DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR issued a statement Wednesday acknowledging the importance of emotion and spontaneity in post-race victory celebrations, as it declined to sanction either Jeff Gordon or his Hendrick Motorsports team for their post-race behavior last Sunday at Indianapolis.
NASCAR president Mike Helton stopped short of issuing a different protocol than the instructions delivered in each pre-race drivers' and crew chiefs' meeting.
The second- through fifth-place finishers are typically told to gather at a designated area on pit road for media interviews. The winner is simply instructed to take his car to Victory Lane -- with no instructions on a specific route or time frame in which to do it.
In the latest in a series of post-race disagreements, Gordon, upon winning the Brickyard 400 last Sunday, stopped his car on the start/finish line and climbed onto his window sill to salute the roaring crowd.
He then jumped to the track, where his crew mobbed him in celebration. NBC Sports, with a narrow window for its post-race coverage, went onto the racetrack to interview Gordon before the network had to go off the air.
It was speculated that Gordon might be fined this week for not going to Victory Lane for the standard post-race process. His Hendrick teammate, Jimmie Johnson, was fined $10,000 following the race at Pocono for placing a Lowe's placard in front of a large Powerade bottle that was set atop his car.
Gordon and his team owner, Rick Hendrick issued apologies Wednesday afternoon.
"Sunday's Brickyard victory was one of the most special moments I've ever experienced in this sport," Hendrick said. "I really wanted to win that race and kiss the bricks to honor my father."
Hendrick's father, Joseph R. "Papa Joe" Hendrick Jr. passed away July 14 at age 84.
"It (Gordon's win) was an unbelievable feeling for all of us," Rick Hendrick said.
"Nonetheless, I owe an explanation to the George family, along with everyone at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The celebration was emotional, and it was fun to acknowledge the fans like that, but it became obvious that we had unintentionally disrupted the speedway's program by not driving to Victory Lane after the checkered flag.
"Speaking for everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, I personally called Mary Hulman George on Monday to apologize for any actions that may have been perceived as being disrespectful."
Gordon, a California native, who grew up in Pittsboro, Ind., an Indianapolis suburb, concurred.
"I can't adequately describe how emotional Sunday was," Gordon said. "When I got out of the car, it was my intention to get back in and drive to Victory Lane after waving to everyone in the stands
"Our team certainly would not disrespect any procedures on purpose, and I truly apologize to everyone at the speedway for any problems we may have caused (but) it was a classic case of being caught up in the moment.
"I plan to support NASCAR's Victory Lane protocol going forward."
NASCAR president Mike Helton's statement indicated that would be a good idea, beginning this weekend at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York, a track at which Gordon has won four times.
"We appreciate the apologies offered today by Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick," Helton said. "We recognize the elation and spontaneity that a win like Sunday's can produce, and we do not want to hinder the emotions of the moment.
"We want our drivers and teams to show their emotions. It was clear that this victory was a particularly emotional one for Hendrick Motorsports, in light of the recent passing of Rick's father, Papa Joe Hendrick."
Many statements in NASCAR's pre-race meetings are often taken as either a word to the wise, if not thinly veiled threats. Wednesday's statement was similar.
"We know how important it is for our competitors to celebrate their victories and share their happiness with the fans," Helton said. "But we also want our competitors to be mindful of the importance of protocol involving Victory Lane, which is as much a part of racing as taking the checkered flag.
"This situation is now behind us. Moving forward, we are confident all our teams will respect and respond appropriately to time-honored post-race protocol during their celebrations."
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Honestly now, what do you think NASCAR would have done to Tony Stewart if he won the race and did that?