In one of the most eventful weeks of NASCAR history, within the span of six days, the landscape of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship field was impacted heavily. Following Monday night's announcement of the penalties doled out to Michael Waltrip Racing and with Ryan Newman propelled into the title roster, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and NASCAR President Mike Helton announced a 13th driver and team for the playoff race on Friday, September 13th.
Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger/Axalta Chevrolet SS team were given a second life into the postseason. Last Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 saw teams doing whatever it took to make the Chase field, and in some ways, NASCAR perceived it as a manipulation of the results, where the No. 24 team had been in position for the Chase prior to the events within the last 10 laps of the race at Richmond.
"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, and I have the authority to do that," said Brian France. "We are going to do that. 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."
This unprecedented action was met with somewhat polarizing reactions across the Cup garage, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, " I don't know what's fair anymore," while Martin Truex Jr., the racer who was removed from the Chase field, was upset, saying, "I'm kind of at a loss for words. They kick me out to make a spot for somebody and then they don't do the same for the other guys. It's just unfair and (there's) nothing I can do about it."
Of course, Gordon and his No. 24 team were pleased with the news, now having a chance to contend for the Cup title and perhaps the announcement boosted their morale at Chicagoland Speedway. Previously resigned to preparing for 2014 and going for "best in class" status prior to the Friday afternoon announcement, the news of the Nos. 22 and 38 teams' communication at Richmond surfaced on Wednesday via a Fox Sports report, which NASCAR then announced they were looking into.
Gordon expressed anger about their fate, feeling that his team was robbed of a chance to be in the postseason. Now, with NASCAR's announcement and the unorthodox 13 driver field for the '13 title race, there's a bit of new life for the four-time Cup champion, although he understands the complexities of the situation that got him into the Chase.
"We don't know what the results were going to be (at Richmond) because of the circumstances of that spin changed everything," Gordon said. "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."
In addition to Gordon's inclusion into the Chase, NASCAR announced that the No. 22 Penske Racing team of Joey Logano and the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports team of David Gilliland would be placed on probation for the rest of the calendar year due to "actions detrimental to stock car racing."
While NASCAR couldn't find conclusive evidence to assess point penalties with the Nos. 22 and 38 teams, the events on Saturday night that saw teams shaking up the race results to change the Chase results were what made the officials draw the line for its drivers and teams. A meeting today will take place with the officials and teams regarding ethics on the track, where drivers are hoping to express their opinions on this matter (and surely shape up racing for the rest of the year). With the mixed reactions from those in the sport regarding this week's developments, Gordon expressed concern about the sport's status.
"Yes, the integrity of the sport has been put at question," Gordon said. "I think we have one of the greatest sports that exists. To see our integrity get questioned is very upsetting to me, and I think we, along with NASCAR, have to solve this."
For now, the attention (as it should) goes back to the racing and the matter at hand from September 15th at Chicagoland Speedway until November 17th at Homestead-Miami Speedway. There's a 10 race battle ahead for the most coveted championship trophy in all of stock car racing. From Matt Kenseth to Jeff Gordon, there's 13 hungry drivers and teams ready to race hard for the prize. Struggles are to be had, difficult decision will be made, and in the end, only one driver and team will hoist "Lady Sprint Cup" in the air with the nighttime skies surround Homestead, FL.
As we've learned in the past week, expect the unexpected and with some monumental decisions to be made in the coming times in NASCAR racing, the lines will be less blurred, the focus will slowly shift back to what's most important, and the talk will return to who's winning the races rather than dissension amongst fans, media, and all of those who congregate to the track or social media platforms.
It's time for racing on the track and we'll have that on Sunday afternoon with the Geico 400 (Live on ESPN at 1 PM EST with NASCAR Countdown and 2 PM EST with the race). Chase contender Joey Logano has the pole, while Jeff Gordon starts sixth in the field. Ladies and gentlemen, start your...opinions!