Upon further review, Jeff Gordon makes it a 13-man chase (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Jeff Gordon will get a shot at the championship this fall after all, with NASCAR's Brian France stepping directly into Richmond chase controversies and making some dramatic and pointed decisions, on the eve of the first race of the playoffs, Sunday's Chicago 400.
"Based on all of our findings this week, we determined both Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing organizations would be placed on probation for the remainder of this season," a somber and clearly aggravated France announced Friday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.
"Additionally, based upon the totality of our findings, to be fair and equitable we decided that adding a 13th car to this year’s Chase is the appropriate action.
"Beginning with our decision Monday, which resulted in an unprecedented team penalty, and continuing with further examination of actions involving two other race teams, it is clear to us that attempts to manipulate the results impacted the Chase field.
"The integrity of our sport remains the cornerstone of NASCAR, and our actions this week speak to our commitment to ensure a level playing field for all competitors."
France, with NASCAR president Mike Helton beside him, said there will be a mandatory meeting with drivers, owners, crew chiefs and other team personnel Saturday "to address this issue moving forward."
Rick Hendrick, Gordon's team owner, praised France for taking further steps, following Monday's initial penalties.
"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. "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."
NASCAR CEO Brian France is not pleased with some of the shenanigans at Richmond Saturday night -- and he adds Roger Penske and Front Row to the penalty list (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
"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," France 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.
"We will (Saturday) 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.
"What we're going to do is we're going to protect, no matter what it takes, the integrity of the sport will never be in question, and that's what we're going to make sure, that we have the right rules going forward that are clear so that the integrity of the competitive landscape of the events are not altered in a way or manipulated.
"There are lines. They will be much clearer coming out of tomorrow than they are today. But listen, the most important thing is the integrity of the event, and we'll deal with that.
"We will address the media after we address the teams.
"We 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 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 sending we think an appropriate message."