Jeff Gordon is back in the Chase.
Hang on to your hats, folks. The 2013 Chase is now a 13 driver affair. For all of the talk about the unprecedented, historic, history-making, etc. penalties NASCAR leveled on Monday afternoon to Michael Waltrip Racing, the decision they announced at 4 p.m. EST Friday is groundbreaking.
After evidence surfaced Wednesday afternoon that there may have been a deal brokered between the Penske Racing #22 of Joey Logano and the Front Row Motorsports #38 of David Gilliland to get Logano extra spots, and thereby points, to make it into the Chase, NASCAR decided those circumstances, coupled with the fallout from the MWR controversy, placed an “unfair disadvantage” on Gordon, and that the only fair thing to do is add a 13th driver to the Chase. No extra penalties were issued to Front Row Motorsports or Penske Racing other than placing them on probation until the end of the year, which equates to absolutely nothing.
The reaction is already astounding, from the roaring approval of Gordon fans to the “sport is ruined” doom and gloom from media members like Jeff Gluck and Kyle Petty, who, ironically, were all for talking about the injustices MWR created leading up to the announcement. Full disclosure: I’m a Jeff Gordon fan. But, aside from that fact, this is the right thing to do.
But now, more than ever, NASCAR absolutely has to get its collective shit together.
In light of the changes that Clint Bowyer‘s intentional spin made to what conceivably could have been the final running order Saturday night in Richmond, we are now back to normal. Martin Truex Jr. is still out, but wouldn’t have made it without Bowyer’s help anyway. Logano, on the other hand, is still in, when there’s a very good chance that had the race continued under green with Ryan Newman taking the checkered flag, Gordon could have edged him out for the 10th place spot in the standings, knocking Logano out of contention. So, if Penske Racing knows what’s good for it, and I’m betting the organization does, they’ll shut up and move on.
What happens now? The days of chalking every penalty up to “actions detrimental to stock car racing” have got to be over. Drivers letting others pass them on the race track for position is nothing new, and unless NASCAR steps up and outlines a clear and definitive set of circumstances for where the line is, it will keep happening. This is a scary proposition for the sport, because they’re going to have to dive into some extremely murky waters. NASCAR has said it will meet with all teams Saturday at a time to be determined to discuss this very issue, and you can guarantee it will be well attended.
NASCAR is under great scrutiny for the entire fiasco created at Richmond, and with a number of eyes on the sport, including those who rarely pay attention to racing, it has the chance to be revolutionary. An officiating body’s purpose is to enforce rules and maintain the integrity of a sport, which is what NASCAR chairman Brian France said it is doing by adding Gordon back into the Chase. The problem is that NASCAR’s history with officiating is sketchy, from the phantom debris cautions that haunt every race to unclear policies on restart violations, so you can’t be too surprised when a decision that’s actually right for a change gets a ton of backlash.
If NASCAR overhauls the way it officiates races, if it truly does give clear orders to teams in the meeting Saturday about what is and isn’t allowed, then history will view this decision as a favorable one. But, if we go right back to the same old same old, it will render the entire controversy moot and showcase to fans that it really didn’t matter anyway. Now, NASCAR, will you do the right thing?
And for those complaining, chill out and let’s be honest. Jimmie Johnson is probably going to dominate this thing anyway.