NASCAR Mailbag: Chase Elliott’s 2 Playoff Waivers Deserved Deeper Thought
The Cup Series season was just two weeks old when Chase Elliott broke his left leg in a snowboarding accident. It triggered waves of reaction, including a debate regarding whether an injury unrelated to racing justified NASCAR issuing a waiver that kept the driver of the No. 9 Chevy eligible for the playoffs.
A handful of emails came my way, and the sentiment seemed to be Elliott should be granted the waiver. NASCAR concurred this spring ahead of his return after missing six races.
Well, Hendrick Motorsports successfully petitioned NASCAR for another waiver last week following his suspension for wrecking Denny Hamlin, and the sentiment is decidedly more negative.
This abridged email is representative of what I heard from readers:
How many waivers does a driver deserve? I know some fans believe there should never be a waiver that allows a driver to remain eligible for the Cup Series playoffs, but I think there has to be flexibility. Unfortunately, Chase Elliott is pushing the envelope.
The first waiver was for an injury that had nothing to do with racing, let alone NASCAR. The second waiver was for a suspension for bad behavior. One or the other might be worthy of a mulligan, but not both. Keeping him eligible for a playoff berth he has not yet earned is a poor NASCAR decision. (From M.R.)
NASCAR does need a provision for granting waivers. Forcing a driver to compete while sick or injured is a liability issue. Making him choose between driving or being home for the birth of a child or death in the family is a PR disaster in the making.
Once you get beyond that, though, waivers get tricky. I can see the argument against accommodating a competitor injured while moonlighting in another racing series. But would an exclusion extend to injuries from a traffic accident on the way to the supermarket? I think people would be more forgiving of the latter, but that might reflect a bias against other forms of racing.
The meatier issue is what to do about NASCAR-imposed penalties. Elliott wrecking Hamlin was deserving of the one-race suspension, but should that carry the additional penalty of a playoff ban? Would the drastic measure require repeat-offender status?
Frankly, the waiver awarded to Chase Briscoe’s team should be getting more attention than the Elliott-Hamlin episode. Elliott can argue his action was a spur-of- the-moment decision. On the other hand, the No. 14 Ford team made a premeditated decision to slap a counterfeit part onto the car, and an L3 penalty carries with it the possibility of stripping the driver and/or team of playoff eligibility.
NASCAR opted for less severe (but still substantial) penalties. Had they gone for harsher measures, one option would have been to ban the team from the owner playoffs but allow Briscoe to continue pursuing the driver title. That would be fair, considering the nature of the violation.
Jimmie Johnson left NASCAR and returned as a part-owner of the former Richard Petty Motorsports. But he’s also racing a limited schedule, raising the question of what resources he’s pulling away from Erik Jones and Noah Gragson at Legacy Motor Club. On top of that, Richard Petty is now only an “ambassador,” and former RPM employees are gone. Frankly, I think Petty is laughing at the debacle.
The move to Toyota is probably a good thing, but JJ needs to focus on the team instead of his selfishness in still racing. (From J.L.)
There’s a lot to unpack in this email and in the impending Toyota-LMC marriage itself, but two quick thoughts:
- Even without a remaining financial interest, the team’s performance this year has to be eating at Petty. Forget money; he has a lifetime invested in the organization.
- There’s almost certainly no chance of Johnson continuing to race in the Cup Series next year.
Budweiser and Target may have bigger problems with their respective businesses these days, but Legacy Motor Club has made a mess of itself in this lame-duck year with Chevrolet. It’s not insurmountable, and Toyota will be motivated to help LMC succeed. But the current issues run deeper than the idea of Chevrolet just mailing it in until the contract expires.
Your article on Legacy Motor Club and Toyota was the most idiotic I have read in a long time. First, let’s pull all support from LMC and give them nothing but the basics. Also, when you don’t funnel information to a team, especially the ins and outs of a newly configurated nose and inserts, the team is bound to fail. Before you write, do research on what’s going on behind the scenes and figure out why Chevy hasn’t given more help to a seven-time champion. (From B.S.)
Good to hear from you, Dad. I see you’re still upset I didn’t go to medical school. You do realize I probably would have killed people, right?
Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected].