NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France cites 'extraordinary' circumstances
JOLIET, Ill. -- Saying it was “the right thing to do,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France announced Friday that four-time champion Jeff Gordon will be added to this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.
The decision means there will be 13 drivers in this year’s field for the 10-race playoff, scheduled to begin Sunday here at Chicagoland Speedway.
“More than anything, it’s the right thing to do,” France said during a joint press conference with NASCAR President Mike Helton held at the track. “There were just too many things that went on Saturday night that gave a clear disadvantage to the 24.”
Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, failed to make the Chase field after falling just short of a top-10 points position. Because he had no wins through the season’s first 26 races, he also was not in position to earn one of the two Wild Card berths.
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But in a scenario that has brought forth a week’s worth of repercussions, Gordon’s addition is just the most recent twist. On Monday, officials announced that Michael Waltrip Racing, which fields three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams for drivers Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers, had been penalized for actions that occurred in the waning stages of Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
The points swing -- the three drivers were docked 50 points each -- resulted in the removal of Truex Jr. from the Chase field, and elevated Ryan Newman into the final Wild Card position.
“It wasn't one set of circumstances that led us to this decision,” France said. “It's a multiple set of circumstances that any one of them could have altered and given (Gordon) a disadvantage.
“But cumulatively they were just overwhelmingly, in our view, in such a way that that just wasn't fair. We needed to try to see if there was a way that ‑‑ we can't go back and run the event again, but we also are trying to be as fair and equitable as we can with all the teams. And this is an example of that.”
Meanwhile, reports of alleged collusion between the No. 22 team of Penske Racing and the No. 38 of Front Row Motorsports at Richmond surfaced two days after the MWR penalties were handed down.
In addition to announcing Gordon’s inclusion to the Chase field, officials also said the Penske and FRM organizations have been placed on probation for the remainder of the year.
The decision to add Gordon was “based on the totality of the events that were outside” of the No. 24 team’s control, according to France.
“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,” he said. “We are going to do that.
“It 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.”
Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick said he applauded 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,” Hendrick said in a statement issued by the four-team Cup organization. “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.”
Gordon had said earlier in the week he felt bad for Truex Jr., given the circumstances at RIR and then the ensuing fallout.
“To be on that stage after the race is over, to feel like that pressure was off, that they made it in,” he said. “I know what that's like. (Martin) drove his butt off. I raced with him in the closing laps and he raced hard. You could tell what he was racing for. The guy didn't do anything wrong. For that, I felt bad for him.
“But we didn't get to see the race play out. We don't know what the results were going to be because of the circumstances of that spin changed everything. That, to me, is the only reason I'm accepting being in in the 13th, because 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.”
Helton said in light of the incidents that took place at Richmond, NASCAR officials will meet with drivers, crew chiefs and team owners Saturday at Chicagoland to “address and make more clear the path going forward as it applies to the rules of racing and the ethical part of it.”
Concerning the Penske and Front Row probation, France said officials “did not conclusively determine that Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports actually did anything in terms of on the track that we can conclusively say there was a quid pro quo or altering of the event. … We're looking at the radio discussions, who had those discussions, the idea of a bargain that is completely off limits in our view.
“But that bargain never ‑‑ we don't believe that bargain ever happened, and we don't believe anything happened, other than the discussions about it, and that's why the probation is ‑‑ we're sending we think an appropriate message there.”
It was, he said, “a set of extraordinary circumstances in multiple ways with multiple drivers and multiple teams that impacted the race.
“And the only way to address it, we believe, is the way we have, punishing the teams that participated in that in some form or fashion, and trying to see if there was a way to, in this case, make Jeff Gordon have an opportunity to race for a championship, which we believe he deserves that in an effort of a fair playing field.”