Todd Gordon on not pitting Joey Logano late at Martinsville: ‘I missed the call’

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Crew chief Todd Gordon said he should have pitted Joey Logano after a tire rub late in Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway and knows it impacted teammate Brad Keselowski’s bid to make it to the championship round.

“I missed the call,’’ Gordon said Tuesday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I just own that I missed the call myself.’’

Logano was running third with 12 laps left when contact with Kyle Busch created a left rear tire rub. Logano’s Team Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski, held a 1.4-second lead at that point and seemed headed to a victory that would put him in the championship race in Miami.

Instead, Logano — who is not in the playoffs — stayed out and spun, creating a caution that erased Keselowski’s lead. Keselowski, a playoff competitor, chose the outside lane on the ensuing restart and was moved up the track for the lead by Chase Elliott a lap before Denny Hamlin ran into the back of Elliott and wrecked Elliott for the lead. Keselowski finished fourth.

A question after the race was if Logano should have pitted to avoid being a caution. That would have allowed Keselowski to keep his lead. Logano said after the race he was not called to pit road. Gordon declined to talk to media after the event.

Both Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe said after winning Talladega on Oct. 15 that they viewed Martinsville as a must-win situation in this round because of their struggles on 1.5-mile tracks (Sunday’s race is at Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile track) and the uncertainty of Phoenix.

Gordon admits he was more focused on his No. 22 team in those final laps at Martinsville.

“We were third at that point,’’ Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, explaining his mindset. “As big of a struggle as it has been all year, the piece that we looked at ahead of time was that this was a place we could build some momentum. A place that we have run well very frequently. I think it’s a racetrack that Joey gets very well. I think we’ve got a good setup for what we do there. In the time Kyle got into us, we were third and fighting, really (Elliott) was playing defense against us. I only got a couple of glimpses of (the tire rub). It was smoking.

“The first lap and half of that, I wasn’t sure how bad (the tire rub) was and as I saw, I didn’t know with a few laps left whether it was an external rub or whether it was on the tire contact patch, and the smoke kind of clouds it a little bit for me. Honestly, it was looking at the fact that I felt like if it was just a tire rub we might sacrifice a top-five finish out of the day, which for a momentum piece for this whole Shell-Pennzoil team would have been a great kind of add to the situation.

“As we saw it get worse — and it got worse — we were in a position where we had cars on the inside of us. I didn’t call him to pit road from the outside lane. By the time we finally got to the bottom, it blew in (Turns) 1 and 2.

“I guess I should have called him in earlier with the grander picture in my head. I missed the call. I just own that I missed the call myself.

“Regretful for that for our teammates and everybody here at Team Penske. Brad had a dominant car all day, and I think was in a great position. Wish you could take those things back but you can’t. At that time, my focus was on a momentum builder for our team. Saw that opportunity, didn’t know how bad the rub was and as it became more clear it became too late to react to that.’’

Asked on “The Morning Drive” about the balance of making decisions in the best interest of the No. 22 team while also factoring in what’s best for the entire organization, Gordon said:

“Emotionally you’ve got to figure out how to handle those things. I’ve looked back at it. There’s things I could have done differently. You always asses the situation afterwards to try to understand how you should have looked at the situation and how you can better prepare yourself because these things do happen and how you can better prepare yourself to make the right call.

“It’s tough there because it’s a two- to three-lap penalty to pit under green. There’s 13 to go. Your day is what it is. It’s a heat of the moment decision. I’ve talked to Paul about it and I’ve shared with him my shortcomings and thought process. I think we’re good with where we’re at.

“Obviously he was disappointed with it as he should be. I told him … I’d be upset if he weren’t upset. This is a passionate sport and we’re all trying to do great things, and they were in a good position, they are still in a good position, they are in a great position. Not to say something couldn’t happen in the last nine laps that would have caused a caution other than us, but we did cause a caution and it’s something we’ll move on from.’’

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Wood Brothers secure charter for 2018 season

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The Wood Brothers have formed a partnership with Go Fas Racing that will allow the No. 21 team to have a charter, guaranteeing Paul Menard a starting spot in every Cup race this season.

Last year, the Wood Brothers leased a charter from Go Fas Racing.

“This charter is a game-changing step for Wood Brothers Racing. It’s the critical piece needed to thrive as a top owner in our sport,” said Len Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing, in a statement from the team.

“We have been fortunate enough to have extremely fast cars and are blessed with the best sponsors in NASCAR. Pair that with our support from Ford and nearly every piece is in place. Last year we leased a charter from Archie [St. Hilaire]. We’ve really come to appreciate working with him and his son Mason, and I think everyone has benefited tremendously from this relationship. For 2018 and beyond, we’ve taken it a step further and entered into a partnership and we think it will be a rewarding endeavor for everyone involved.”

The Wood Brothers scored their 99th career Cup win with Ryan Blaney last year and earned their first playoff spot.

Go Fas Racing stated on Twitter it would have a charter for Matt DiBenedetto but didn’t reveal details.

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Danica Patrick confirms she is dating NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers

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Danica Patrick said Monday that she and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are dating. Patrick confirmed the news to The Associated Press.

Patrick, who is from Illinois, is a Chicago Bears fan but will change allegiances.

She told the AP that she and Rodgers met at the 2012 ESPY Awards.

“I told him a long time ago I’d always root for him as a player,” Patrick told the AP. “Now I am probably going to cheer for the whole team. Take out the word ‘probably.’ Now I’m going to cheer for the whole team.”

Patrick ended a five-year relationship with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in November. Rodgers split from actress Olivia Munn in 2017 after three years of dating.

