CHICAGO — Joey Logano defended his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship on Thursday, rattling off his season statistics as proof he earned his spot in the 12-driver field regardless of any help he may have received in the deciding race.
And make no mistake, Logano said: If anybody helped him at Richmond, he had no clue.
The latest driver caught in the fallout of NASCAR's investigation into Saturday night's race at Richmond, Logano learned Wednesday that radio traffic appeared to show Front Row Racing's crew chief and spotter talking about David Gilliland giving Logano a pivotal spot on the track in exchange for something unidentified from Penske Racing.
There's nothing in Penske radio transmissions to indicate wrongdoing, but NASCAR said Thursday it is still looking into the incident.
"That is new stuff to me. Obviously there is no transcript on our radio of anything said about it (and) obviously I would have known about it if that was the case," Logano said.
Logano wondered if a discussion on top of the spotter stand would have been a big deal even if it did occur.
"That is stuff that happens week in and week out with spotters. They are up there communicating back and forth trying to work deals out — 'Hey, help me out here, I will help you out here, let's work together.' That happens all the time," Logano said. "I don't look at it as being a big deal at all."
NASCAR might not share that view as it heads into Sunday's first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway marred by the first major scandal on the 10-year anniversary of the championship-deciding format.
There's always been the potential for multi-car teams to band together in an effort to win the championship. NASCAR decided Michael Waltrip Racing crossed the line at Richmond, where the team was accused of attempting to manipulate the race to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase.
As part of its punishment, NASCAR took the unprecedented step of replacing Truex in the Chase with Ryan Newman, citing the dive that MWR driver Brian Vickers took in the closing laps to aid Truex. Ironically, Vickers had to help Logano's final finishing position to get Truex in the Chase.
Logano made no apologies for how the race played out — MWR did what it did on its own, and Logano used six straight top-10 finishes and three straight top-five finishes to put himself into Chase contention.
"It wasn't to help me, it was to help themselves," Logano said. "Indirectly, it helped me and hey, thanks, all right, that is fine, whatever. If you want to write a story about how we shouldn't be here because of what happened with the Waltrip cars, go ahead but I think it is a bunch of B.S. if you write a story like that because if you look at the numbers, it proves everyone wrong."
Between MWR and Front Row Motorsports, Logano gained enough positions to finish 10th in the final standings and bump Jeff Gordon from the Chase. The four-time series champion is furious over how it's played out, and only gotten angrier with everything he's learned about the alleged manipulation.
"It's unlike any I've ever felt before, really," Gordon said. "Because you feel like as a team that we did everything that we could do to make in the Chase and I'm so proud of that effort ... You realize that people all want to do things for their teammates to help them, but you also know there's certain lines that have to be drawn with that."
Although drivers quietly debated whether NASCAR should have expanded the field this year to 14 drivers to deal with the Richmond dilemma — allowing Truex and Gordon into Chase — NASCAR President Mike Helton essentially ruled that out Monday in announcing the penalties when he said the sanctioning body couldn't address "the ripple effect" of MWR's actions.
Still, there were jokes Thursday that Gordon could show up at any moment as NASCAR continued to investigate Front Row's radio transmissions.
"I am sure Jeff is hoping there is a favorable ruling for him to be in the Chase, although we just took a new Chase picture, and I don't know if we are going to be taking another one in a day or two," said Gordon teammate Jimmie Johnson, the five-time champion. "Unfortunately, I think he's going to be disappointed."