Todd Gordon

Long: Even with wins, Joey Logano, Paul Wolfe still have work to do

Leave a comment

AVONDALE, Ariz. — One has to wonder when Joey Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe will begin to jell in their new partnership.

They’ve only won two of the four Cup races in their first season together.

Car owner Roger Penske’s decision to switch the driver/crew chief lineup for all three of his Cup teams in the offseason seems to be working about as well as possible.

Besides Logano’s wins, Ryan Blaney could have easily won the first three races and led the points until he was collected in a crash at Phoenix, and Brad Keselowski has three consecutive finishes of 11th or better.

Even with their early success, Logano and Wolfe both say there’s still much work to do to become a dominant team.

“We’ve done a good job executing races,” Logano told NBC Sports in victory lane after he went from 18th to first and led the final 24 laps to win. “Are we as fast as we want to be? No, not yet, but I think we’re a dangerous combination for sure.

“With (Wolfe’s) cars and being able to still be aggressive and do the things I need to do and have some long run speed on top of that, it has been a good combination for us. Nice to win a 550 (horsepower) and 750 race already. It shows we’re close, but we haven’t been the dominant car … in any race this year.”

Logano won at Las Vegas when the leaders pitted before the final restart. Logano, who was third at the time, stayed out, assumed the lead and won. At Phoenix, Logano overcame a pit road penalty and then lost the lead on his final pit stop when the jack broke, dropping him to 18th.

With the debut of the short track package, which included a much smaller spoiler than last season, a tire compound that wore out and the traction compound on the track, Logano was able to get to the front. What also helped was that he and Keselowski had similar setups. Wolfe, who had been Keselowski’s crew chief before this season, used elements of Keselowski’s setup from past years.

In a sign of how Logano and Wolfe continue to learn each other, Logano did not run make a mock qualifying run in practice on Friday. Wolfe said he wanted all the time in the two 50-minute practice sessions focused on “just trying to understand and learn where he wants to be with the setups under our car for race trim.”

Todd Gordon, who went from being Logano’s crew chief last season to be Blaney’s crew chief this season, noted the work that goes into learning a new driver. One such example came at Auto Club Speedway when Blaney had to pit from second place with three laps left because of a tire issue. Blaney finished 19th.

“It’s part of the learning curve that this whole team is going through with the change,” Gordon said recently on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We know each other pretty well but need to learn the little idiosyncrasies of what each driver’s driving style does, what we can and can’t be aggressive on.”

Auto Club Speedway also wasn’t a good race for Logano. He ran well until fading late and placing 12th.

“I’ll tell you what, I was sick to my stomach all week,” Wolfe told NBC Sports. “We didn’t have the performance I wanted at (Auto Club). Obviously (Blaney) was real strong at (Auto Club). We started the race strong but we got off course there. Really to finish 12th was not what we’re capable of where we should be. I didn’t sleep a lot.”

He felt much better after Sunday’s race at Phoenix.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

When Brandon Jones passed Kyle Busch for the lead with 20 laps to go and went on to win the Xfinity race at Phoenix last weekend, it marked the first time since June 2016 that Busch had been passed so late in a race for the win by a series regular.

Brandon Jones celebrates his Phoenix win. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The last time it happened was when Daniel Suarez passed Busch with two laps to go to win at Michigan.

Jones’ win was as much on the track as off. He went 134 series races before his first victory in October at Kansas. Jones needed only seven races to score his second Xfinity triumph. While there are a number of factors, Jones cites a greater worth ethic as among the keys.

“I kind of came into this year with a mindset of, ‘If I’m not doing it, someone else is doing it,’” the 23-year-old said. “That includes anything outside of this and it includes everything at the track and includes studying and everything. I’m exhausting myself doing it and at the same time, the reward is so big that it doesn’t matter to me. This is what it’s about.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has yet to talk to NASCAR about his penalty for passing below the yellow line in the Daytona 500 but plans to do so before next month’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR penalized Stenhouse, who was running in the top five at the time for going below the yellow line to pass Blaney. A replay showed that Blaney, who was leading the bottom lane, initially blocked Stenhouse but then Stenhouse went lower to make his move.

“I did not want to talk to (NASCAR) right after because I wasn’t really happy about it,” Stenhouse said this past weekend at Phoenix.

“I felt like my move at that point was go left or crash (Blaney), so I went left and gave myself extra room. We had already turned (William Byron) on accident, so I didn’t want to turn somebody else. I gave myself a ton of room and then I had (Kyle Busch) pushing me as well. Trying to give that spot back was kind of difficult.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Two teams placed all their cars in the top 10 Sunday at Phoenix. It marked the first time this season that any team had placed all its drivers in the top 10.

Stewart-Haas Racing had Kevin Harvick place second, Clint Bowyer finish fifth, Aric Almirola place eighth and rookie Cole Custer finish ninth.

