JOLIET, Ill. – Rick Hendrick said he’d never seen the NASCAR brass reverse an important ruling during his 30-plus years in the sport.
But NASCAR’s most successful team owner found plenty to like in the move, which restored driver Jeff Gordon to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship after he failed to qualify in last week’s scandal-plagued race at Richmond.
I didn’t have to make that decision, but I sure felt like it was obvious that (Gordon) got taken out by a manipulation instead of getting beat. I think the world knew it and they had to do what they did, Hendrick said Sunday, before the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, which was delayed less than halfway through because of inclement weather.
NASCAR chairman Brian France made the decision to restore Gordon to the season-ending playoff, announcing it Friday along with a warning that the organization wouldn’t tolerate attempts to manipulate the outcome of races.
It came at the end of a frenetic week when NASCAR’s credibility was on the line.
Officials were forced to take a second look at the results from the previous week’s race at Richmond after they learned Clint Bowyer deliberately spun to bring out a caution to stop leader Ryan Newman from winning. A win by Newman would have eliminated Martin Truex Jr., Bowyer’s teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing, from a Chase berth.
After officials dug deeper, their investigation found at least three separate attempts to manipulate the race. NASCAR could not prove the teams were working together, although Gordon wound up being disadvantaged by the schemes, missing the final qualifying spot by one place. Gordon, a four-time champion, wasn’t eligible for either of the two wild-card spots. That prompted France to step in.
There was one team, one driver, who was directly impacted negatively, as Brian said, by all this, and we decided that we were going to do something that was unprecedented, NASCAR President Mike Helton said on ESPN.
Hendrick said it was the right call.
It’s something you shoot for the whole year. ... We had all four drivers in last year and we wanted to do it this year, Hendrick said.
His team had already qualified five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
France issued unprecedented penalties earlier in the week, fining Michael Waltrip Racing a total of $300,000 and suspending team general manager Ty Norris indefinitely. Yet cutting deals to help teammates grab points or move up in the standings has been part of NASCAR since its inception. Teams have been trying to figure out where the line between competition and cooperation lies, and Hendrick believes now they have an example to base their decisions on.