Rick Hendrick admitted Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway that the only thing he knew for sure after last weekend’s race in Richmond was Clint Bowyer had spun with seven laps to go.
He also knew that his driver, Jeff Gordon, was not in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup and the disappointment was tremendous. While none of his four cars were headed toward victory Gordon appeared to be on his way to racing into the Chase before events started to unfold late in the Federated Auto Parts 400. It was the start of what Hendrick describes as the most up and down week he’s ever had.
“I’ve been doing this 30 years and I’ve never been to the [NASCAR] hauler at the end of the race and had any decision reversed for jumping the start or whatever,” Hendrick said after arriving at the speedway for the first Chase race. “The race is the race and that is it. That is the way it’s been for 30 plus years. I was just disgusted and left. I didn’t hang around. I got out of there as soon as it was over because it wouldn’t have done any good.”
But once home Hendrick started to read what was coming out in the media and see the reports on TV and his attitude changed. It became a “how can this be” scenario and soon Gordon’s sponsor, AARP, was on the phone with him all week. What was going to happen they didn’t know, but Hendrick was texting, emailing and doing everything he could to get answers.
Finally, almost a week later NASCAR handed down additional penalties from the Richmond fallout. It included adding Gordon as the 13th seed in this year’s Chase.
“Well you know I didn’t have to make that decision, but I sure felt like it was obvious that he got taken out by a manipulation instead of getting beat,” Hendrick said. “I think the world knew it and they had to do what they did.”
Brian France stepped up, according to Hendrick and the right decision was made. But as far as the manipulation that occurred and started the chain of events that has followed NASCAR all week, resulting in rule changes, Chase changes and plenty of attention, Hendrick views it as a learning experience.
“I think maybe that’s something that’s going to do us all a lot of good. The sport will move on and learn from it and go out and race and show the fans a heck of a good time and get what they pay to see. These guys drive their hearts out every week,” Hendrick said.
“This is what has made it exciting and everybody’s got a tremendous amount of pressure to perform. And now it’s going to be interesting to see how these guys race today and the next 10 races because they’ve got to be a little bit cautious but you’ve got to be really fast. And I think the fans are going to see some extremely hard racing. And I think it’s going to come down to somebody making mistakes and other guys not making mistakes. We’ll see.”
And most important for Hendrick, all four of his cars are now in that position. Which makes the drivers, owner and of course, sponsors happy.
“Everybody is happy now. It’s important to the sponsors. The teams have bonuses and it’s shot at the championship. Everything has happened during the year with all your bad luck and whatever and it’s down to 10 races,” he said.
“The guy that runs good and has good luck could win this thing; anybody can win it. It’s just a lot of excitement for the sponsors on the car.”