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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Alex Zietlow

Kurt Busch to miss NASCAR Cup Series playoffs after withdrawing medical waiver request

Kurt Busch will not compete for a Cup Series championship this season.

NASCAR announced Thursday morning that the veteran 23XI driver, who has missed the past five weekends of NASCAR Cup Series racing due to a brain injury, has withdrawn his medical waiver request and vacated his playoff spot. Busch hasn’t raced since late July, after suffering a brain injury during qualifying at Pocono on July 23.

The news effectively opens up a spot in the 2022 Cup Series playoffs — complicating an already thrilling postseason chase.

“Kurt Busch has managed this difficult situation like the champion that he is,” NASCAR wrote in a statement. “Working closely with his doctors, every decision made has been in the best interest of his health, his competitors and the sport. Kurt has NASCAR’s full support as he continues to heal, and we look forward to seeing him return to the race car.”

The statement continued: “23XI Racing has informed NASCAR that it is withdrawing Kurt’s medical waiver request. Per the NASCAR rule book, a spot has been made available for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The No. 45 car will continue to compete for the 2022 Owner Championship.”

Busch shared in a statement via Twitter that he was hoping to be back in the No. 45 car to make a playoff run, but that “it’s still not the right time” to return.

“I respect the sport of NASCAR, my fellow drivers and the fans too much to take up a playoff spot if I know I can’t compete for a championship this season,” Busch wrote. “The decision was not an easy one, but I know it is the right thing to do.”

Before Busch’s announcement, the driver of the No. 45 car was one of 15 drivers to have won a race in this year’s 16-car Cup playoffs.

His withdrawal changes the regular-season finale’s dynamic: Now, two playoff spots are up for grabs heading into Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway (7 p.m., NBC, Peacock and the NBC Sports App), meaning that at least one driver will be able to qualify for the playoffs on points alone.

The two final playoff spots are currently occupied by Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney in 15th and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. in 16th.

Breaking down the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs

Here’s a breakdown of the playoff picture heading into Daytona this weekend.

Who’s already clinched? Fourteen drivers: Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe.

If there is a repeat winner (or a winner who isn’t otherwise eligible for the playoffs) in Daytona, who will fill out the rest of the 16-car field? Ryan Blaney (currently 3rd in points in the Cup Series), Martin Truex Jr. (6th in points).

Who can clinch via Daytona win? Fifteen drivers (13 not including Blaney and Truex) can get in with a win at Daytona.

— Ryan Blaney (Average finish at Daytona 18.3)

╟ Martin Truex Jr. (21.9)

— Erik Jones (22.0)

— Aric Almirola (20.1)

— Austin Dillon (15.4)

— Bubba Wallace (12.5)

— Chris Buescher (22.0)

— Justin Haley (10.7)

— Michael McDowell (19.7)

— Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (20.0)

— Cole Custer (24.4)

— Brad Keselowski (22.6)

— Harrison Burton (39.0)

— Ty Dillon (19.7)

— Todd Gilliland (33.0)

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