Gordon Makes It A Baker’s Dozen
France and Helton also drew comparisons and differences between the infractions that occurred with Michael Waltrip Racing and the latest scandal involving Penske Racing and Front Row.
“Well, in respect to Gordon, Jeff Gordon being — that wasn’t a result of just our findings with the Michael Waltrip incident, or rather the 38 (Gilliland) and the 22 (Logano); it was a cumulative set of circumstances that we determined the right thing to do would be to put him into the Chase,” France said. “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, who had those discussions, the idea of a bargain that is completely off limits in our view. But that bargain never — we don’t believe that bargain ever happened, and we don’t believe anything happened, other than the discussions about it, and that’s why the probation is — we’re sending we think an appropriate message there.”
“We’ve had moments in the sport where NASCAR reacting to what has evolved on the race track and through the teams’ actions, and we make a decision that shifts that paradigm, so to speak, and that’s what’s happened this week in part,” Helton said. “As an example, it may not be a very good one, but some of you will remember we used to race back to the flag, and we didn’t; we stopped that. And when we decided that what was acceptable was no longer acceptable, it changed the paradigm. So we for several weeks after that had to define what that meant. So that’s kind of the moment we’re in, that we’ll address with the teams and the media and the fans, as to what this shift means.
“As it comes to officiating, that goes along with it. 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. And as we talked on Monday night, what technologies and what we can use going forward to be more fair and precise and informed about what happens on the race track to use in order to regulate the sport, we’ll chase that, as well.”
The one driver who is completely left out is Truex, who celebrated making “The Chase” last Saturday night but got the news on Monday that he would not be in the elite field of drivers that would compete for this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
“Obviously, it’s been a tough week for all of us,” Truex said. “I feel terrible for my team — all the NAPA guys. NASCAR made a decision and it’s one of those things you can’t turn back time. We’re going to have to live with it and move on.
“All I did the last two weeks was drive my heart out. I broke my wrist at Bristol. I found out this week that I have two broken bones in there, not just one, which makes things even more difficult. The last two weeks, we raced our hearts out. We ran third at Atlanta. We had a 20th-place car at Richmond, we battled our tails off to finish seventh with it and really that’s as far as it goes for me. I didn’t — when the race was over, I wasn’t aware of what happened, what the cautions were for.
“I didn’t know the 55 (Brian Vickers) pitted at the end. It’s tough to swallow. It’s a difficult situation, like I said, for all of us. Just ready to move on. I went from feeling like I really climbed a mountain in that race at Richmond to going to be knocked out of the Chase and all that.
“Do I think it’s fair? I don’t know. I don’t run the sport, so we’ll just have to deal with it.”
Waltrip has had to deal with the negative reaction from his sponsors — NAPA Auto Parts and Five-Hour Energy — over the cheating scandal and Norris is banned from any NASCAR events during his indefinite suspension.
“They’re proud of the effort we gave as a team,” Truex said. “They’re sorry about the things that happened. They’re sorry we’re not in the Chase. There were a lot of times this year where we had a chance to gain a few points and we didn’t do it. At the end of the day, that’s where we’re at right now, and we’ll just have to deal with it and move forward to try to win some races.
“Ty (Norris, MWR general manager) did (apologize), yeah. He straight up said, ‘I screwed up, it was the heat of the moment and made a bad decision.’ Things happen. Again, that stuff happened and just gave us a chance. It didn’t put us in. I wasn’t in until the last lap. I passed the 16 (Greg Biffle) on the very last lap and that’s what put us in. We were tied with (Ryan) Newman. It went to second-place finishes — that’s what got us in. It gave us a chance. Obviously, people thought it was unfair and we are where we are.
“This week has been kind of surreal — again, going from Saturday night feeling like we really accomplished something to getting it taken away from us. It’s been a tough week, but just have to thank my team and everybody for standing behind me. We’re going to come through this just fine.”
Even Gordon felt some empathy for Truex and what he has gone through while balancing out his feeling of redemption.
“Well, what I felt bad about with Martin was the circumstances which he got in under then for that to be taken away,” Gordon said. “To be on that stage after the race is over, to feel like that pressure was off, that they made it in. I know what that’s like. He drove his butt off. I raced with him in the closing laps and he raced hard. You could tell what he was racing for. The guy didn’t do anything wrong. For that, I felt bad for him.
“But we didn’t get to see the race play out. We don’t know what the results were going to be because of the circumstances of that spin changed everything. 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.”
This will go down as one of the most tumultuous weeks in NASCAR history — when the integrity and credibility of the sport came under fire but the officials took swift and decisive action.
“I’ll admit, it’s been a rough week,” Gordon said. “It was a lot of up and downs of emotions for this entire team this week. They’ve been through a lot. They never gave up. Not only Saturday night, but this entire week, and I’m proud of that. I’m very appreciative, very thankful to be in, and I know it’s under the most unbelievable circumstances I’ve ever been a part of in my racing career, and I wish that all of this hadn’t happened. I wish that we could have just raced for it on Saturday night, but that wasn’t the case.
“Now here we are as a 13th car and in. Now we just try to take that opportunity and make the most of it.”