As if we thought the fallout from Richmond couldn’t get any more bizarre…NASCAR has stunned us with another unprecedented move. They have expanded the chase field to thirteen cars and we now welcome Jeff Gordon to the lineup. The drivers that make up the 2013 chase has changed twice in the last six days in a wild and unprecedented turn of events that has made NASCAR the top story in sports all around the country. Today, Jeff Gordon was added to the chase as a 13th seed while Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing were put on probation for the remainder of the year for attempting to manipulate the chase outcome. The two drivers who were initially put out of the chase due to MWR’s shenanigans are now back in. It was the morally correct decision but was it actually the right call?
MIKE HELTON: As you’re well aware, we’ve been looking at a lot of video, audio and timing and scoring information and other data from the Richmond race. We reacted earlier this week and then based on further due diligence, what we’re determined to do — what we’ve decided is in addition to what other actions we’ve taken, we’re going to put Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing both on probation for the balance of the year for actions detrimental.
And in addition we are organizing a mandatory meeting with drivers and owners and crew chiefs for tomorrow to hopefully address and make more clearly the path going forward as it applies to the rules of racing and the ethical part of it. Basically what I’m saying is that we’ve decided that we will put Front Row and Penske Racing on probation for the balance of the season for actions detrimental.
BRIAN FRANCE: In addition to that, we’ve decided that due to the totality of the 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.
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. 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.
Mike mentioned a moment ago, we will be clarifying in a significant way the rules of racing and the rules of the road going forward, and we will be looking forward to that meeting and addressing the media after that, after we meet with the teams to clarify that with certainly with the media and our fan base.
NASCAR contradicted what they said Monday night about the “ripple effect” and how they can’t help Gordon by adding Jeff to the chase today because it was the fair thing to do in their eyes. I think Brian France had something to do with that drastic change in opinion. Over the past week, NASCAR has slowly molded the chase field back to what it was going to be before Bowyer’s infamous spin…minus the victory that Newman would have most likely collected. When this call was first made, I was shaking my head in disbelief and although I was happy for Gordon; I was not happy with the decision to alter the fabric of the chase to include him. After mulling it over, I have changed my stance.
There were four cars from three different teams working to make sure Jeff Gordon didn’t make the chase Saturday night. NASCAR has penalized them for it but couldn’t slam them to the ground on the basis that the evidence against the teams was inconclusive. Bowyer’s spin certainly looked intentional but in reality, we can’t be 110% certain that it was without an admission. As for the Gilliland and Logano deal, we know exactly what and who they were talking about on their radio but Penske was smart enough not to say anything on the airways that could be incriminating should NASCAR look into it which they obviously did. Since there is no record of them saying anything, NASCAR also called that evidence inconclusive. In their minds, they felt the right course of action would be to assist the man all of these teams tried and succeeded in hurting. Now these teams didn’t have a vendetta to keep Jeff out of the chase but they needed to make sure Gordon wouldn’t get to the top 10 in order to help themselves.
NASCAR is trying to undo the damage done by these organizations that attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race to make the chase. Some people are questioning NASCAR’s integrity for changing the rules of the chase like this but in my opinion, these are special circumstances so special exceptions need to be made. Some will argue that Truex should be let in the chase but NASCAR won’t consider that because they’d be rewarding MWR and giving them exactly what they wanted. Some say if we are letting Gordon in, then we should let Truex in as well but the problem with that is that he wasn’t going to make it without that assist from his MWR teammates; Gordon was. I’d take Logano’s three bonus points away though. Before Gilliland let him by, he was still in the top ten in points (courtesy of MWR) but they still did it for insurance. They wanted those three bonus points is all. The biggest thing that concerned me with that radio communication was that it sounded like Penske was trying to buy the spot and that really bothers me…NASCAR had this to say about a possible bargain between the teams:
“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.” – Brian France
I believe this call by NASCAR will help ease the anger of a lot of irate fans but in the end, there is really no right answer in this mess. It’s like trying to put broken glass back together; you can be very tedious about it and try as hard as you can to fix it but it will always be broken glass. NASCAR is going through a phase right now and what exactly this phase entails will become much clearer tomorrow when NASCAR officials hold their mandatory meeting for all drivers and teams. Right now, the feeling in the garage is that if we are going to mess with the race, do it in a way that NASCAR won’t notice or that they have to call it “inconclusive;” a word I’ve heard more than my own name the past six days. I think NASCAR will lay down some guidelines and rules tomorrow that abrogates helping a teammate during a race. Whatever they say, it will definitely make these teams hesitant and think twice about even the slightest manipulation in the future.
I do not think that this call compromises the integrity of NASCAR like a contingent of people out there have stated. I don’t think they crossed a line by enlarging the chase field nor do I believe it makes them look bad. Some say that if NASCAR really wanted to be fair, they’d take Logano out of the chase via a 50pt penalty so that Gordon got in just like they did with Truex and Newman. At first, that sounds like a good idea until you really think about it. Joey, like Martin, knew nothing about the side deals going on; they were just focused on driving. Plus, all Penske did was give Joey a little bit of insurance to make sure he got top 1o and didn’t have to settle for the Wild Card. (Another reason to take 3pts from Joey) Still doesn’t make it right but throwing them out of the chase for it seems a bit drastic to me.
Even without that 1pt from David, Joey would have won the tiebreaker against Gordon so nothing changes. The pass ended up being innocuous to the chase outcome. MWR’s transgressions greatly supersede that of Penske Racing’s. If this was a court of law, I’d charge Penske with a misdemeanor and Waltrip with a felony. That is why you can’t treat Penske the way you treated MWR who manipulated the race on three different fronts. There was the spin that changed the whole race, the green flag pit stop by Vickers and Bowyer who dawdled on pit road until he was two laps down. That’s a 2pt swing in favor of Logano that would have otherwise gotten Gordon into the top 10.
This is the last I hope to write about the Richmond fallout. I cover racing because I love to talk about racing, not politics. This has been a weird and unfortunate situation that has put NASCAR in a very tight spot and I applaud them for thinking excessively about it and reacting appropriately. Like I said before, there are no right answers or panacea if you will in this deal…there are just options to repair the damage that can’t be fully undone. A devastated and livid Martin Truex Jr. ends up being the guy shafted and the one most feel sympathy for. Martin’s anger from his evanescent stay in the 2013 chase will probably linger with him for a long time unfortunately. My only wish is that NASCAR hit Bowyer with a point penalty that actually affected his chase efforts. Other than that, they did a decent job handling such a tumultuous situation.
Now, can we please get back to talking about actual racing!
POLL: Did NASCAR make the right call by adding Jeff Gordon to the chase?