CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – NASCAR officials are “extremely disappointed” in Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and other drivers who failed to attend the season-ending awards ceremonies.

“It was very disappointing to NASCAR and the entire industry that drivers did not show up for various awards,” spokesman Jim Hunter said Tuesday. “It shows a lack of respect for the history and tradition of the sport.”

NASCAR president Mike Helton plans to speak with the drivers who failed to attend last week’s ceremonies in New York, Hunter said. The sanctioning body also is considering ways to ensure future attendance.

NASCAR has held its season-ending ceremonies in New York the past 25 years, handing out numerous awards during a weeklong celebration capped by a black-tie banquet in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria.

Gordon, who finished 11th in the standings, skipped the banquet because he was in Paris preparing to compete in the Race of Champions all-star event. Actor Will Ferrell, pretending to be Gordon, accepted the $1,075,386 payout – which included a $250,000 bonus for finishing 11th – on Gordon’s behalf.

Gordon’s absence was glaring because under NASCAR’s new points system the 11th-place driver is awarded a spot at the banquet as a reward for being the highest finishing driver outside of the Chase for the championship.

Earnhardt, selected as NASCAR’s most popular driver for the third straight season, didn’t travel to New York to pick up his award. Also absent were Elliott Sadler and Kasey Kahne, who earned a combined $175,000 in secondary awards.

“The banquet is not just for the championship and the top 10 drivers,” Hunter said. “It’s for everyone that put NASCAR on the map, for all contingency awards and for all the sponsors who support this sport.

“Dale Earnhardt went to New York every year whether he won the championship or not. It meant a lot to him to represent the sport and we expect that from all our competitors.”

It’s not clear what NASCAR can do to force drivers to attend the ceremonies. Among the things being considered is revoking the contingency awards that Kahne and Sadler received and giving the money to the runner-ups.

AP-ES-12-06-05 1534EST

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