NASCAR Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Should a Part-Time Driver Be Able To Make the Playoffs?

Do you think Ty Gibbs (or Josh Berry) in the [NASCAR] Xfinity Series and Grant Enfinger in the [Camping World] Truck Series should get into the playoffs if they are above the playoff cutline points-wise even though they haven’t attempted all the races? – Thomas Rooney (via email)

Great question, Thomas. And it’s one that NASCAR has had to deal with not just this season, but in recent years. Kyle Busch missing the first 11 races of 2015 due to a broken leg (received a waiver, won the championship) and Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth missing select races in 2020 (received waivers, were both playoff eligible) are just a few examples.

But the sanctioning body has already said they won’t grant waivers to drivers like Berry, Enfinger and Gibbs to be playoff eligible.

To answer your question, Thomas, I don’t think that those drivers should be granted playoff waivers, though, unless they can show they have all intentions of running the full schedule (or at least the full playoff slate).

See also
Truckin' Thursdays: Grant Enfinger Making Most of Part-Time Schedule

I get that sponsor deals could potentially fall through, injuries can happen, freak accidents preventing a driver or team from competing in all the races, etc. But doing so would compromise the integrity of the postseason (for those who think it already is compromised, don’t @ me).

Let’s say a team like Beard Motorsports, which only enters superspeedway events, were to somehow by the grace of Dale Earnhardt win the Daytona 500. And for good measure, the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway as well. Then they’d not only be playoff eligible, but they’d have a leg up on some of their competitors and at least 10 playoff points.

But Beard is a team that competes in four races per year max and has never had any aspirations of going full-time NASCAR Cup Series racing. If you let them be playoff eligible, then more teams like Beard will try to get lucky, game the system and voila: you have an all-out bleep-show on your hands.

As much as it would make fans happy to grant drivers like Berry and Enfinger a waiver to get into the playoffs, NASCAR said no because it’s too slippery of a slope. Nobody said the rules were fair, you just have to abide by them.

With Jeff Gordon being rumored to leave FOX Sports, do you think this could affect how much longer Kurt Busch or Kevin Harvick decide to race? – Greg M., Montville, N.J.

I don’t think so, Greg. Busch is on the record saying he’d like to race at least one more year to get a feel for the Next Gen car (potentially to be able to speak about it on broadcasts?) and Harvick’s contract with Stewart-Haas Racing stretches through the 2023 season, meaning he wouldn’t be available to do TV work until 2024 at the earliest.

FOX also has plenty of talent in their studios, spanning former drivers, crew chiefs and damn good broadcasters. NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte has increased his role on air, as has Jamie McMurray this season. The latter has served as an analyst on most pre-race shows from Charlotte and would be an easy swap for Gordon to call races alongside the legendary Mike Joy and fun-loving Clint Bowyer.

See also
SRX Saturday: Bobby Labonte Talks Inaugural Season, Importance of Short-Track Racing

Not to mention the man who should’ve been in the booth this whole time: Larry McReynolds. His poignant analysis with an approach that comes off analytical yet not-too-serious is something I, for one, would love to see return during races in the play-by-play booth. Not in a command center in the 704.

But back to the question at hand. Busch also has hinted at the idea of dabbling in other forms of motorsports, potentially sports cars, a return to IndyCar competition, maybe even rally racing or whatever the champion and future Hall of Famer’s heart desires.

Harvick, though, is basically being groomed to work in TV whenever he so chooses. He’s been the lead analyst for FOX’s “Drivers Only” broadcast multiple times, has been a regular driver analyst as well and seems to enjoy his time calling races.

“I feel fairly confident that being part of the TV side of things is something that I want to do in the future. But it’s not going to happen in the next couple of years, I can tell you that,” Harvick said at Texas Motor Speedway two years ago.

With NASCAR’s TV contract set to expire after the 2024 season, that could leave one year for Harvick to show what he’s got in the FOX booth for 2024. Then let the bidding commence for his services when a new television deal is signed by the sanctioning body and whichever networks are a part of it, should they differ from the current duo of FOX and NBC.

Regardless, these are two champion, Hall of Fame-caliber drivers who know their best years are behind them, but also have a lot left to give. That doesn’t mean they can’t start planning for the future, though, because Father Time waits for no one.

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DoninAjax

Does the car or the driver get the position? If more than one driver of a car gets a win or wins, who gets in? Not one of them was in all the events.

Kathy marino

I don’t think it is fair to the full time NASCAR race car racers. Only if they have a binaries reason like broken legs or concussions. If there is nothing wrong with them my answer is – NO. Kathy MArino NASCAR fan

Don

Yes, Kyle Busch broke hid legs in an Xfinity race. Missed almost half the season. Came back, won a race, qualified, and I think that’s the year he won a Championship! Was he a part time driver, Hell yeah but they let him do it. Anyone who wins a race should be eligible for the Chase…….

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