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.’’