NASCAR: Live from Chicagoland

Updated: September 13, 2013, 7:45 PM ET
ESPN.com

Recharged Logano wins Chicagoland pole

Joey Logano shrugged off the strain of a stressful couple of days by leading Brad Keselowski in a Penske Racing 1-2 in qualifying for the Geico 400 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Chicagoland Speedway.

Earlier Friday afternoon, NASCAR placed the Penske team on probation for the rest of the 2013 season for actions detrimental to the sport of stock-car racing. The penalty was prompted by radio chatter from last weekend's race at Richmond International Raceway that suggested Penske made a deal with Front Row Motorsport to gain the track position that Logano needed to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Logano's place in the Chase was never seriously in doubt, but NASCAR made the unprecedented decision to add Jeff Gordon as a 13th contestant for the 10-race playoff series.

With the politics behind them, the Penske team buckled down and Logano shattered Jimmie Johnson's 8-year-old track record by 1.3 mph with his 189.414 mph effort.

Logano, a first-time Chase qualifier, couldn't hide his happiness after earning his seventh career Sprint Cup Series pole.

"It feels pretty good," he exclaimed. "Especially after the last few days, it feels really good to sit up here and get a pole. This whole team has been working its guts out and to have a Penske 1-2 is a really big deal for everybody at the shop.

"At this point in the season, everybody picks it up, but we know we can win the championship if we keep doing what we've been doing the last few weeks. I'm excited."

Logano expressed relief that five of the 10 tracks in the Chase are 1.5-mile speedways and acknowledged the Penske team needs to be more competitive on tracks 1 mile and shorter.

"These one-and-a-half to two-mile racetracks are where we've been at our strongest through the year," he said. "We need to capitalize at places like this and maybe do a little damage control at the other places where we haven't been a strong as we'd like to be."

Seven of the 13 drivers in the Chase qualified in the top 10 at Chicagoland. Clint Bowyer, who triggered the multiple controversies that erupted at Richmond by spinning his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota late in the race, was the lowest-qualifying Chase contender in 24th place.

-- John Oreovicz

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Another Chase shakeup

The headline-making news from Chicagoland Speedway on Friday: Jeff Gordon has been added to the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup as the 13th driver, and Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing have been placed on probation for the remainder of the season.

-- ESPN.com

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Great news for Gordon fans

Count John Erickson of Bolingbrook, Ill., as pleased.

Dressed in a red Jeff Gordon T-shirt and hat in the Chicagoland Speedway garage area, Erickson was basking in the news Friday that NASCAR chairman Brian France had added Gordon to the Chase for the Sprint Cup field just minutes before.

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

Penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing had dropped its driver, Martin Truex Jr., from the Chase field on Monday, but Gordon had apparently been left out until evidence arose that collusion between Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports had also impacted the four-time champion.

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

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

-- Brant James

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The King's take

As the most successful driver in NASCAR history, Richard Petty has seen or done it all -- including winning and losing races where allegations of cheating were involved.

Like most NASCAR icons, Petty and his teams pushed the rules to the limits, and sometimes they got caught. As the voice of experience, "The King" believes everything that happened last Saturday at Richmond International Raceway is nothing new, and it probably got blown out of proportion.

"If it had happened at Atlanta, would anyone have paid attention?" Petty asked. "Nobody would have said nothing about it. This wound up involving so many people, and so many people started looking at it. But it happens all the time.

"People leading races, and their teammate will pull over and let them lead a lap for points. Stuff like that goes on all the time, but it doesn't affect people like it did Saturday night and nobody pays attention to it. There was more of a combination here than what we've seen before."

Petty believes that the penalties NASCAR levied against Michael Waltrip Racing were appropriate.

"[NASCAR] really did about all they could do, under the circumstances, without having a smoking gun," he said. "If somebody had just called 'Spinout!' maybe it would be a different deal. Instead, you've got secret words or whatever, and they got caught. The circumstances made us think it was too obvious.

"What happened is not good, but in the long run, in the overall deal, look at all the PR that's coming out of it that we wouldn't normally have gotten."

Petty expects the controversy to blow over quickly.

"The world ain't coming to an end," he said. "You can go back and talk to Junior Johnson or Bud Moore or Rick Hendrick, or anybody who's been here very long. They've all done something that maybe wasn't blatant but shouldn't have been done. It's just whether they got caught or didn't get caught."

Petty won a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1983 but lost the win through a number of infractions. He was docked points the next day and fined $35,000, but that was pretty much the last the garage area thought of the incident.

"We got caught and we made a statement that we were guilty," he recalled. "The next day, Junior Johnson had some stuff in the paper and I didn't react to it. By the next weekend, it was no big deal.

"Like when they caught the [Penske Racing cars] 2 and the 22 for the rear ends earlier this year," he added. "Within a week, the only people who thought anything about it was the guys in the pits, and they didn't pay it no attention. It was just another deal. And that is just as blatant, or more blatant, than what happened Saturday night."

-- John Oreovicz

Here we go ...

JOLIET, Ill. -- Noon CT on Friday couldn't get here fast enough for NASCAR and many of its competing drivers and teams.

Any sport in crisis breathes a sigh of relief when the focus is diverted from the scandal. So the start of practice for Sunday's Geico 400 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Chicagoland Speedway offered the Sprint Cup Series the welcome opportunity to get back to concentrating on race setups instead of defending accusations about setup races.

With the controversies that reared up Saturday at Richmond International Raceway still fresh in everyone's minds, the dozen drivers set to compete in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup got down to the business of getting their playoff campaigns underway. At the start of practice, that list included Joey Logano, though his place in the Chase still is not certain in the wake of the latest allegation of collusion between teams.

Chicagoland is the first of five 1.5-mile superspeedways that make up half of the 10-race Chase. Four shorter tracks, no more of those pesky road courses, and only one restrictor-plate lottery comprise the other half.

A strong performance at Chicagoland won't necessarily translate to success at the other four intermediate tracks (Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead), but it certainly can help build -- or destroy -- confidence and momentum for the remainder of the Chase. Just ask Kyle Busch.

With nine wins between them and ranking 1-2 in the standings, "Wild Thing" and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth have been pegged by many as the championship favorites, but they'll have to resolve questions about the reliability of their Toyota engines and overcome five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Yeah, it's just another 50-minute practice session. But at least it's starting the process of getting people talking about competition instead of controversy.

-- John Oreovicz

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Bowyer stout in practice

Clint Bowyer declared Thursday night that he was done talking about his alleged role in fixing the results of last Saturday's race at Richmond International Raceway.

Bowyer let the timing screens do the talking Friday as he placed his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota on top for the first third of the opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Chicagoland Speedway. The Kansas native fell to 10th place in the final hour of the session as other drivers made simulated qualifying runs.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. paced the 90-minute session, clocking a 187.669-mph lap in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle ran third and seventh, respectively, establishing the Roush team as an early favorite for pole qualifying later this afternoon.

Kurt Busch (P2 for Furniture Row Racing), Jimmie Johnson (fourth in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports car) and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's Juan Pablo Montoya filled out the top five in Chevrolets, while Bowyer emerged as the top Toyota runner.

-- John Oreovicz

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Investigation continues

NASCAR officials have yet to make any further announcement regarding the alleged collusion between Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports. Captures of scanner chatter Saturday at Richmond suggested that Penske officials had promised some reward if Front Row's David Gilliland allowed Penske's Joey Logano to pass for positions needed to secure a Chase berth.

Logano made the pass on a late restart and finished 10th in the regular-season standings. Gilliland refused comment Friday.

NASCAR officials said in a statement Thursday morning that the series was still gathering information.

-- Brant James

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