JOLIET, Ill. — NASCAR added Jeff Gordon to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field Friday, a stunning and unprecedented step in the fallout from at least two attempts to manipulate the results of the regular season-ending race at Richmond, N.C., last weekend.
Chairman Brian France expanded the field to 13 drivers for the first time since the format was implemented in 2004.
Front Row Motorsports appeared to ask for a deal from Penske Racing in the closing laps at Richmond as part of an apparent request from Penske to give Joey Logano pivotal track position he needed to earn a spot in the Chase. Logano passed Front Row driver David Gilliland, who then seemed to slow down by at least 1 mile per hour, according to an Associated Press review of radio communications and data.
France said NASCAR could not determine there was a bargain between Front Row and Penske, but still believed the move to add Gordon was necessary to protect the integrity of the series. He said both teams had been placed on probation for the rest of the season.
‘‘Too many things altered the event and gave an unfair disadvantage to Jeff and his team,’’ France said. ‘‘More than anything it’s just the right thing to do.’’
Gordon goes into the Chase as the 13th seed, 15 points behind leader Matt Kenseth when the 10-race series begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
‘‘It’s been a roller-coaster ride of emotions this week. Unprecedented set of circumstances,’’ Gordon said. ‘‘I’m extremely happy for this. We’re proud to be in it. An incredible set of opportunities now lie on our shoulders to show we believe in the Chase.’’
Trading favors on and off the track is common in NASCAR, but the series had to investigate the Penske and Front Row bargaining allegation following the embarrassment of Michael Waltrip Racing’s attempt to manipulate the outcome of the race to benefit Martin Truex Jr. NASCAR on Monday punished the MWR organization for its shenanigans over the final seven laps and pulled Truex out of the Chase in favor of Ryan Newman.
Truex, an unwitting victim of his teammates’ efforts to help him, had driven lost his Chase bid after driving the last two weeks with two broken bones in his wrist and a cast on his right arm.