Patrick plans to retire from racing this season after competing in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. She has not announced a deal for either ride. An executive with Chip Ganassi Racing recently told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that they were no longer talking to Patrick about a ride in either race.

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Darrell Wallace Jr. feels a connection to Wendell Scott without the pressure of his legacy

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WELCOME, N.C. – There will be many reminders of the history that Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. could make this season in NASCAR’s premier series, but this one was especially personal.

The first full-time African-American driver on the circuit in 47 years since Wendell Scott received a 2-minute voice mail recently from Scott’s son, Wendell Jr.

“(It said) don’t feel like I need to carry the pressure of his dad and the Scott legacy, just go out there and do me,” Wallace said, relaying the message last Friday during a break from a preseason production shoot. “That’s the way it’s always been. All the history falls in place after. That’s how I like to go about it. A small part carries him with me, but I don’t put that in the forefront.

“For me, it’s just to go out and get through practice, qualifying and the race. If we end up with a top five, then, hey, it’s the first African-American to do this or the first African-American to do that. I don’t really look at that stuff. That’s when the media kind of brings that in. You can sit back after the race and say, ‘Damn, that was pretty cool.’ ”

Wallace is accustomed to being in the headlines for unique accomplishments. His Oct. 26, 2013 win in the Camping World Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway was the first by a black driver in one of NASCAR’s national series since Scott’s Dec. 1, 1963 win at Jacksonville, Florida.

Wallace, 24, has notched five more truck victories since then (including his lone start on the circuit last August at Michigan International Speedway) and made the Xfinity Series playoffs in 2016.

But as he steps into the famous No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports (which has moved this year to Chevrolet and a new shop location adjacent to Richard Childress Racing, which will supply its cars and engines), Wallace acknowledges that “for sure, I’m carrying that banner” again for Scott. He got to know the racing pioneer’s family eight years ago after entering NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.

He understands the attention brought by his race, though he also sees evidence on social media that his fan base tires of hearing about it.

“It’s something I’ve embraced,” Wallace said. “I’ve accepted that it’s always going to be talked about no matter what I do. I’ll be the first African-American to take a piss in the Cup garage. Everything I do is a first. It’s going to be there. I’ve accepted it.

“The fans are (who) get so fired up over it. It’s like, ‘Why do we have to mention it?’ Because no one is there. It’s going to be mentioned. It has to be mentioned. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.”

Wallace made his Cup debut with RPM last season at Pocono Raceway, the first of four starts in place of injured Aric Almirola. He posted a respectable average finish of 17.8 while handling the increased exposure with aplomb.

Team owner Richard Petty said “there’s going to be a lot of pressure on (Wallace)” in 2018, but he thinks his crew won’t feel the effects.

“I don’t think it’s going to put that much pressure on RPM because they’re going to do the best they can for whoever it is,” Petty said. “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on him, so he’s going to have to learn to live with it.”

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said Wallace already proved last year he is highly adaptable despite the heavy scrutiny.

“When we showed up at Pocono, we realized what it was all about,” Blickensderfer said. “It kind of gave you goosebumps to think about how special it was. We saw all the hoopla and everything that was going on around it, we thought, ‘This is something that’s a little different than just the kid who’s going to drive a race car.’ ”

It doesn’t feel so different away from the track, though, when Wallace brings his freewheeling presence through the shop.

“When he walks in be-bopping and giving people knuckles, it’s nothing,” Blickensderfer said. “It’s just a kid driving a race car. But I think when we get to Daytona and unload the car that has ‘Wallace’ on it and it’s his car, I think it’s going to be a little different. But it’s different in a great way.

“Everybody on this team looks at it like it’s cool. The way Bubba reacts to it, he just handles it. He does it remarkably well for a kid his age. He just kind of takes it in and is OK with it and goes about his business, much better than most people would. It makes it easier for us just to not even think about that weekly. When we get ready to fire engines for the Daytona 500, we’re going to be like, ‘He’s doing something really cool here.’ Until then it’s kind of business, and it’s just some kid driving a race car.

But as he prepares for his first full season in Cup, even Wallace finds himself occasionally caught in the moment – such as when he walked past one of his new Camaros – which was coated only in primer but had his last name across the windshield.

“I was thinking, ‘Damn that’s my Cup car,’” he said. “That’s cool. Nothing on it but ‘Wallace.’ I thought, ‘Damn, that’s really cool to see.’ It’s exciting stuff that’s happening right now. I’ll be anxious to see when we get to Daytona how giddy I’ll be.”

Justin Haley returning to GMS Racing for 2018

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Justin Haley will again drive the No. 24 Chevrolet Silverado this season for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday. Sponsor Fraternal Order of Eagles also returns.

The 18-year-old won a pole at Texas and had three top-five finishes and 12 top-10 results in 21 starts last year.

“We found a lot of success toward the end of the 2017 season, so there’s a good amount of momentum that we can carry over into this year,” said Haley in a statement from the team. “The No. 24 team is working hard in the offseason to take us to that next level, to be able to keep running up front and improving week to week. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be competing for a championship when we get to Miami, and I couldn’t be more excited to be heading in that direction with GMS and the Fraternal Order of Eagles.”

Haley will again have Kevin Bellicourt as his crew chief.

“It’s been really encouraging to see the work that not only this team has done, but that Justin has put in over the offseason,” said Bellicourt in a statement from the team. “From working in the gym to time on the simulator, he’s focused on getting himself prepared to make a run for the title. The team has put everything we’ve got behind him and we’ve watched him do the same. It feels like all the pieces are coming together at the right time.”

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