In an unprecedented move by NASCAR officials citing "circumstances beyond his control," Jeff Gordon has been added as the 13th participant in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup field.
"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," NASCAR CEO Brian France said Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. "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."
Gordon was appreciative of the decision, saying on Twitter: "Wow we just gained 1250 points! Very appreciative of @NASCAR consideration on this matter as well as fans overwhelming support."
The announcement follows an investigation that revealed Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports may have manipulated the finishing order in last week's regular season finale at Richmond. Joey Logano, a driver for Penske, finished two points ahead of Gordon. Radio transmission later indicated that Penske and Front Row may have negotiated a deal to allow Logano to pass Front Row driver David Gilliland, however, thus keeping Gordon out of the Chase.
Logano denied knowing anything about the allegation when asked Thursday. "Obviously, I would have known about it if that was the case," Logano said at the Chase for the Sprint Cup media day. "That is stuff that happens week in and week out with spotters. They are up there communicating back and forth trying to work deals out. ‘Hey, help me out here, I will help you out here, let's work together.' That happens all the time."
NASCAR did not conclusively determine whether a deal had been struck between Penske and Front Row, but the circumstances cast a shadow over the Chase and whether Gordon was unjustifiably being left out. And, because he was winless on the year, Gordon was not eligible for one of two wild card slots available.
This isn't the first time this week that NASCAR has taken extraordinary steps to determine which drivers would participate in the Chase.
Following in-car audio and video documenting Michael Waltrip Racing ordering its drivers to drop positions -- including a suspicious spin by Clint Bowyer -- to ensure Martin Truex Jr. qualified for the Chase, NASCAR fined MWR a record $300,000 and removed Truex from the playoffs. Ryan Newman, who was leading at the time of Bowyer's spin and would have qualified with a victory, replaced Truex.
Also playing a part in Friday's decision was that at the time of Bowyer's spin, Gordon had been running high enough to make the Chase.
The events of the week have overshadowed the 10-race Chase, which begins Sunday at Chicagoland, while calling into question the credibility of NASCAR. Before this week, no alterations had ever been made to the Chase field after the regular season had concluded.
To clearly define what drivers can and cannot do pertaining to working with teammates, in addition to other concerns regarding rules and procedure, NASCAR has called a mandatory drivers' meeting for Saturday.
It's a common occurrence in NASCAR for drivers to concede a position on the track to a teammate, whether it's to lead a lap and get the bonus that goes with leading or allowing them to pass and get back on the lead lap. But the implementation of the Chase in 2004 and the importance placed on qualifying for the playoffs has increased this practice.
"We will be clarifying in a significant way the rules of racing and the rules of the road going forward," France said.