Monday, December 18, 2017
Sports

NASCAR adds Jeff Gordon to Chase field amid controversy

JOLIET, Ill. — Jeff Gordon was added to the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship on Friday when NASCAR chairman Brian France used his power to make an unprecedented expansion to the field after two separate investigations into radio chatter revealed numerous instances of race manipulation.

France determined Gordon did not have a fair chance to race his way into the 12-driver field Saturday because of the actions of at least three organizations in the closing laps at Richmond.

At that time, the four-time series champion was bumped from eligibility by Joey Logano, who unknowingly received assistance from two Michael Waltrip Racing drivers trying to aid their teammate, Martin Truex. Logano also picked up a position when David Gilliland apparently moved aside when Gilliland's team tried to bargain with Penske Racing over the radio.

"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."

NASCAR should have been celebrating Sunday's start of the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway. Instead, the sanctioning body was scrambling to uncover who did what and why since Clint Bowyer spun his car with seven laps remaining at Richmond as 10 drivers jockeyed for the five available spots in the Chase.

NASCAR disciplined MWR on Monday, then learned Wednesday of a second apparent problem involving Penske and Front Row Motorsports, which appeared to ask for a deal if Gilliland moved over for Logano.

Logano got by Gilliland, who then slowed by at least 1 mph, according to an AP review of radio communications and data.

France said NASCAR could not determine that there was a deal between Front Row and Penske, but that putting both teams on probation for the season was necessary to protect the integrity of the series.

Penske got back to work in qualifying, as Logano earned the pole for Sunday's Geico 400 with a lap of 189.414 mph around Chicagoland's 1.5-mile oval. Teammate Brad Keselowski, the defending series champion who missed this year's Chase, qualified second at 189.248 mph.

Gordon now joins Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, the five-time champion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne in the Chase.

"It's been a roller coaster ride of emotions this week. Unprecedented set of circumstances," Gordon said. "I'm extremely happy for this. We're proud to be in it."

Gordon is 15 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. Johnson was happy for his teammate but not thrilled to have an additional driver to race for the title.

"I believe there should be 12 cars. One in and one out should be the deal," he said.

The series investigated Penske and Front Row after the embarrassment of MWR trying to manipulate the outcome to benefit Truex. NASCAR pulled Truex out of the Chase in favor of Ryan Newman.

Truex, in his first comments since Monday, said it has been a surreal week. He drove the past two weeks with two broken bones in his wrist and a cast on his right arm. He wasn't pleased with the decision to add Gordon: "I'm not even sure what to say at this point," he said. "I'm kind of at a loss for words."

Trucks: Kyle Busch won his 34th career series race, beating Keselowski at Chicagoland in the EnoyIllinois.com 225 by leading the final 34 laps. It was Busch's fourth series win in eight starts this season and his 17th spanning all three NASCAR national series.

NHRA: Morgan Lucas (3.749 seconds at 324.51 mph) led the first day of Top Fuel qualifying at the Carolina Nationals in Charlotte, the first of six races in the Countdown to the Championship. Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also led their classes.

IndyCar: The Baltimore Grand Prix was scrubbed for 2014 and 2015 after organizers couldn't pin down a race date.

     
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