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NASCAR tries to make it right

by Pete McCole
Saturday, September 14, 2013

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Jeff Gordon, driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS qualified 6th Friday
Alan Marler for Chevrolet
Just days after NASCAR handed down record-setting penalties that altered the starters in the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the sanction body stunned the motorsport community with another unprecedented move, adding four-time Sprint Cup Champion Jeff Gordon as a 13th contender in the Chase field.

The move is a result of NASCAR’s investigation into alleged manipulation of the finishing order of last Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond Int’l Raceway, which marked the final race before the 10-race playoff-format Chase for the Sprint Cup was to begin with this weekends race at Chicagoland Speedway.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France said it “was the right things to do” amid allegations that several teams colluded with each other in an attempt to gain positions in the final laps of last Saturday’s race order to guarantee their drivers a spot in the Chase field.

“We believe 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, and I have the authority to do that,” said France. “There were just too many things that went on Saturday night that gave a clear disadvantage and we deemed unfair to the (Jeff Gordon) that we needed to address that.  That's why we withhold the right to in extraordinary circumstances do important things like we did today.”

During the closing laps of Saturday night’s race – based on radio communications transcribed by the Associated Press - Penske Racing is believed to have worked with Front Row Motorsports to have their driver David Gilliland sandbag in order to allow Penske driver Joey Logano to pass him on the racetrack, allowing him to finish just one point ahead of Gordon and secure the 10th spot in points, knocking Gordon out of the Chase. 

Based on their investigation into the alleged infractions, NASCAR will add Gordon to the Chase field but not remove Logano, putting 13 drivers in the Chase field for the first time in the 10-year history of the Chase. 

“It was a cumulative set of circumstances that we determined the right thing to do would be to put (Gordon) into the Chase,” said France.

Helton and France
Although France and Helton said there they could not “conclusively determine” if Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports worked to alter the finish of the race, the alleged manipulation and the number of teams involve called into question NASCAR’s integrity and forced the sanctioning body to act, although it meant changing their own rules of the game just two days before the first race of the Chase

“This is an unprecedented and extraordinary thing, 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 our number one goal of NASCAR.

NASCAR President Mike Helton also announced that Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports on probation for the remainder of the season.

Friday’s announcement marked the second time in a week NASCAR has had to step in to investigate the controversial actions of several teams during Saturday nights race.

This past Monday, NASCAR levied record-setting penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing after  MWR driver Clint Bowyer spun with seven laps to go, bringing out a caution flag that ultimately changed the finishing order of the race.

Ryan Newman, who was leading at the time of Bowyer’s spin, would have clinched a spot in the Chase with a win, but instead finished third and was initially bumped from the Chase field by Bowyer’s teammate, Martin Truex, Jr. 

MWR was also alleged to have ordered driver Brian Vickers to take a dive in the final laps by making a green-flag pit stop - further benefitting Truex – which also worked against Gordon.

After an investigation, NASCAR hit MWR with $300,000 fine and a 50-point penalty for all three of its teams, dropping Truex out of the Chase field and bumping Newman back in, but took no action to help Gordon’s position, saying they could account for the “ripple effect of an incident”.

Bowyer’s position in the Chase was not affected by the penalty, and he has repeatedly denied deliberately causing a spin.

On Friday, Gordon’s team owner Rick Hendrick expressed his appreciation to NASCAR for their decision.

“I applaud NASCAR for taking the time for a full review,” said Hendrick in statement released by the team. “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.”

In a statement released by Penske Racing on Friday evening, the team said it will not appeal NASCAR’s decision, and “appreciate the time and effort that NASCAR took” to “determine no deal occurred” between the two teams. 

None of the drivers involved were told about the decision beforehand. Gordon himself found out he was in the Chase after hearing it on TV.

“I found out when you guys found out,” said Gordon.

“I wish it had not happened under these circumstances,” said Gordon of being included in the Chase. “Under normal circumstances I would say ‘no, that's not right’. But under these circumstances, I feel there is enough reason for us to be in.  I know how hard we worked and that we earned the right to be in.

“We are going to move forward and we are going to be a better sport tomorrow and on Sunday and in the future because of this circumstance. You've got to take a negative and turn it into a positive, and I believe that's what's going to happen.”

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