NASCAR’s outstanding odd couple: Joey Logano and Todd Gordon excel with the unconventional

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Joey Logano keyed the mic, and it wasn’t because he suddenly was lonely — though you couldn’t blame the Team Penske driver for feeling that way.

The first caution flag of the 2015 Brickyard 400 had flown, and Logano’s No. 22 Ford was the lone vehicle of the top six to stay on track as virtually the entire field entered the pits.

“We’re the only car on this strategy?” Logano radioed with befuddlement.

“Yep,” replied crew chief Todd Gordon.

OK, thought Logano.

“I guess my job is to hold everybody off.”

The Team Penske driver led the next 16 laps and managed to stay at or near the front for the next two hours, finishing second to Kyle Busch and nearly scoring Penske’s first Cup win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Score it as another moral win for the most simpatico crew chief-driver combination in NASCAR.

“That call made sense,” Gordon said. “It just was not normal. We do some things that are not normal, but most are successful.”

Whether it’s choosing an unpopular pit stall (sometimes to the chagrin and ire of rivals), trying an unconventional race tactic or just generally acting like goofballs who could be sitcom characters, Gordon and Logano are making a strong case that their partnership could become the most formidable on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

Reigning series champions Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have a much longer track record of success — and a sibling rivalry-type relationship that has stood the test of 15 seasons, 80 wins and seven titles – but even they might not be on the same page as much as Logano, 26, and Gordon, 47.

Despite the latter being old enough to be the former’s son, it’s a friendship that features the camaraderie, deference and trust of lifelong chums.

“I ask him about things all the time, but I’ve realized now he’s a lot smarter than me,” Logano said. “Before I used to say, ‘What the hell are you thinking?’ Now I say, ‘Please explain to me why we’re doing this because I don’t get it yet.’ I need him to explain it because there are things that are just odd.”

He’s gotten used to enjoying the fruit of doing the unaccustomed with Gordon over four seasons.

Since arriving at Penske, Logano has 15 victories (trailing only Johnson (20) and 2014 champion Kevin Harvick (16) in that stretch) and is one of only three drivers with two appearances in the championship round of the playoffs.

Though he won’t reveal his team’s trade secrets, Logano said being “different” is the key to the success with Gordon.

“We do things in a different way than the majority of the field,” he said. “We do things very differently. Car setups are different. I know our strategies are different. Our approach to a weekend is odd, but we found what works for us.”

That they found each other was felicitous given the situations that each left behind.

After four mostly unfulfilled seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske was the second and final shot at stardom for Logano, the former wunderkind marked for greatness since Mark Martin proclaimed him ready for Cup as a 14-year-old.

Gordon, meanwhile, was coming off a 2012 season marked by a turbulent sequence of cockpit roulette in the No. 22, which had been through four drivers in four seasons.

“I think that what Joey Logano and his crew chief have is great timing,” said NBC Sports analyst Steve Letarte, who helmed the Chevrolets of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for 10 seasons. “I think their moves (to get paired up) were needed, just like Kyle Busch was (in leaving) Hendrick. When he moved to Gibbs, he was allowed to close that closet.

“The skeletons of (success) that didn’t happen, of closed-door meetings, of the things you say you’ll put behind you, but you never can. They’re kind of gone. You have a fresh start.”

As Logano put it, “Todd had to make something happen. I had to make something happen. It was do or die in a similar position for both of us.”

And with the addition of stages and playoff points in NASCAR this season – ratcheting up the opportunities to capitalize on strategy plays and aggressive maneuvers behind the wheel — another fortuitous moment might be arriving for the pair.

“With the segments, there is going to be a lot of opportunity for someone to stand out and be different,” Logano said. “It’s going to take a lot of work and studying to figure out when that time is and when it makes sense to do it. But there are going to be plenty of opportunities when you look at someone and go, ‘Holy moly, there’s only one guy who did that.’

“That’s where I think Todd is going to thrive because he thinks about that stuff a lot.”

A curious selection

Look no further than the pits of any Cup race.

To be precise: The No. 2 pit stall that usually nobody wants.

In 142 starts with Logano, Gordon has chosen the second pit stall a staggering 51 times, or 36% of the time.

