Kurt Busch announced Thursday morning that he will not be able to return to the driver’s seat of the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing in time for the start of the NASCAR playoffs, and that he has subsequently withdrawn his medical waiver that would have given him a spot in the playoffs by virtue of his win at Kansas Speedway earlier this season.
Busch’s withdrawal now expands the number of available spots in the playoffs from one to two heading into the final race of the regular season at Daytona.
After suffering concussion-like symptoms in a crash during qualifying at Pocono Raceway, Busch has missed the last five races and will not be able to return in time for the playoff opener: the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Busch’s medical waiver would have allowed him to take a playoff spot regardless of his injury status, which would have kept another driver out of the playoffs even as Busch continued to miss time.
“In addition to not being cleared to return to racing, I know that I am not ready to be back in the car. 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,” read a statement by Busch. “The decision was not an easy one, but I know it is the right thing to do.”
The implications of Busch’s withdrawal from the playoffs are massive, as it completely changes the dynamic of the playoff bubble heading into Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona and throws a lifeline to former Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr.
Prior to Busch’s withdrawal, Ryan Blaney occupied the lone remaining playoff spot on points, with Truex 25 points below the cutoff line and in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Now, Truex occupies the final playoff spot by 187 points over Erik Jones, putting both him and Blaney in position to qualify for the playoffs unless a new winner emerges at Daytona.
Although Busch will not compete for the Cup Series driver’s championship, the No. 45 team will continue to hold a playoff spot in the owner’s championship standings by virtue of Busch’s victory at Kansas in May. In a separate statement, Ty Gibbs said that he would continue to serve as the substitute driver for Busch “as long as I’m asked to.“