Commentary

Jeff Gordon gets a second chance

Updated: September 14, 2013, 1:03 AM ET
By Brant James | ESPN.com

JOLIET, Ill. -- Jeff Gordon didn't act like the luckiest guy in the room. And he didn't seem to feel like it, either.

Granted, being inserted as the 13th member of the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field by NASCAR chairman Brian France has "lit a fire" under a team that was admittedly inconsistent this season but was denied a chance to earn it for themselves because of collusion by three other teams at Richmond last week.

[+] Enlarge Jeff Gordon
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesWouldn't you have liked to been a fly on the wall during this conversation between four-time champion Jeff Gordon and three-time champion Tony Stewart?

But for a four-time Sprint Cup champion with 22 seasons as a driver and equity invested as an owner in Hendrick Motorsports, the landscape-changing nature and cause and effect of this melodrama seems to leave him uneasy. These events, he hopes, will be remembered as what led to changes that have been needed for years. And he hopes a meeting between drivers and NASCAR officials on Saturday will be a starting point.

"I wish it had not happened under these circumstances. I really do wish we could have come to this conclusion sooner, but sometimes that's just not the case," he said. "But we are going to move forward and we are going to be a better sport tomorrow and on Sunday and in the future because of this circumstance.

"You've got to take a negative and turn it into a positive, and I believe that's what's going to happen."

Gordon said he learned of his inclusion into the Chase field watching it live on television on Friday. He said he had called president Mike Helton on Wednesday, but after releasing a few tweets -- and approving a few more pointed ones from wife Ingrid Vandebosch -- he was "letting go of my anger and the things that I felt like kept us from being in it and was ready to move on ..."

Reaction was mixed and cautious, and as is the norm in racing, heavily influenced by how it affected the individual. As seven-time series champion Richard Petty, now a team co-owner, said, "It takes away from the 12 that's already there."

Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson said that while he was pleased for his friend and Hendrick Motorsports teammate, a driver should have been dropped from the field.

"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," he said.

Gordon was impressed, he said, with the outpouring of support from fans on social media. "Now I'm able to see what everybody was thinking and what they're saying and it's unbelievable," he said. "I never felt so much support that I did. And also anger as well."

Fan John Erickson, dressed in a red Gordon T-shirt and hat, basked in the news in the Chicagoland Speedway garage area minutes after the announcement.

"I am so pumped up," he said. "I was so upset the whole week. I was mad."

Erickson said he had no problem with NASCAR arbitrating a 13th driver into the Chase field, noting that the actions of other teams negated the efforts Gordon made at Richmond to make the Chase on his own.

"He was in already. He was going to race his way in," Erickson said. "He had raced so hard and to have that taken away ... They couldn't let that happen in our sport."

Gordon said he empathized with Martin Truex Jr. for being removed from the Chase field after NASCAR penalized Michael Waltrip Racing on Monday. 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  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."

Brant James

Contributor, espnW.com
Brant James has covered the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, a World Series and Stanley Cup for the big hometown daily, an NCAA tournament and a Super Bowl. He's walked to the paddock with Kentucky Derby horses before post, ridden to the top of Mount Washington with Travis Pastrana and landed on an aircraft carrier with Dale Earnhardt Jr. He once induced Danica Patrick into a dance number from Moulin Rouge by saying the word "Switzerland." It's been pretty interesting so far.

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