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 30: Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, pit during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 30, 2016 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
After qualifying second in last October’s race at Martinsville Speedway, crew chief Todd Gordon chose the No. 2 stall behind pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

At first blush, this would seem to suggest Logano is a poor qualifier, which is disproved by 13 pole positions and an average starting position of 10.3.

Instead, what it means is the crew chief for one of the best qualifiers in NASCAR intentionally is choosing what is perceived to be one of the worst pit stalls, which are selected based on starting position.

Generally, the pole-sitter always chooses the first stall in the pits because it allows for the most seamless, swiftest exit. The next half-dozen qualifiers usually choose the pit stalls that have pit-wall openings in front or behind to allow for easier entry or exit. Those are located throughout the pits and aren’t adjacent to stronger cars.

The No. 2 stall is avoided by the best qualifiers because there is an understood deference to the pole-sitter and a tacit understanding that avoids having two fast cars pitting nose to tail and potentially increasing the likelihood of an incident.

Gordon, though, puts such theories to shame.

In an astounding 12 races the past three seasons after Logano has qualified second, Gordon has selected the second pit stall – putting him directly at odds and behind the driver that beat Logano for the pole.

“If you look at how many times he did that, it’s unbelievable,” Letarte said. “Any guy who will pick the second pit stall time and time again … he doesn’t have to have respect for the pole-sitter. There’s no gentlemen’s agreement. He’s trying to win a race, and he thought that pit stall was better, so he took it.

“The other crew chiefs might get frustrated, but they respect him for having enough guts to say, ‘That’s where I’m going to pit.’ He’s not here to be everybody’s friend.”

Gordon said he initially took guff from other crew chiefs, but “they all expect it now.”

So what is the rationale for being second?

Gordon is coy about all the reasons but said it goes beyond just being unique.

“I’ll tell you one of the reasons is that we’re creatures of habit,” Gordon said. “There’s a reason a production line works for car manufacturing. You have the same person doing the same thing every day, they do it very well.

“If every time you come to pit road, you know you’re going all the way down to stop, your routine is the same. My pit crew’s routine is the same.”

Logano said it’s an example of Gordon “doing something he truly believes is right.

“Todd’s a salesman. Todd can sell. He can get me to buy into about anything.”

Team players

Gordon can get the team to buy in, too.

Ask the driver and crew chief of the No. 22 what they are most proud of over the past four seasons, and it’s the ability to maintain continuity.

Aside from team members leaving to escape the rigors of the road, no one has quit or departed for another team since Gordon and Logano joined forces – which is somewhat astounding given that teams often poach talent from each other.

“No one has said I don’t want to be on this team and went to a different team,” Logano said. “That’s something that I take personal (pride). I don’t need a pat on the back, but that’s something we pat ourselves on the back about.”

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 19: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, talks with crew chief Todd Gordon in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, 2016 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Joey Logano discusses the handling of his Ford during a practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November. Logano rebounded from a late collision with Carl Edwards to finish fourth in the race and second in the championship. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Gordon said an independent firm that tracks pit crews’ speeds has shown the No. 22 among the two fastest in NASCAR every season since 2013

“It’s tough when you’ve got really good people and good team chemistry, it can be broken up by one or two (people),” he said. “Fortunately, we’ve got a group that they just love to be together.

“They’ve been approached (by other teams). But we’ve been successful keeping that group together with the belief that a lot of them understand that Joey really appreciates them. When you take care of people around you, they take care of you. Joey gets that.”

Logano has taken many steps to help ensure his guys – and their families – are appreciated. His wife, Brittany, organizes boat outings on Lake Norman for team members, and the couple took the extra steps of buying rings for significant others to signify Logano’s victory in the 2015 Daytona 500.

“We understand the spouse really has a huge role in this,” Logano said. “It’s hard, because if your wife hasn’t bought in, that reflects on everyone on the race team. So we try to make sure that we understand that pressure that is in each of their families and try to make sure we share that appreciation.

“You have to put your wife and kids first. It’s important for us to acknowledge that and do something about it as a leader.”

Gordon and Logano also have organized team-building around charitable activities such as building homes for Habitat for Humanity and helping less fortunate families.

