By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
JOLIET, Ill. -- In the wake of controversy surrounding last Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Richmond, NASCAR unveiled a "100 percent solution" to the issue of collusion and some specific practical changes to the conduct of races.
In a mandatory 17-minute meeting with drivers and crew chiefs Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway, NASCAR addressed the concerns that have caused what sanctioning body president Mike Helton earlier termed "a shift in the paradigm."
"At the center of that meeting was what our expectations were going forward," NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said in the Chicagoland media center. "And those expectations are that a driver and a team give 100 percent effort, their best effort, to complete a race and race as hard as they possibly can."
That wasn't universally the case at Richmond, after which Michael Waltrip Racing, Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing all were sanctioned for attempts to manipulate the outcome of the race to the benefit of specific drivers.
NASCAR told competitors Saturday that any future attempts of that nature will draw harsh reactions from the sanctioning body.
"First of all, the new rule that is effective immediately will be 12-4L, if my memory serves me right," Helton said. "It reads: NASCAR requires its competitors to race at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in an event. Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event or encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing position of the event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR.
"Such penalties may include but are limited to disqualification and/or loss of finishing points and/or fines and/or loss of points and/or suspension and/or probation to any and all members of the teams, including any beneficiaries of the prohibited actions.
"Artificially altered shall be defined as actions by any competitor that show or suggest that the competitor did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the event at NASCAR's sole discretion."
Helton then listed actions that are acceptable under the new rule and those that aren't.
"This is the acceptable," Helton said, "Contact while racing for position; performance issues; drafting; pitting; tire management; fuel management; yielding to a faster car; alternative pit strategy; long fuel strategy; laying over, (you lay over for one, you lay over for all, which is fairly common in our restart language when we get ready to go back to green).
"These are some of the examples that we came up with that's unacceptable in hopes to help define the step we're taking: Offering a position in exchange for favor or material benefit; offering material benefit in exchange for track position; directing a driver to give up a position to the benefit of another driver; intentionally causing a caution; causing a caution for the benefit of or determinant of another driver; intentionally wrecking a competitor; intentionally pitting, pulling into the garage to gain advantage for another competitor."
In practical terms, only one spotter per team will be allowed on the spotters' stand. Each spotter will be limited to two analog radios. Henceforth, spotters won't be allowed to carry digital radios, which carry private team communications. Digital radios have been prohibited in race cars, but team members other than spotters and drivers may still use them.
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton also said NASCAR would announce changes to restart rules, effective Sunday, at the drivers' meeting before the GEICO 400.
GORDON FIRED UP
The 11th-hour addition of Jeff Gordon to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is a huge motivator for the driver and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team.
France added Gordon to the Chase as a 13th driver Friday, citing the competitive disadvantage Gordon faced because of other teams' attempts to manipulate the outcome of Saturday's Cup race at Richmond.
Can Gordon, who has struggled through an inconsistent season this year, turn that opportunity into a fifth championship?
Gordon likens his inclusion in the Chase to the effects of his battle at Richmond last year, when he edged Kyle Busch final Chase spot and came to Chicagoland with a fast car, only to be undone when his throttle stuck and sent him plowing into the outside wall.
Gordon had a Chase spot within his grasp Saturday at Richmond, before Clint Bowyer's spin and subsequent manipulation of the outcome by Michael Waltrip Racing reset the Chase field and left Gordon on the outside.
News on Wednesday that Front Row Motorsports had attempted to strike a deal with Penske Racing to give a position to Joey Logano, to Gordon's potential detriment, prompted France to make the unprecedented decision to add Gordon to the Chase.
"I always like to say that you've got to walk before you can run," Gordon told the NASCAR Wire Service on Friday, when asked about his prospects for NASCAR's 10-race playoff. "But I will say this has lit a fire under us -- I mean, just to go through what we went through Saturday night.
"Really, I look at last year, too. We went through that wild and crazy race and made it in the Chase under those circumstances. We came here ready to go. I loved the way we handled ourselves, even though we had the throttle issue. We were running third or fourth in that race, and to me we had a shot at either winning or top five. And in some funny way, this has kind of given us that same fire that we had last year."
Now that he's eligible for the championship, Gordon likes his chances, especially given the 10 tracks that make up the Chase.
"We have 10 or at least eight, I'd say, good racetracks that are in the Chase that I really like, that we run well at, and it starts right here in Chicago," Gordon said. "This is a good track for us. We qualified well (sixth for Sunday's GEICO 400, the first Chase race).
"New Hampshire is a great track for us. Martinsville is a great track for us. Obviously, Homestead is a great track. We ran great in Charlotte. I mean, I would say Kansas and Phoenix are the two that are probably on our radar that we need to do better at. Texas is another good track for us.
"So I'm excited. I know we haven't shown it yet this year, but this team is ready to show it now. So I think that the one thing is, when you get yourself in this position, you want to show the world and our racing community -- the ones that support us and the ones that didn't -- that we belong here, and there's a reason why we're in this thing."
One driver who wasn't thrilled with Gordon's addition to the Chase was Martin Truex Jr., who lost his Chase spot Monday after he and the organization that fields his cars, Michael Waltrip Racing, were penalized heavily by NASCAR for attempted manipulation of the outcome at Richmond.
A 50-point penalty to Truex, assessed before the Chase field was set, elevated Ryan Newman into the Chase as the second wild card and knocked Truex out of that spot.
"I'm not even sure what to say at this point, to be honest with you," Truex said Friday, after learning of Gordon's inclusion in the Chase field. "I'm kind of at a loss for words ... how they make a spot for somebody ...
"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 nothing I can do about it."
Truex and Gordon do share one thing. They both have incentive to perform over the next 10 races. Interestingly, Truex led the first Sprint Cup practice session Saturday with a lap at 182.383 mph. Who was second? Gordon at 182.328 mph.