Larson relieved to be granted waiver that keeps him in NASCAR playoffs


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Kyle Larson was finally granted the waiver this week he needed from NASCAR to remain eligible to race for a second Cup championship.

Now that the ordeal is over, Larson would prefer if the topic just went away.

"I think there's definitely relief on my end," Larson said Saturday at Sonoma. "There was a lot, I'm sure, discussion that went into it on NASCAR's end and a lot of discussion. I'm appreciative of it, for sure, and look forward to hopefully not talk about waivers again.

"Thankfully nobody has to deal with the drama going forward."

Larson last month became the fifth driver in history to attempt to run both the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. But his quest to complete 1,100 miles was ruined by rain in both states. The Indianapolis 500 was delayed four hours and, by the time Larson arrived in North Carolina for the NASCAR race, it was raining there, too, and he never turned a single lap.

Because he failed to compete in the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR took more than a week to decide if it would grant Larson the waiver to remain playoff eligible. The exemption was widely considered to be a given since NASCAR has historically granted waivers for anything from injury, to mental health breaks, suspension and a variety of other reasons.

But Hendrick Motorsports was forced to sweat out NASCAR's decision even though Larson heads into Sunday's race at home-track Sonoma Raceway second in the Cup standings. His two wins have already made him playoff eligible, but NASCAR could have stripped his eligibility for prioritizing the Indy 500 over its own event.

Larson said he stayed out of conversations between Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR, leaving the talks to his bosses and series officials. He instead returned his focus to NASCAR competition and overcoming the disappointment of rain ruining "The Double" for him.

"I've said all along, I really enjoyed the experience and I wish it would have panned out differently with the weather and really showcased Kyle Larson and doing 'The Double' but unfortunately that didn't happen," Larson said. "But, also, reflecting on it, I am very fortunate to be just one of a handful of drivers to have done it, attempted it, getting to race on two big platforms like that is awesome.

"Getting to race the Indy 500, and getting a chance to race a Cup car for a living, I'm pretty fortunate to be one of those guys. America is in a great spot for motorsports."

Joey Logano continued a run of Team Penske momentum by winning the pole for Sunday's race on the road course at Sonoma Raceway.

The third pole of the season for Logano comes off of teammate Austin Cindric's victory last Sunday outside St. Louis, as well as Josef Newgarden's second-consecutive Indianapolis 500 victory two weeks ago and Logano's win in NASCAR's all-star race three weeks ago.

"It's nice to see some Penske cars running well again, and Fords, as well," said Logano, who credited a 50-minute Friday practice session with giving his No. 22 team a shot at the pole.

NASCAR has mostly eliminated practice as it condensed weekend schedules during the pandemic. The lack of practice has forced teams to qualify their cars as prepared upon arrival and made needed adjustments during the race.

But Sonoma has been repaved for the first time in over two decades and that warranted a rare practice session.

Logano now has 31 career poles — but only three on road courses. He earned one once before at Sonoma, but it was 13 years ago in 2011.

Tyler Reddick qualified second in a Toyota for 23XI Racing and was followed by Logano teammate Ryan Blaney, and then Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and William Byron in Chevrolets.

Former Sonoma winner Daniel Suarez qualified seventh for Trackhouse Racing, while Hendrick driver Alex Bowman, Ross Chastain of Trackhouse and Ty Gibbs of Joe Gibbs Racing rounded out the top 10. Gibbs was the only JGR driver to advance into the final round of qualifying.

There are only four former Sonoma winners in Sunday's field: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Suarez and Larson.

Denny Hamlin was overruled by the women of his household on what to do about a puppy his daughters found while sightseeing ahead of last weekend's race outside St. Louis.

The puppy was found as his girls were exploring The Gateway Arch and a park ranger, who planned to take the puppy to the pound, said the family could take the black dog. Hamlin made an attempt to find the owner on social media but when no one came forward, he relented and allowed the dog to return to North Carolina with the family.

Now the girls have named the dog "LuLu" — a name Hamlin has since learned was once a nickname for his mother, Mary Lou. Employees at 23XI Racing, the team Hamlin co-owns with Michael Jordan, offered to let the puppy become the official "shop dog" and live at team headquarters, but Hamlin's girls aren't budging.

Although he laughed about the turn of events in gaining a new family member, he made it clear he had little say at home about the dog's future. He plans to do DNA testing to learn more about LuLu's background because he's been warned the puppy appears likely to grow into a very large dog.

"This is short-term happiness and a long-term pain ...," Hamlin said, explaining his girls don't properly care for the first dog he gave them. "They're not going to do it. They don't ever pick up after themselves. They are not going to take care of this dog."

ODDS AND ENDS

Kyle Larson is the BETMGM favorite to win Sunday. .... Austin Cindric's win last week outside St. Louis shuffled several spots in the standings as the playoff picture begins to take shape. Cindric earned an automatic berth with the win, joining Hamlin, Larson, William Byron, Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick, Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez as drivers already qualified for the playoffs. Chase Briscoe in 17th in the standings is the first driver on the 16-driver playoff bubble. .... Martin Truex Jr., who in each of the last three years has waited until the summer to decide if he will return to Joe Gibbs Racing, said he's getting closer every week to making a decision about 2025.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

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