“We’ve got some things that fundamentally we both agree with in how we live our lives and how we believe people should be,” Gordon said of Logano. “We line up in that respect. We’re a generation apart, but he’s old for his generation.”

The crew chief and driver have lunch together every Monday near Penske’s shop in Mooresville to debrief about the previous weekend, and they also ride together from the airport to the track every week because Gordon gives his rental car to his crew so he spends more time with Logano. Their motorhomes always are parked alongside each other, too.

“Our personalities are very similar,” Logano said. “I use him a lot to bounce ideas off outside racing. When you spend time and become friends with someone, you start to know what the person is thinking before they say it. He can tell by the tone in my voice how severe something is with the race car.”

The native of Middletown, Connecticut, is an old soul whose idea of a killer Saturday is spending the morning browsing antique shops, the afternoon tinkering on classic automobiles and a night of watching Boy Meets World reruns (seriously; he’s partial to Topanga).

Gordon, meanwhile, is a native of Camden, New York, about 40 miles north of Syracuse. (“It’s where all the lake effect snow from Lake Ontario dumps. My hometown averages over 200 inches a year.”)

The son of two principals (mom was at high school; dad at elementary) was raised with a strong sense of education and discipline. “I didn’t get away with much,” laughs Gordon, who graduated from Clemson with an engineering degree.

Logano, who didn’t attend college given that he was becoming the youngest starter in Daytona 500 history eight years ago, likes that Gordon is “very rule-driven and organized. He’s the smartest guy I know. He’s very methodical on the way he thinks of things.”

‘We’re both kind of dorky’

They also ride together after races, sometimes to the agony of Logano’s wife in the backseat.

“We’re both kind of dorky,” Logano said. “I don’t know any way to put it. We’ll start laughing about something during the race, but Brittany will be in the back and have no clue because it’s this funny lingo. She says, ‘You’re like the people from The Big Bang Theory.’ It’s funny to them, but it’s so dorky that no one else would get this joke.

“We’re laughing our heads off. We have that in common. We have a similar sense of humor and way of approaching life. That’s something enough in common to be friends.”

BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 12: (L-R) Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, wife Brittany Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon stand on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 12, 2016 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images )
Joey Logano’s wife, Brittany (center) has helped her husband and crew chief Todd Gordon with building team camaraderie. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images )

Gordon said the team enjoys teasing Logano about the in-car videos that show the driver constantly bouncing his leg before qualifying or practice.

“The bond our whole team has is part of what makes us successful,” Gordon said. “Because there’s no questioning of each other. A marriage works when two people understand that’s what it is going to be and work at it. As long as you’re focused on how we’re getting forward, great things happen.”

It’s hard to avoid comparisons with the situation Logano left at Gibbs, where he stepped into the No. 20 ride vacated by future Hall of Famer Tony Stewart. An impressionable teenager with no experience, he hardly had a chance to thrive – though he refuses to point fingers.

“Everything that happened over there was my fault because I didn’t do things the right way, but I learned from it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything now,” Logano said. “I’m not the same person I was at 18 years old. I’m still Joey and a lot of things are similar, but the way I approach a meeting, I have so much confidence.

“Today if you put me back in (a Gibbs car) but knowing what I know now, it’d go completely different and so much better. But I was 18 years old, what did I know? I had no clue.”

Said Gordon: “That was Tony’s car. And Tony’s guys. And that group had been together. Tony leaves, they put Joey in and say ‘Well, this is how it works.’ I think that’s part of what Joey struggled with is you need to be able to put your identity on something and say, ‘That may work for him, but it’s not what works for me.’ ”

A driving force

Logano’s restlessness is more than just a nervous tic, according to Gordon, who believes it is the mark of someone who “can’t be restrained,” and it’s been reflected in the team excelling through the playoffs the past two years.

In the nine rounds of the NASCAR playoffs since 2014 that have featured advancement through wins, Logano has victories in five of them.

With NASCAR now awarding points twice during the course of the race before the checkered flag, Gordon believes his driver’s mentality will mesh well with the new format.

