JOLIET, Ill. — For the second time in six days NASCAR has altered the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As a result there will be 13 drivers in the Chase for the first time with the addition of Jeff Gordon to the field as the result of multiple incidents of race fixing during the closing laps of last Saturday’s race at Richmond Int’l Raceway.
NASCAR President Mike Helton and NASCAR Chairman Brian France met the media this afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway, announcing the addition of Gordon to the field and penalties taken against Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing with both the No. 22 (Joey Logano) Penske team and the No. 38 (David Gilliland) Front Row team placed on probation through the end of the year.
Helton and France said NASCAR that while there was radio evidence that the No. 22 and No. 38 teams discussed a “bargain” that would give Logano an extra position, there was no evidence it had actually happened. Yet because of the discussions that were heard from in-car radios, both were placed on probation.
As for Gordon, he was in position to make the Chase when Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer spun late in the race, bringing out a yellow flag that allowed MWR’s Martin Truex Jr. and Logano into the Chase with Gordon and Ryan Newman on the outside looking in.
On Monday, NASCAR kicked Truex out of the Chase and fined MWR $300,000, while replacing him with Newman. After investigating the Logano/Gilliland incident, NASCAR decided that there was just too much that conspired against Gordon’s chances to keep him out of the Chase.
“Due to the totality of events that were outside of Jeff Gordon’s control, we are going to add a 13th position to the field and Jeff Gordon will qualify for the Sprint Cup championship this year,” France said. “We believe that in looking at all of it, that there were too many things that altered the event and gave an unfair disadvantage to Jeff and his team, who would have qualified.
“I have the authority to do that and we are going to do that. It is an unprecedented and extraordinary thing, but it is an unprecedented and extraordinary set of circumstances that unfolded in multiple different ways on Saturday night and we believe this is the right outcome to protect the integrity, which is our No. 1 goal at NASCAR.”
NASCAR has a meeting planned with teams for Saturday afternoon to discuss this incident and the rules for the Chase moving forward.
“We will be clarifying the rules of the road going forward and we will address the media after we meet with the teams and clarify that with the media and our fan base,” France said. “What we are going to do is protect the integrity of the sport, no matter what it takes. We are going to make sure we have the right rules going forward that are clear, so the integrity of the results are not altered or manipulated.”
France acknowledged the crazy chain of events of the last week that have led to this unusual action and to tremendous criticism of the series from media, fans and competitors.
“This is unusual because we have only had the Chase 10 years or so,” France said. “We would prefer not to be in this position, but we are, so that is our position. It wasn’t one set of circumstances that led us to this decision, it was a multiple set of circumstances that ultimately just wasn’t fair. You can’t go back and run the event again, but we are trying to be as fair and equitable as we can with all of the teams.”
Gordon, a four-time series champion, reacted via Twitter. “Wow, we just gained 1,250 points! Very appreciative of NASCAR consideration on this matter as well as fans’ overwhelming support.”
Gordon’s team owner, Rick Hendrick, responded in a statement: “I applaud NASCAR for taking the time for a full review. What occurred at Richmond was not of their making, and they’ve had to wrestle with some very difficult decisions throughout the week. I know everything done by NASCAR has been a sincere effort to be fair and ultimately do what’s best for our sport and our fans.
“We’re extremely proud to have all four cars in the Chase for the second consecutive season. Jeff (Gordon) and the No. 24 team earned this spot, and we’re going to leave everything on the racetrack during these last 10 (races). The support this week from our fans and partners has been incredible, and I’m proud of everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for the effort that’s gotten us here. The Chase is going to be exciting.”