By Jenna Fryer
JOLIET, Ill.: NASCAR added Jeff Gordon to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field 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.
NASCAR chairman Brian France said he had the authority to expand the field to 13 drivers for the first time since the format was implemented 10 years ago.
Front Row Motorsports 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 and Penske, 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.”
Gordon, the four-time champion, now joins Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, the five-time champion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne in the Chase.
“Wow we just gained 1250 points!” Gordon tweeted shortly after the announcement. “Very appreciative of NASCAR consideration on this matter as well as fans overwhelming support.”
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 pulled 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 today to clarify “the rules of the road” moving 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.
And now Gordon is in the Chase with Bowyer — but only after the second controversy.
Penske Racing swept the front row in qualifying for the first race of the Chase, with Logano winning the pole.
Logano turned a lap at 189.414 mph around Chicagoland Speedway on Friday to bump teammate and defending NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski. Keselowski did not qualify for the Chase but Logano did make it in last Saturday night at Richmond.
Juan Pablo Montoya qualified third and was followed by Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Gordon will start sixth.