|Credit: John Harrelson/NASCAR via Getty Image|
At a hastily announced news conference today at Chicagoland Speedway NASCAR made the unprecedented decision to add a 13th driver to the 2013 Chase Sprint Cup Chase – Jeff Gordon.
The 15-minute news conference, hosted by Mike Helton, NASCAR president, and Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO, was accented by carefully chosen phrases, such as “protecting the integrity of NASCAR,” “cumulative set of circumstances,” and “unfair disadvantage.”
“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. 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. We believe this was the right outcome to protect the integrity, which is our number one goal of NASCAR,” France said.
In addition to the Jeff Gordon decision, Mike Helton announced that Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing were being placed on probation until Dec. 31 for violating Section 12-1 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing).
Although the two NASCAR executives attempted to explain why the new penalties were different from the severe ones waged against Michael Waltrip Racing on Monday, it was clear from follow-up questions that the distinction may be yet another controversy hanging over the Richmond race.
France remained steadfast to the reasoning.“We did not conclusively determine that Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports actually did anything in terms of on the track that we can conclusively say there was a quid pro quo or altering of the event. As Mike said earlier, we're looking at the radio discussions, which had those discussions, the idea of a bargain that is completely off limits in our view. But we don't believe that the bargain ever happened. We don't believe anything happened, other than the discussions about it. We think we're sending an appropriate message there,” France explained.
A mandatory drivers’ and owners’ meeting will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. where, according to France, “the rules of racing and the rules of the road going forward,” will be explained and the teams' input will be solicited.
Will the clarifications addressed tomorrow keep this type of debacle from happening again? Helton stated that with officiating that supports the new understanding as well as the use of new technology we will see a paradigm shift.
“We’ve had moments in the sport where NASCAR reacted to what has evolved on the racetrack and through the teams' actions, and we make a decision that shifts that paradigm. That's what's happened this week. For example, we used to race back to the flag. When we decided that was no longer acceptable, it changed the paradigm. So whatever our decision is on how that changes for the playing field for the teams, we'll have to shift our officiating with it. What technologies we can use going forward to be more fair and precise and informed about what happens on the racetrack to use in order to regulate the sport, we'll chase that, as well,” Helton added.
I guess we’ll just have to wait to see.