“Joey has one speed, and it plays in our favor,” said Gordon, who nearly always puts Logano on four tires to keep him on offense. “He’s not going to ride for half the race. When you look at how Joey is wired, there’s no slack in his game from green to checkered flag, he’s 100%. That’s just his way. The few times we’ve talked about an alternate strategy and saving fuel, it’s not successful. He understands how to run at 99.8% and not put himself in trouble. That’s one of his strengths.”

“It’s no different than a college football coach that’s got a quarterback with arm and accuracy. With Peyton Manning, I’m not going to run on first down, I’m going to start throwing. … I put Joey in a category that there’s very few elite athletes that can perform at a level for the entire game, and when the shot clock comes down to 3 seconds left, they can elevate. Michael Jordan was that guy. Tom Brady is that guy. Joey Logano can do that. You get down to end of race, I’ve got no one better than him at finding another level.”

Logano believes with Gordon’s guidance, he will reach new heights this season that never could have been anticipated.

“I don’t think people would expect us to run as good as we did because neither one of us had the history,” he said. “Put Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers together you expect them to be good. Put Logano and Todd Gordon together, no one is thinking of a threat at all.

“Now we’re a threat because we work together so well. We just want to be racers, and we’ve got a good race team. A really good race team.”

Looking at top 10 race start totals among active, full-time NASCAR Cup drivers

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Last Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his 600th career start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, finishing 16th in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

That achievement made Earnhardt just the second active driver to the reach the mark, following Matt Kenseth, who has 619 starts after the Auto Club 400.

How do those numbers compare to the rest of their competitors? Who is the next driver that will reach a big start mark?

Here’s a look at the top 10 active full-time Cup drivers when it comes to starts in NASCAR’s premier series:

Matt Kenseth – 619 starts

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 600 starts

Kurt Busch – 581 starts (would make 600th start on Aug. 19 in the Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway)

Kevin Harvick – 579 starts (would make 600th start on Sept. 9 in Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway)

Ryan Newman – 553 starts

Jimmie Johnson – 548 starts

Jamie McMurray – 515 starts

Kasey Kahne – 473 starts

Kyle Busch – 431 starts

Martin Truex Jr. – 410 starts

Kevin Harvick: Kyle Larson is the best driver to enter NASCAR since Jeff Gordon in 1993

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Kevin Harvick made his debut as a SiriusXM Satellite Radio host Tuesday night and made some news by announcing Stewart-Haas Racing was withdrawing its Phoenix appeal.

But those weren’t the most interesting comments made by the 2014 champion, who had a strong opinion on the most recent winner in NASCAR’s premier series.

Kyle Larson is the best driver to come into this sport since Jeff Gordon in my opinion,” Harvick said. “I think Kyle Larson is that good.”

How good is that?

Well, let’s peruse a partial list of drivers (and their credentials) who have entered NASCAR’s premier series since Gordon’s arrival in 1993 and Larson’s in 2014:

Jimmie Johnson: Seven championships, tied for the most in NASCAR history. Also led the points and scored three wins as a rookie. He is the only driver who has qualified for the playoffs in all 13 seasons.

–Tony Stewart: The three-time series champion became the first Cup rookie to win in 12 years (and notched three victories in his first season). The 1997 IndyCar champion is regarded by many as his generation’s greatest.

Matt Kenseth: The 2000 rookie of the year won the 2003 championship and has failed to qualify for the playoffs only once in his career.

Denny Hamlin: The 2006 rookie of the year has made the championship round twice and has won in 11 consecutive seasons in Cup.

Kyle Busch: The 2015 Cup champion has won in 12 straight seasons in Cup and has 171 victories across NASCAR’s top three national series.

Kurt Busch: The 2004 series champion has 29 wins on the premier circuit, finished sixth in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and also qualified for a Pro Stock event in the NHRA.

Brad Keselowski: The 2012 series champion has 21 victories with Team Penske since 2011 and has emerged as NASCAR’s top restrictor-plate racer.

Joey Logano: Two-time championship round contender and is tied with Johnson for most victories (14) since the 2014 season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: A two-time Daytona 500 winner missed the last half of the 2016 season but was a title contender in 2014 and ’15.

