KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Jeff Gordon said he's dealt with an unprecedented level of anger and disappointment after his team was essentially robbed of a Chase for the Sprint Cup berth on Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
Gordon was headed toward securing a playoff spot with seven laps to go at Richmond until Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer spun out and caused a caution.
In the final laps, Bowyer and teammate Brian Vickers made unnecessary pit stops that allowed Joey Logano to pass them on the track; Logano ended up with one more point than Gordon to remain in the top 10 and secure a Chase slot.
"When I found out later how they manipulated it, that was anger on a whole 'nother level," Gordon said Wednesday before playing a charity kickball game to benefit pediatric cancer research. "It's hard to describe and it's disappointing. You realize people all want to do things for their teammates to help them, but you also know there are certain lines that have to be drawn with that."
Gordon said after hearing about everything that happened during the race, his team "deserves to be in this thing." He spoke as if the possibility of making the Chase still existed after learning of suspicious radio chatter involving David Gilliland and Logano, but he declined to comment on that situation until he knows more.
NASCAR issued a statement Wednesday that it is looking into the radio chatter, but hasn't found anything yet that requires action.
Though Gordon said he could have been more aggressive on the final restart – like shoving other cars out of the way or possibly even wrecking them – he only went as far as he deemed fair under the code of sportsmanship.
"There are certain morals that are still involved with what you're comfortable with doing and not comfortable with doing," he said. "And it has an effect on far more people than we could ever understand.
"That's what I've really learned through this situation: It's way beyond me and you, it's way beyond the sport, it's beyond the fans. It reaches out much further than that. And that's what is so important for NASCAR to work on maintaining – and also us as competitors, we have a responsibility there as well."
As for NASCAR's future -- particularly with the strong possibility of more funny business among multi-car teams -- Gordon said something like the Richmond situation has "been lingering out there a little bit too long."
"I'll admit as teams we're all trying to figure out how to get ourselves in the Chase, and when the Chase comes, what can we do to help our teammate win the championship?" he said. "Those things are out there. They happen. But I think the difference is there are lines that are drawn and to me, that's where this crossed over the line. But it's going to happen again, so it has to be addressed in a big way."
As it stands now, Gordon said, NASCAR got its penalties "half-right."
On Monday, officials handed down the harshest sanctions in NASCAR history, which knocked MWR's Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase and replaced him with Ryan Newman, who was leading the race at the time of Bowyer's spin and fighting for a wild card slot. The team also was fined $300,000 and all three drivers were docked 50 points (pre-Chase).
Gordon said NASCAR should have gone further because Bowyer was left unaffected despite a questionable spinout.
"We all, as competitors and some of the media, understand it looks pretty obvious as to what caused that caution," Gordon said. "It's pretty obvious the 15 (Bowyer) came back down pit road, similar to what the 55 (Vickers) did – but that penalty didn't really affect (Bowyer).
"It did affect MWR. That was a huge penalty to MWR and it's going to have consequences that go beyond just that penalty. It's going to affect them in the future. In that sense, I feel like the penalty was justified, but it still doesn't really address what went on with the 15."
Gordon thanked his fans for their support on Twitter and Facebook and said they had "really, really inspired me." He had long known about his passionate group of fans but hadn't realized just how much they cared until their emotions were on full display during this "nutty" week, he said.
In the meantime, Gordon prepared to play kickball at a minor league baseball stadium near Charlotte. It was part of the Jeff Gordon Foundation and the Kick-It charity, which organizes kickball games to raise funds and awareness about children's cancer.
He hoped the game would be a good distraction in light of everything that happened this week, but there was just one problem: While he and his family were moving out of their New York City apartment this week, he tweaked his back.
"So my kickball skills are going to be limited," he said with a laugh. "I think I'm going to have a designated runner, but I'll still kick the ball."