September 13, 2013

NASCAR adds Jeff Gordon to Chase field amid controversy 


By Jenna Fryer / The Associated Press

JOLIET, Ill. — NASCAR added Jeff Gordon to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field on Friday, a stunning and unprecedented step in the fallout from at least two attempts to manipulate the results at the season-ending race at Richmond last weekend.

click image to enlarge

Driver Jeff Gordon signs autographs for fans as he walks to his garage during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., on Friday. NASCAR added him to the Chase field.

The Associated Press

NASCAR chairman Brian France said he had the authority to take expand the field to 13 drivers for the first time since the format was implemented 10 years ago.

Front Row asked for a deal from Penske Racing in the closing laps at Richmond and then helped make sure Penske's Joey Logano made the Chase field by having one of its drivers, David Gilliland, slow down, according to an Associated Press review of radio communications.

France said NASCAR could not determine there was a bargain between Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing, but still believed the move was necessary to protect the "integrity" of the series. He said both teams had been placed on probation for the rest of the season.

"Too many things altered the event and gave an unfair disadvantage to Jeff and his team," France said. "More than anything it's just the right thing to do. There were just too many things that went on Saturday night."

Trading favors on and off the track is common in NASCAR, but the series is already trying to rebound from the embarrassment of another team manipulating the outcome at Richmond. Earlier this week, NASCAR punished Michael Waltrip Racing and three of its drivers for shenanigans over the final seven laps and took the unprecedented step of pulling one of them, Martin Truex Jr., out of the Chase field in favor of Ryan Newman.

The Chase begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. NASCAR will hold a mandatory team and driver meeting Saturday to clarify "the rules of the road" moving forward. France would not specify what won't be tolerated going forward.

Newman was on his way to a victory at Richmond that would have given him the final spot in the Chase field when Clint Bowyer spun, bringing out a caution. That set in motion a chain of events that cost Newman the win and the Chase berth. It also cost Gordon a Chase berth and put Truex and Logano into the final two spots.

NASCAR reacted by replacing Truex with Newman in the Chase field and hitting MWR with a $300,000 fine. It suspended general manager Ty Norris indefinitely, while MWR teammates Bowyer, Truex and Brian Vickers were docked 50 points each, and their crew chiefs were placed on probation through the end of the year.

Bowyer has denied the spin was deliberate. NASCAR could only prove one action – radio communication between Norris and Vickers in which a confused Vickers was told to pit as the field went green with three laps to go. The call was an effort to give Logano position on the track to pass Gordon in the standings and knock Gordon out of the Chase so that Truex could gain a wild-card berth.

Bowyer wasn't really penalized – NASCAR said it couldn't prove his spin was intentional – and his 50 points were deducted before seeding for the Chase. Gordon said he felt that Bowyer also deserved to be punished for giving up late track position, just as Vickers did, and he called NASCAR's penalties "half right."

And now he's in the Chase – but only after the second controversy.

A review of Logano's team radio reveals no communications indicating any discussions with Front Row. Logano is told only right before the final restart that he's racing three cars for position, one of which is Gilliland.

(Continued on page 2)

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