By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
JOLIET, Ill.–In an extraordinary move resulting from competitive improprieties in last Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond, Brian France, the sanctioning body’s chairman and CEO, added Jeff Gordon to the Chase for the Sprint Cup field.
“We decided that, due to the totality of events that were outside of Jeff Gordon’s– his issues, we’re going to add a 13th position to the field, and Jeff Gordon will qualify for the championship this year, the Sprint Cup championship,” France said Friday in the Chicagoland Speedway media center.
“We believe, in looking at all of it, there were too many things that altered the event and gave an unfair disadvantage to Jeff and his team, who would have qualified, and I have the authority to do that. We are going to do that.”
For the second time in four days, the Chase field has changed. On Monday night, NASCAR announced penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing for attempting to manipulate the outcome of the race. Those penalties knocked Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase and promoted Ryan Newman into a Chase berth as a wild card.
“It’s an unprecedented and extraordinary thing,” France said of the addition of Gordon to the Chase. “But it’s also an unprecedented and extraordinary set of circumstances that unfolded in multiple different ways on Saturday night, and we believe this was the right outcome to protect the integrity, which is the number one goal of NASCAR.”
In addition, NASCAR placed Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports on probation for the remainder of the year for actions detrimental to stock car racing. As FoxSports1 first reported Wednesday, apparent collusion between those teams led to Front Row driver David Gilliland surrendering a position to Penske driver Joey Logano late in the race.
The combined actions of Front Row, Penske and MWR–two of whose drivers, Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer, also finished behind Logano by design–likely cost Gordon a position in the Chase. Based on the critical mass of circumstances, France exercised his authority to add Gordon to the Chase as a 13th driver.
Logano qualified for the Chase in the 10th position. Had he finished behind Gilliland and Vickers, for example, and had Gordon finished where he did–eighth–Gordon would have been the 10th-place driver, and Logano would have made the Chase as a wild card, knocking Truex out.
But because Logano, who has one victory this season, claimed the 10th position in the standings, Gordon, who is winless, was out, and Truex grabbed the second wild card berth, before Monday’s 50-point penalty cost him the spot.
Gordon will enter the Chase as the 13th seed, with 2,000 base points, 15 behind top-seeded Matt Kenseth, who has a series-best five victories.
“What a roller-coaster ride of emotions this week, and an unprecedented set of circumstances–I’ve never been a part of anything like this before,” Gordon said after learning of his inclusion in the Chase. “But for my team and my fans, who have been overwhelming supportive, and for the tough decisions NASCAR has to make…
“I’m happy about this, proud to be in it, and now with this incredible set of opportunities, I want to go out there and show that we belong in the Chase.”
NASCAR president Mike Helton said the sanctioning body will meet with competitors on Saturday to define rules and racing protocols in what could be a watershed moment for the sport.
“We’ve had moments in the sport where NASCAR reacting to what has evolved on the race track and through the teams’ actions, and we make a decision that shifts the paradigm, so to speak, and that’s what happened this week, in part,” Helton said.
“As an example–it may not be a very good one–but some of you may remember we used to race back to the flag (under caution), and we didn’t; we stopped that. And when we decided that what acceptable was no longer acceptable, it changed the paradigm. So we, for several weeks after that, had to define what that meant.
“So that’s kind of the moment we’re in, that we’ll address with the teams and the media and the fans, as to what this shift means.”