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NASCAR: Kurt Busch’s injury casts a shadow over the wild playoff picture

NASCAR is set for a classic finale at Daytona while Kurt Busch's injury affects the playoff grid. Plus, a deep dive into the battle for the final playoff spot.

Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR has concluded its second-to-last road course weekend at Watkins Glen International and it is time to head to Daytona International Speedway for the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale.

However, Kurt Busch’s injury might have a significant impact on the playoff picture and the suspense couldn’t be any higher going into Daytona.

Kurt Busch will not run at Daytona, waiver questions

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Kurt Busch will not run at Daytona International Speedway. It will be his sixth straight missed event due to a concussion stemming from multiple wrecks during the season and most notably, the qualifying crash at Pocono Raceway.

Busch did come home victorious at Kansas Speedway earlier in the season and while it didn’t clinch him a playoff spot at the time, that has changed after no new winners at Watkins Glen.

NASCAR has granted Busch a waiver since it is an injury related-absence. It’s the same waiver that his brother Kyle Busch used to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship during the 2015 season.

Many have questioned the waiver’s specifics and whether the 44-year-old driver would be eligible to compete in the NASCAR playoffs if he missed the first event of the Round of 16.

However, Busch has a waiver through Daytona and if he earns a playoff spot, which has already been locked, he will be a part of the 16-driver field vying for the championship in 2022.

Busch would likely get a waiver at Darlington Raceway and Kansas Speedway, the site of his first victory, and have the opportunity to come back at any time in the Round of 16.

The Las Vegas native has earned the right to be in the playoffs and unless 23XI Racing decides to “withdraw” him from the playoffs by announcing his absence even longer before Daytona, a spot is available.

Due to these circumstances, it casts a shadow over the playoff picture as at least one major driver is poised to miss the playoffs after a stellar and consistent year.

Related: 5 worst wrecks in modern NASCAR history

NASCAR: The fight for the final playoff spot at Daytona

Unexpected is one word that could be used to describe this situation but frankly, it is not powerful enough to describe what NASCAR is going to see at Daytona this weekend.

As of now, Ryan Blaney is 25 points above Martin Truex Jr. for the final playoff spot. No one expected these two drivers to potentially miss the playoffs before the season started but this is the scenario.

Blaney sits third while Truex uncomfortably sits sixth in the regular-season standings. Gone are the days of consistency earning a playoff berth as winning now trumps every single point earned without a victory.

To put this in perspective, Blaney has never finished below 10th in the final point standings in his tenure with Team Penske. In fact, it even dates back five years to his time at Wood Brothers Racing.

Truex has made the Championship 4 in four of the last five seasons with the other being a seventh-place finish in the standings. The 42-year-old driver has finished second or better in all four of those successful runs.

As of now, he is currently set to have his worst finish in the standings since 2014 with Furniture Row Racing, despite sitting sixth in the point standings with the possibility of finishing in second place for the regular season.

One, or even both, of these drivers will miss the NASCAR playoffs. It’s a baffling scenario but it is what has been presented with an abnormal year of winners with the NextGen car.

How is it possible for both Blaney and Truex to miss the playoffs? A different new winner at Daytona in the regular season finale would knock them both out. Coincidentally, it’s one of NASCAR’s most unpredictable tracks on the circuit.

For example, Brad Keselowski arguably had the best car at the Daytona 500 but sits 27th in the standings due to a 100-point penalty without a victory. Keselowski has never missed the playoffs during the current format.

Justin Haley won a rain-shortened race at Daytona during the 2019 season with Spire Motorsports. This time around, Haley will be in a better vehicle and have track time on Friday night.

Bubba Wallace has been on a summer tear of consistency and won last year’s Fall Talladega race due to weather conditions. However, Wallace finished second in the Daytona 500 and runs great at superspeedway tracks.

All of this does not say there will be a new winner. Perhaps, it will end up being a points battle between Blaney and Truex. If this does happen, remember the Daytona 500?

Truex won Stage 1 and Stage 2 for a maximum of 20 points before the race even ended. Meanwhile, Blaney is a noted superspeedway track ace and will be very good on Saturday night.

This is poised to be one of the greatest regular season finales in NASCAR history. It could be an instant classic with the drama that will be presented throughout the event.

At least one of NASCAR’s premier drivers will be left out of the playoffs while many elite superspeedway drivers are desperate for a spot. The suspense could not get any higher going into this weekend.