When the NASCAR Cup Series season resumes on May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina it will feature both Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth’s pursuit of an automatic playoff spot.
That’s because NASCAR confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that it has granted playoff eligibility waivers to both drivers.
In other words, if Newman and/or Kenseth can win a race and be inside the top 30 of the championship standings, they would be eligible for the 16-driver playoffs, tentatively scheduled to begin with the Southern 500 at Darlington on Sept. 6.
Newman was just medically cleared by NASCAR to return following his violent crash in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 16. He suffered a bruised brain while racing Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin to the checkered flag on the final lap of The Great American Race. He missed the following three events on the West Coast before the coronavirus shutdown brought the 2020 season to a standstill.
Chip Ganassi Racing hired Kenseth on Monday to replace Kyle Larson, who was fired for his use of a racial slur during an iRacing event on April 12. Kenseth hasn’t competed in NASCAR since the 2018 season’s October race at Kansas Speedway.
It is highly unlikely that either driver could race their way into the playoffs on points, thus requiring a playoff waiver in the event they win before the end of the regular season.
Waivers have previously been granted to injured drivers. Kyle Busch (fractured leg and foot) captured the 2015 championship despite missing the first 11 races of the season. Tony Stewart (burst fracture of the lumbar vertebra) qualified for the 2016 playoffs despite missing the first eight races of the season.
Numerous Truck Series drivers have been granted a waiver for turning 18 years old after the start of the season—but never one for a driver not having signed a contract until after the start of a season.
NASCAR is set to contest eight races in four weeks starting in May at Darlington. Autoweek obtained a schedule that includes races at Darlington, Charlotte, Martinsville, Bristol, Atlanta and Homestead-Miami.
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