Chase Elliott will miss several races after suffering a fractured tibia in a snowboarding accident. Now NASCAR has addressed the possibility of Elliott receiving a waiver that will keep him eligible for the playoffs.
Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, weighed in about the situation during a Tuesday appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” Sawyer explained that NASCAR is still in the early stages of this process and that the focus is on Elliott’s recovery. Any decision about a waiver will not take place until the driver of the No. 9 is medically cleared to return.
“I wouldn’t see any reason that he wouldn’t be granted the waiver, but we’ll go through that process and make sure that we’re checking all the boxes,” Sawyer said. “This isn’t uncharted waters for us as a sanctioning body. Very similar situation to Tony Stewart a few years back.
“Our fans remember Tony was injured in a sprint car race in the preseason. And the waiver wasn’t granted, I believe, until April, and then he was cleared to come back racing at Richmond that year.”
NASCAR Has Granted Numerous Waivers Over the Years
There have been several examples in NASCAR history where teams had to apply for waivers that would keep their respective drivers eligible for the playoffs. This includes prominent examples in Kurt Busch (concussion), Alex Bowman (concussion), and Chris Buescher (COVID). Though Busch ultimately withdrew from the playoffs.
Not all of the waivers were due to injury or illness, according to data gathered by Kickin’ the Tires writers Seth Eggert and Justin Schuoler. Matt Kenseth received a waiver in 2020 due to “extraordinary circumstances” as he replaced a suspended Kyle Larson while Johnny Sauter received a waiver in 2019 after NASCAR suspended him for an on-track incident involving Austin Hill.
The Craftsman Truck Series, in particular, has seen several teams apply for waivers due to NASCAR’s rules. Justin Haley (2017), Todd Gilliland (2018), Tyler Ankrum (2019), Taylor Gray (2023), and Jake Garcia (2023) have all had to miss races due to their age.
NASCAR approved waivers in each of these instances, which kept the respective drivers eligible for the playoffs. Ankrum took advantage during the 2019 season as he reached the playoffs after a win at Kentucky Speedway. He ended the year eighth in the championship standings.
Does Elliott injuring his leg away from the track play a role in whether he receives a waiver? It’s very unlikely. NASCAR approved Stewart’s waiver request in 2016, and the sanctioning body will likely approve Elliott’s waiver request in 2023.
Elliott’s Concern After His Return Will Be Points
Elliott’s immediate focus is recovering fully from a fractured tibia and getting back to the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Once he achieves this goal, he will have a different focus — stacking points.
Elliott securing a spot in the playoffs is highly likely. He drives for a team that has been dominant for several seasons, and he has five straight seasons with at least two trips to Victory Lane.
The 2020 Cup Series champion will likely win a race and secure a spot in the playoffs. His more significant concern will be whether he can secure enough playoff points before the end of the regular season, which would help him offset any struggles on the track.
The 2022 playoffs served as a fitting example of why points are critical. Elliott finished 36th at Darlington Raceway to start the Round of 16, but he had enough bonus points from winning four regular-season races, as well as the regular-season championship, to keep himself in a spot to move on to the next round.
Elliott then started the Round of 12 with a 32nd-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway due to a fire, but he won the following week at Talladega Superspeedway to move on to the Round of Eight.
Elliott’s penultimate round of the playoffs included a 21st-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a 14th-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and a 10th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway. He still reached the championship four by virtue of the bonus points he accrued earlier in the year.
If Elliott can secure enough playoff points after returning from his injury, he will be able to move through the rounds more easily. If not, he will have to deliver strong performances each week to keep himself in contention for his fourth consecutive appearance in the championship four.