared to come back racing at Richmond that year. So, we’ll go through the due diligence. We’ll work closely with our folks as well as the folks at Hendrick Motorsports to, again, get Chase back as quick as possible.”
Stewart missed the first eight races of the season before returning at Richmond. He won at Sonoma Raceway to earn his spot in the playoffs with the waiver.
NASCAR has been more likely than not to issue a waiver to drivers for both injuries and other circumstances. Drivers are required to attempt to start every race to be eligible for the playoffs if they are granted a waiver and win a race, but waivers have also been issued in the Craftsman Truck Series for drivers who missed races at the start of the season because they hadn’t yet turned 18 years old and therefor weren’t eligible to run on bigger racetracks.
Among the series regulations changed this offseason was the requirement that a driver must be inside the top 30 in points to be eligible for the playoffs and use the waiver. Therefore, regardless of how many races Elliott misses before returning, he will only need to worry about winning a race to be playoff eligible once the waiver is granted.
As Sawyer explained Tuesday morning, “the reason it was changed is we were getting close to the playoffs last year and we looked at it, and there was a potential situation where a charter team that has run all the races could have won a race and not been playoff eligible. So, we needed to correct that.
“We will take the point standings and all of that into consideration going forward. But… that rule needed to be changed anyway. Will it have any effect on this (situation)? I don’t think so, but it will be in the equation, for sure.”