Former crew chief Robbie Loomis pulling for Jeff Gordon in finale as No. 1 fan

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The man who guided Jeff Gordon to his most recent NASCAR championship won’t be at Homestead-Miami Speedway today as Gordon tries for a fifth title in his final start.

As Gordon’s self-proclaimed “No. 1 fan,” Robbie Loomis still will be watching the Ford 400 with rapt attention and few distractions at his home near Daytona Beach.

“Oh, man, I’ve had every invitation in the world, and I’m going to be watching that thing by myself,” Loomis said with a chuckle during a phone interview with NASCAR Talk. “I’ve had people wanting to cook out and watch on big-screen TVs, and I’m going to watch by myself.”

Loomis, who notched 23 victories and the 2001 championship as Gordon’s crew chief from 2000-05, said he was invited by former employer Hendrick Motorsports but declined because he remembered the scene as the crew chief for Richard Petty’s final race in November 1992 (which also happened to be Gordon’s debut).

“I remember Richard’s final year (and) how many people were there who weren’t doing anything toward the goal of winning the race,” Loomis said. “They’re kind of a distraction. I don’t want to be any distraction to it, so I’ll be watching (at home).

“And I usually don’t watch the prerace hype, but I’ll be watching all that stuff because I’ll be able to see a lot more of Jeff and hear all the interviews and really take everything in a lot better watching on (NBC) than actually being in the middle of it all.”

Loomis hasn’t worked in NASCAR since leaving Richard Petty Motorsports as chief operating officer in January 2012, but he has followed Gordon’s progress with interest, particularly during his final season.

“Especially after we quit racing against each other, he became the No. 1 guy that I pulled for,” Loomis said. “When you have so much history with somebody, and you love something so much, they’re always kind of a part of you, even if you’re not around them. What I love about this is there’s not many chance of athletes get a chance to go out on top and be the finest three hours of this whole career come together.

“I’ve been playing a lot of tennis, and I think about Steffi Graf when I look at Gordon. She could be good on all the different tennis courts. Jeff’s good at all the racetracks and capable of winning on all of them. What’s been nice watching him this year is the nice person that we all knew, that the insiders know Jeff as, it’s like the whole world is getting to see him as not just the driver, but Jeff the husband and Jeff the family man. A whole different side of him.”

The farewell also has caused Loomis to reflect on the full spectrum of his experience with Gordon.

“You get filled with a lot of different emotions,” he said. “You’re thankful and feel a lot of gratitude that you got a chance to be a part of that. Also, it leads to the bad pit calls that you made or the bad choices you made on car selection. You think of those things and think, “Wow, why didn’t I seize that opportunity a little bit better here or there.’ The missed opportunities all come back to the top.”

The race that still haunts him the most occurred July 2003 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where Gordon finished 24th after leading a race-high 133 of 300 laps. Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson won it on a sounder strategy by crew chief Chad Knaus.

“We just dominated the day, and I made a pit call to say out when everyone behind me pitted.” Loomis said. “It’s hard to ever shake that one for some reason, and it’s the one I handed to Chad and Jimmie, who were there to pick up the ball and win the race. That was like you talk about a passing of the guard.”

A season later brought the debut of the Chase for the Sprint Cup and one of the more crushing disappointments of Gordon’s career. He finished 16 points behind champion Kurt Busch, who benefited from an opportune caution in the finale at Miami. Gordon led a race-high 155 laps a week earlier at Darlington Raceway but placed third because of an air-hose problem on the final pit stop.

“We should have won that race, and the bonus points and the momentum probably would have propelled us to the championship,” Loomis said. “We stumbled there. That one really stung a lot. When I look at the end of that year, and I see Kurt’s tire come off like it did, and the caution came out, that’s one of those things that told me at the end of the day that you can do everything you can, but sometimes things are not meant to be your way and meant to be someone else’s way.”

There are some elements that can be controlled, though, namely with race preparation.

In Petty’s final race, Loomis said much of the focus was on ensuring the structural integrity of his No. 43.

“When you think about how long this career has been for Jeff, you think about unfortunately (Dale) Earnhardt didn’t get to finish his out,” Loomis said. “That’s probably the biggest thing is you want to see him come out of there safe and in one piece. I remember back when Richard retired, that was our sole focus going into that race was checks and rechecks of all the safety stuff just to make sure we got him out of there in one piece.”

Petty, though, was eight years removed from his last win when he made his final start. Gordon will be racing for much higher stakes against Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., and Loomis believes

“Jeff’s got a level in him that when he is as close as he is to this thing here, and he can see it, he brings that level and raises everybody’s level,” Loomis said. “(Crew chief) Alan Gustafson and everyone on that team will find something that sometimes you don’t even know you have in you.

“Richard used to say that winners just have something special in them, and champions have even more of that makeup in them that lets them go to that different level. In all the sports, I think you see it in Michael Jordan. They play three quarters even and then in the fourth, Jordan would go crazy.

“Jeff’s obviously always had that. His work ethic, his determination. A lot of that is probably a credit to John Bickford. Everyone knows that Mr. Hendrick is such a great motivator and keeps everyone focused with their eyes on the prize. I see all Jeff’s kindness and nature that everyone sees, that’s from his mom. That’s from Carol.”

Loomis has been involved in real estate investing while splitting time between North Carolina and Florida the past few years. He has learned to appreciate a different pace and a fresh perspective from traveling internationally to see “just how big the world is.

“It took me a long time to get over the (NASCAR) fever,” he said. “I’m still not over it. But to be able to move forward in a different style of life. That’s what I tell everybody. Everybody talks like a part of Jeff is dying, but he’s really going to just start living, you know?”

