Joe Medley: Jeff Gordon, the Chase, his charge and Talladega
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Oct 17, 2013 | 7132 views |  0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jeff Gordon is in fourth place in the Sprint Cup standings, 36 points out of first place. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Jeff Gordon is in fourth place in the Sprint Cup standings, 36 points out of first place. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
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TALLADEGA -- It seems karma has finally exacted its price for all of those beer cans Talladega fans hurled at Jeff Gordon’s race car.

It took six years, but look at the situation surrounding Gordon’s pending run in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500.

The driver Talladega fans most love to loathe is in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship because NASCAR took the extraordinary step of adding a 13th spot after hanky-panky at Richmond robbed him.

After riding a NASCAR ruling into the Chase, Gordon has the nerve to make a charge. He’s in serious contention, in fourth place and 36 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.

Talladega’s fall race is known as a wild card in the Chase, a race anyone can win and anyone can lose badly, but Gordon ranks second all-time with six victories at Talladega.

In other words, Gordon could leave Talladega significantly closer to a fifth career points title than when he arrived -- and much closer than when he departed Richmond on the outside looking into the Chase.

“I’m pretty impressed with that, to be honest,” Gordon said, after finishing seventh at Charlotte this past weekend. “We’ve got to be realistic, and while we’ve been really strong ever since the Chase started, we also came into this thing barely making it in and one week we probably weren’t in it and then the next week we’re in it and then we came from 13th to where we are.”

He got the chance because of a NASCAR ruling that gave him a reprieve, and sports fans seem to have a natural revulsion to off-field fixes of on-field injustices. They hate it almost as much as, safe to say, a majority of NASCAR fans in these parts historically hate what they think Gordon represents.

As for where Gordon stands in the Chase, he has raced awfully well since the ruling. He has two top-five finishes and for top 10s, and his worst Chase finish is 15th.

That’s why the 13th guy in what’s supposed to be a 12-man Chase sits in fourth place headed into the sixth Chase race.

Oh, and about that ruling … it was justice after all the finish manipulation that went down at Richmond.

It was justice after manipulation that denied Gordon a fair chance to secure a spot in the Chase.

It was justice for Gordon, as sure as it would have been justice for a diver more beloved in some areas of the country.

NASCAR investigated, found what it believed to be wrong enough to dish out severe penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing and righted wrongs done to Gordon and Ryan Newman, who also got a Chase position after penalties.

Sure, a stronger season before the last non-Chase race would have positioned Gordon above the fray, but Chase spots remained open headed into Richmond. NASCAR found cheating, and Gordon was affected.

“Based upon the totality of our findings, to be fair and equitable we decided that adding a 13th car to this year’s Chase is the appropriate action,” NASCAR CEO Brian France said in a statement. “Beginning with our decision Monday, which resulted in an unprecedented team penalty, and continuing with further examination of actions involving two other race teams, it is clear to us that attempts to manipulate the results impacted the Chase field.

“The integrity of our sport remains the cornerstone of NASCAR, and our actions this week speak to our commitment to ensure a level playing field for all competitors.”

It’s refreshing to know there’s a sport where injustices can be fixed. Can I get an “amen!” from crossover college football fans?

Now, Gordon comes to Talladega chasing a championship and hot in pursuit.

His late-season surge actually started before the Chase. He has finished in the top 10 in seven of the past eight races.

His surge and history at Talladega say he’ll be a driver to watch Sunday. His career says he’s a driver worthy of a beer can raised in toast, regardless of how he finishes the race and Chase.

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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