–Harvick: His performance since aligning with crew chief Rodney Childers at SHR three years ago has been astounding: the 2014 championship, 12 victories and more than 5,700 laps led on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

So given all of those names … what would be the purpose of Harvick’s effusively praising the Chip Ganassi Racing driver?

“He’s just a kid that not enough people know about, but he’s won and wins in everything that he’s ever driven,” Harvick said. “He’s just a racer. … I think he’s laser focused on what he does as a race car driver, and I think he’s the best talent to come through this sport in a long, long time and is going to win a ton of races because he’s that good.”

Hey, wait a minute. When is the 24-year-old’s contract up?

Chip Ganassi notoriously is secretive about the lengths of his drivers’ deals (in IndyCar and NASCAR, particularly because it wants to avoid having its stars poached by other teams). It’s believed that Larson re-signed toward the end of 2015, but it’s unclear how long his deal runs.

That’s why the last part of Harvick’s riff on Larson could have been telling.

“I hope Ganassi has a good contract with him because every team in the garage wants a Kyle Larson. He’s a guy that you can put in your race cars and win races even on a day when they’re not the best race cars. He’s going to make them look good.”

By the way, it also is worth noting that Ganassi was miffed four years ago when Stewart and Gordon had high praise for Larson. The team owner hinted he thought both drivers had motives of courting Larson to join their teams (Gordon openly has spoken about meeting Larson in his Hendrick Motorsports office years ago and pitching him on the organization).

Should Atlanta Motor Speedway have listened to drivers in delaying its repave?

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The delayed repaving of Atlanta Motor Speedway proves that the Cup Drivers Council successfully can lobby for what it wants.

Is that always a good thing, though?

NASCAR on NBC analysts Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte discussed that topic on Tuesday’s episode of NASCAR America (watch video of the discussion above).

“I think they’re the No. 1 factor in this decision,” Letarte said of the drivers. “While I side with the drivers that the old pavement is great for racing, and I’m a big fan of it, I’m not a track owner or promoter. I can’t imagine Atlanta Motor Speedway wanted to spend all that money to repave just because they thought they should. There had to be good reasons behind it.

“I think the global question is, ‘How did we get here?’ It seems to me this is the most public display of the drivers being vocal about a situation, and it ended up going their way. They didn’t want it to be repaved, Atlanta heard them and changed their decision. The question is, is it good for NASCAR to have your drivers that vocal. I’m not sure. Obviously, they are one of the biggest stakeholders and have to put the race on, but should it be a track decision or a driver decision?”

Burton said ultimately the decision should belong to the 1.54-mile speedway.

“The drivers trying to influence the decision, I think that’s a good thing just making the track owner understand, ‘Hey we love this surface,’” Burton said. “But I don’t think Atlanta Motor Speedway said, ‘Hey, let’s spend a couple of million dollars for the heck of it.’”

The risk is if the track falls apart because of its age or if massive delays are incurred by rain (such as Texas Motor Speedway last November).

“If something happens – if a piece of asphalt goes through a radiator (because of a crumbling surface), no word (should come) from the drivers,” Burton said. “The drivers are going to have to be perfectly quiet on that one.”

Said Letarte: “I don’t disagree with drivers being vocal, but be careful what you wish for, because now they got it. They got the old pavement for another weekend. If we get weather, or have an issue and can’t get cars on the racetrack, I hope those same drivers step up and back (track president) Ed Clark, who has now backed them and given them the old pavement for another year.”

Clark told NBC Sports.com’s Dustin Long that the track will make a few sealer patches for the 2018 race, which he expects could be the last on the surface that has been in place since 1997. Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Atlanta, repaved Kentucky last year and received positive reviews.

“Are you just delaying the inevitable if you’re going to have to pave it in 2018?” Burton asked. “I don’t know what you’re really buying other than one more race. My biggest concern is they wanted to pave it for a reason. They understand that paving racetracks is problematic. This group put a ton of effort into Kentucky so when they repaved Kentucky it wasn’t like the other repaves. They understand the problems with paving new racetracks. My concern is they wanted to do it, now they’re not doing it, is there a problem that’s created that we’re not aware of?