Of course, that transition would be delayed if Gordon wins a fifth title that would rank among the most celebrated and popular in NASCAR history.

“That’s what I think is so great about (today),” Loomis said. “It’s not only great for Jeff Gordon, who did so much for the sport, but it’s so good for the sport and the way that things could wind up.

“Even if he doesn’t wind up being the champion, whether he has four or five championships is really irrelevant because he’s such a champion in life to everybody.”

Dr. Diandra: How level is the playing field after 50 Next Gen races?


Last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 marks 50 Next Gen races. The 2022 season produced 19 different winners, including a few first-career wins. Let’s see what the data say about how level the playing field is now.

I’m comparing the first 50 Next Gen races (the 2022 season plus the first 14 races of 2023) to the 2020 season and the first 14 races of 2021. I selected those two sets of races to produce roughly the same types of tracks. I focus on top-10 finishes as a metric for performance. Below, I show the top-10 finishes for the 13 drivers who ran for the same team over the periods in question.

A table comparing top-10 rates for drivers in the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars, limited to drivers who ran for the same team the entire time.

Because some drivers missed races, I compare top-10 rates: the number of top-10 finishes divided by the number of races run. The graph below shows changes in top-10 rates for the drivers who fared the worst with the Next Gen car.

A graph showing drivers who have done better in the next-gen car than the Gen-6 car.

Six drivers had double-digit losses in their top-10 rates. Kevin Harvick had the largest drop, with 74% top-10 finishes in the Gen-6 sample but only 46% top-10 finishes in the first 50 Next Gen races.

Kyle Larson didn’t qualify for the graph because he ran only four races in 2020. I thought it notable, however, that despite moving from the now-defunct Chip Ganassi NASCAR team to Hendrick Motorsports, Larson’s top-10 rate fell from 66.7% to 48.0%.

The next graph shows the corresponding data for drivers who improved their finishes in the Next Gen car. This graph again includes only drivers who stayed with the same team.

A graph showing the drivers who have fewer top-10 finishes in the Next Gen car than the Gen-6 car

Alex Bowman had a marginal gain, but he missed six races this year. Therefore, his percent change value is less robust than other drivers’ numbers.

Expanding the field

I added drivers who changed teams to the dataset and highlighted them in gray.

A table comparing top-10 rates for drivers in the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

A couple notes on the new additions:

  • Brad Keselowski had the largest loss in top-10 rate of any driver, but that may be more attributable to his move from Team Penske to RFK Motorsports rather than to the Next Gen car.
  • Christopher Bell moved from Leavine Family Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. His improvement is likely overestimated due to equipment quality differences.
  • Erik Jones stayed even, but that’s after moving from JGR (13 top-10 finishes in 2020) to Richard Petty Motorsports (six top 10s in 2021.) I view that change as a net positive.

At the end of last season, I presented the tentative hypothesis that older drivers had a harder time adapting to the Next Gen car. Less practice time mitigated their experience dialing in a car so that it was to their liking given specific track conditions.

But something else leaps out from this analysis.

Is the playing field tilting again?

Michael McDowell is not Harvick-level old, but he will turn 39 this year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 35. Both have improved with the Next Gen Car. Chase Elliott (27 years old) and William Byron (25) aren’t old, either, but their top-10 rates have gone down.

Drivers running for the best-funded teams earned fewer top-10 finishes while drivers from less-funded teams (mostly) gained those finishes.

Trackhouse Racing and 23XI — two of the newest teams — account for much of the gains in top-10 finishes. Ross Chastain isn’t listed in the table because he didn’t have full-time Cup Series rides in 2020 or 2021. His 9.1% top-10 rate in that period is with lower-level equipment. He earned 27 top-10 finishes in the first 50 races (54%) with the Next Gen car.

This analysis suggests that age isn’t the only relevant variable. One interpretation of the data thus far is that the Next Gen (and its associated rules changes) eliminated the advantage well-funded teams built up over years of racing the Gen-5 and Gen-6 cars.

The question now is whether that leveling effect is wearing off. Even though parts are the same, more money means being able to hire the best people and buying more expensive computers for engineering simulations.

Compare the first 14 races of 2022 to the first 14 of 2023.

  • Last year at this time, 23XI and Trackhouse Racing had each won two races. This year, they combine for one win.
  • It took Byron eight races to win his second race of the year in 2022. This year, he won the third and fourth races of the year. Plus, he’s already won his third race this year.
  • Aside from Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win, this year’s surprise winners — Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney — are both from major teams.

We’re only 14 races into the 2023 season. There’s not enough data to determine the relative importance of age versus building a notebook for predicting success in the Next Gen car.

But this is perhaps the most important question. The Next Gen car leveled the playing field last year.

Will it stay level?

NASCAR weekend schedule at World Wide Technology Raceway, Portland


NASCAR’s top three series are racing this weekend in two different locations. Cup and Craftsman Truck teams will compete at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and the Xfinity Series will compete at Portland International Raceway.

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Cup and Trucks)

Weekend weather

Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 87 degrees during Truck qualifying.

Saturday: Sunny. Temperatures will be around 80 degrees for the start of Cup practice and climb to 88 degrees by the end of Cup qualifying. Forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 93 degrees around the start of the Truck race.

Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high of 92 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 1 – 8 p.m. Craftsman Truck Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 6:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:45 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 10:45 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (160 laps, 200 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 4

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (240 laps, 300 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


Portland International Raceway (Xfinity Series)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 77 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly sunny with a high of 73 degrees and no chance of rain around the start of the Xfinity race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 6-11 p.m. Xfinity Series

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 10 a.m.  — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Xfinity practice (No TV)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (75 laps, 147.75 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.