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JOLIET, Ill. -- Citing unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances resulting from several allegations of race-fixing last week at Richmond International Raceway, NASCAR has expanded the field for its Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs by adding Jeff Gordon as a 13th driver.
With an eighth-place finish at Richmond, Gordon fell one point shy of Penske Racing's Joey Logano of making the 12-man Chase field. But that was before evidence emerged midweek that the Penske team had struck a deal with fellow Ford competitors Front Row Motorsports. That deal allowed a struggling Logano to pass FRM driver David Gilliland easily for 22nd place as the laps wound down to gain the additional championship point he needed to edge Gordon for the final Chase berth.
After compiling and studying video and audio evidence, NASCAR CEO Brian France and president Mike Helton decided to place the Penske and Front Row teams on probation for the remainder of the 2013 season.
More significantly, they have set a precedent by adding four-time Cup champion Gordon to this year's championship battle, six days after he thought his hopes for a fifth crown had been crushed.
We believe that there were too many things that altered the event that gave an unfair disadvantage to Jeff and his team, who would have qualified. It's just the right thing to do. ... I have the authority to do that, and we are going to do that."
We believe that there were too many things that altered the event that gave an unfair disadvantage to Jeff and his team, who would have qualified. It's just the right thing to do. ... I have the authority to do that, and we are going to do that."” -- NASCAR chairman Brian France
"We decided that due to the totality of the events that were outside of Jeff Gordon's issues, we're going to add a 13th position to the field so that Jeff Gordon will qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship this year," France told reporters packed into Chicagoland Speedway's media center. "We believe that there were too many things that altered the event that gave an unfair disadvantage to Jeff and his team, who would have qualified. It's just the right thing to do.
"I have the authority to do that, and we are going to do that. It is an unprecedented and extraordinary thing, but it is also an unprecedented and extraordinary set of circumstances that unfolded in multiple different ways on Saturday night. We believe this is the right outcome to protect the integrity, which is the No. 1 goal of NASCAR."
Shortly before qualifying Friday for Sunday's GEICO 400, Gordon gave his reaction to the news to ESPN reporter Jerry Punch.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride of emotions this week, and I've never been part of anything like this before," Gordon said. "The fans have been overwhelmingly supportive this week. It's an unprecedented decision by NASCAR, and I'm proud to be in [the Chase]. We have an incredible opportunity in front of us."
Gordon also shared his enthusiasm via Twitter:
Wow we just gained 1250 points! Very appreciative of @NASCAR consideration on this matter as well as fans overwhelming support.— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) September 13, 2013
Five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was happy his Hendrick Motorsports teammate was added to the Chase, but doesn't like having a 13th car in the field.
"Of course I am very happy that Jeff's in the Chase," Johnson said. "In my opinion, though, I think there should be 12 cars. One in, one out should be the deal. It's not. There's a lot of things to consider. It's been an interesting week to say the least.
"As a competitor, one of the 12 in the Chase that was in the Chase, you just changed the odds and the ratio tremendously adding a 13th car. I feel Jeff should be in, so I guess the 22 [Logano] would be on the outside looking if they removed one. That's a good team. They won the championship last year with the 22 car, and Joey is doing a great job and earning a lot of points. It changes the dynamic of the Chase quite a bit with 13 cars."
Gordon was already reeling from a sequence of events at Richmond involving Michael Waltrip Racing that left him outside the 12-man Chase, including a suspicious late-race spin by Clint Bowyer and a series of pit stops by Brian Vickers that helped elevate Bowyer teammate Martin Truex Jr. into position to qualify.
After evaluating video, audio, timing and scoring data, NASCAR earlier this week fined MWR $300,000 and penalized each of its drivers 50 points. That was enough to drop Truex out of the Chase and elevate Stewart-Haas Racing's Ryan Newman, who was in position to win the Richmond race and qualify for the Chase prior to Bowyer's spin. During the subsequent caution period, Newman lost the lead in the pits and finished third in the race, denying him the victory he needed to qualify as a wild card.
Gordon was the next odd-man out, until radio conversations were exposed in which Front Row personnel appeared to indicate that the team had struck up a deal with the Penske organization, trading track position for unspecified future favors.
NASCAR determined that Gordon was the direct victim of the alleged conspiracy between Front Row and Penske and decided Friday to give him the opportunity to compete in the Chase.
Gordon said he empathized with Truex for being removed from the Chase field, but his sympathy ended there.
"I felt bad for him, but we didn't get to see the race play out," he said. "We don't know what the results were going to be because of the circumstances of that spin changed everything. That, to me, is the only reason I'm accepting being in in the 13th, because under normal circumstances I would say no, that's not right. But under these circumstances, I feel there is enough reason for us to be in. I know how hard we worked and that we earned the right to be in."
Logano was not individually penalized and also will be included in the 13-man field. He will start the Chase from the pole after posting a lap of 189.414 mph in qualifying Friday.
"It wasn't any one set of circumstances that led us to this decision," France said. "It's a multiple set of circumstances, and any one of them could have been altered and given [Gordon] a disadvantage.
"But cumulatively, they were just overwhelming in such a way that just wasn't fair. We can't go back and run the event again, but we are trying to be as fair and equitable as we can with all the teams. We determined that the right thing to do was to put him in the Chase."
NASCAR has scheduled a meeting Sunday morning with team owners, drivers and crew chiefs to confirm the series' ethical expectations from its teams and drivers.
"Hopefully this will address and make more clear the path going forward as it applies to the rules of racing and the ethical part of it," Helton said.
"We've had moments in the sport where NASCAR has reacted to what has evolved on the racetrack and through the teams' actions, and we make a decision that shifts the paradigm. Whatever our decision is on how that changes the playing field for the teams, we'll have to shift our officiating with it. If we can use technologies going forward to be more fair and precise and informed about what happens on the racetrack in order to regulate the sport, we'll chase that."
Gordon said he is looking forward to Sunday's meeting.
"It will be good to hear what they have to say and interact with NASCAR to come up with long-term solutions for how to get around these types of events ever occurring again," he said. "I know we're going to have a much clearer -- hopefully crystal clear -- set of guidelines to make sure that we are only going out there to race as hard as we possibly can."
During the course of his 15-minute media availability, France made repeated mention of the importance of maintaining the integrity of the sport. He made it clear that NASCAR will take a hardline stance in the future on anything it perceives as race-fixing or collusion.
"Obviously we drew a line Monday night with the penalties for Michael Waltrip Racing," France said. "We're going to protect the integrity of the sport, no matter what it takes, and make sure that it is never in question.
"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 any way or manipulated."
Information from ESPN.com's Brant James was used in this report.