“Give the drivers credit. They brought an issue up. … If the track really had to be paved, I don’t think that Ed Clark or anyone  would say, ‘Just listen to the drivers and to heck with whatever happens.’ I believe the racetrack and owners have confidence that with changes and small improvements, it’s OK not to pave it. So ultimately the responsibility falls on (the drivers). If it doesn’t go well, the drivers have to stand up and back them and say, ‘Thank you for working with us, sorry it didn’t work out, thank you for making it work.’”

Kligerman: May the downforce be with you! Or is the ultimate downforce actually . . . none?

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If you’re reading this, I will assume you are a racing fan. If you’re a racing fan, then you will know the most-watched form of racing worldwide started its season this past weekend  —  Formula One.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the next most-watched form of racing conducted one of its 36 points-paying events in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series.

Both series involve four-wheeled machinery, human drivers and Monster Energy sponsorship.

But that’s where the similarities end. Because the two largest racing series in the world have decided to go in two completely opposite directions in how they want to entertain their fans.

And I am not talking about technology, formats, or grid girls. These two massive series have chosen the opposing ends of the spectrum on something that only 30 years ago was elusive.

Downforce.

In Formula One, the teams and the sanctioning body agreed two years ago to make the 2017 cars “5–7 seconds faster” than their 2015 counterparts. How would they do this? By opening up the aerodynamic rules and therefore adding downforce — tons of it.

In NASCAR, we have done the opposite over the last few years. The level of achievable downforce constantly has been reduced by cutting spoilers and splitters and getting stricter on the aerodynamic rules.

Which brings me to a question I was asked.

This weekend, a friend texted (I know, groundbreaking stuff in the year 2017) to ask, “How do you feel about the cars being stuck to the ground vs. skating around? I think you are on to something where road racing stuck to the ground is interesting and oval skating around is interesting.”

(This also was groundbreaking because someone was asking my opinion. Which comes with a disclaimer: It’s free for a reason.)

But in all seriousness, the question was incredible. The reason was that it was only a mere 30 years ago when the conversation in racing was more about “How fast could cars possibly go?” or “Will humans be able to keep up with the speed of racing cars?”

Now with the advent of technology, we no longer question how fast a car could go, because we know. When the F1 world simply can tweak rules with the knowledge it’s going to be exactly “X” amount faster, there is no more mystery.

As a sport, racing has reached the point where it’s no longer, “May the force be with you.” It’s “How much force would you like?”

This monumental change in philosophy is why, as I write this, there are amateur “aerodynamicists” on Twitter, commentators on YouTube and alleged experts on the Internet telling you whether NASCAR or F1 is right.

On one hand they will tell you the high downforce makes it faster, which is better! On the other, they will tell you downforce is the devil incarnate and should be eliminated from the sport.

The thing is, neither series’ race was particularly memorable.

In Australia, you had a pass for the lead occur when neither driver could see each other (via pit strategy). While the biggest storyline out of the California race was that the driver who seemed forever the bridesmaid finally won.

Nothing of what occurred will be replayed on YouTube illegally for years to come. And I don’t think either showed us a clear-cut path to the elusive “Great Racing!” everyone wants.

No, it’s become apparent that even with all the knowledge in the world about cars and aerodynamics, there still is mystery in what makes a good race occur.

How did I answer my friend’s question?

Fast road racing cars look insane. Meanwhile, sideways and dynamic oval racing looks insane. Speed is tough to see on an oval. It’s far easier to see and appreciate on a street or road course.

That’s why we have what we have.

Road racing needs downforce to achieve incredible speeds and produce what I described watching qualifying from Australia as “Sparking, twitchy, on-the-ragged-edge stuff.” It was obvious the drivers were at the limits of possible control.

While with low downforce in NASCAR, we see far more dynamic slides. The drivers are working harder. And the speeds may be way down as they get into a race run, but it doesn’t hurt the show whatsoever. Seeing cars that visibly move around and make the driver fight is far more interesting than watching a car go in circles on rails.

We never might know which philosophy — low or high downforce – is correct. But the most memorable and best race of any premier series this weekend happened directly between Formula One and NASCAR.

In Qatar, the Moto GP series held its season opener and put on one of the best races I have ever seen in my life.

How much downforce do those bikes make?

Essentially none.