“It means a ton, honestly,” Custer said of the top-10 finish. “It’s been pretty tough these first few races of the year. A lot of learning. It just kind of all came together this weekend.”

Chip Ganassi Racing had Kyle Larson finish fourth. Kurt Busch was sixth.

Todd Gordon explains reason he called Ryan Blaney to pit road

2 Comments

Crew chief Todd Gordon says he has a scar from Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a pit call he made in the 2017 race there. Sunday’s decision to pit Ryan Blaney from the lead cost Blaney the win and left Gordon with a deeper scar.

Instead of possibly winning, Blaney finished 11th.

Gordon spoke Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” about his pit call late in Sunday’s race.

Blaney led when the caution came out for Ross Chastain’s spin. It set up a two-lap shootout for the win. When pit road was opened, Blaney and Alex Bowman, running second, both peeled off the track, but Joey Logano, running third stayed out.

Logano was one of seven drivers who did not pit. He assumed the lead for the restart and went on to win the race

Here’s what Gordon told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about his decision to pit:

“You knew you were going to come back to a two-lap run. We had scanned down pit road and it sounded like most of the top 10 were coming for tires. I wish I had that one back. I wish we had left him out there and let him defend. … I thought if we could (restart on the) second row on four tires or third row on four tires, we’d be alright, but to (restart on the) sixth row on four tires and just that in debacle back there and four-wide, didn’t look like maybe (Erik Jones‘) spotter let him know he had two outside and got caught up in (the last-lap accident).”

Gordon said a similar situation at the end of the first stage in the 2017 race at Las Vegas lingered in his mind as he decided what to do Sunday on the final pit stop.

“I think in the situation, I was waffling,” Gordon told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “When it first came out, I thought we would stay. The more we talked about it, the more we scanned people, I let the information we gathered from that point forward skew me to pit and looking at it, and you think about this race track and where we were and you’ve got less than a second of falloff (in the tires from the beginning of a run to the end), so we don’t have a ton of power. So being able to hook up the rear tires on a restart isn’t as detrimental as it used to be.

“I’ve got a scar that comes back to me from the 2017 spring race. There was a caution, we had 40 laps on tires and there was a caution with like eight (laps) to go in a stage. We were leading and I stayed out because I felt like we’d have guys stay out to score stage points. We were the only car to stay out. We ended up 14th I think in five laps there.

“That scar still stuck, but you have to identify that’s when we had more power, we had less downforce. Getting good restarts was tough because you could hook the power up to the rear tires. We don’t really have that now.

“With this intermediate package, we’ve got with less power and more downforce and more drag. In hindsight, probably I wish I had it to do over again and went with the original (decision). … Kudos to Joey and (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) to adapting the call. I think they were talking about coming in, but when Joey saw he could get the front row, I think he made a diversion to it and ultimately won the race that way. Had (I) to do it all over again, probably leave Ryan in a position to see whether he could go and secure and defend the lead we had.”

While there seemed to be some communication issues between Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe if to pit during that late caution, Logano said it wasn’t the case.

“We talked about this scenario, whether it’s at the end of a stage or end of the race,” Logano said. “If it comes down to it, can we get clean air, or at what point are we comfortable staying out?

“So Paul came over the radio and said, stick to the plan. I said, okay, I’ll stick to the plan. That was it. You know, ultimately it was a good call, obviously, and got us in position to have a good restart. I had a good push with Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) behind me and had a good block on (William Byron) once I got the push.

“At that point, once you get that clean air, you’re in good shape. If I didn’t have a good restart and got swallowed up by the field, I’d have had the backup lights on pretty quick. But the call and then the execution to go together is what we needed to do.”

Said Wolfe about Logano not pitting at the end:

“It’s really about the clean air. If you can get clean air, it’s worth so much. The tires obviously were wearing some. Obviously that’s why we saw a lot of guys pit, obviously, from the lead. It seemed like … the left side (tire) wear was more accelerated than what we’ve seen in the past, and I think that was making guys favor wanting tires.

“But really still the falloff, if you look at the start of our run to the end, it wasn’t extreme, and in practice we were out there on older tires. When they have a chance to cool down, seemed to re‑fire and have decent speed.

“It’s kind of what we had talked about. If you can get to the front row and get that clean air, then it’s worth the gamble.

“Obviously we had a lot of cars behind us. At that point I felt pretty good as long as he executed the restart, the guys on tires weren’t going to catch you in two laps. Just not enough time.”

Winners and losers from Las Vegas

1 Comment

WINNERS

Paul Wolfe — Great call to have Joey Logano not pit before the final restart. Of course it helped that six other cars stayed out. Still, the top two cars came down pit road and Logano, running third, stayed out and won.

Matt DiBenedettoFinishes second in his second race with the Wood Brothers.

Jimmie JohnsonScored his first top-five finish since last summer’s Daytona race.

Bubba Wallace Decision not to pit allowed him to finish sixth, giving him his best Cup finish on a 1.5-mile track.

LOSERS

Todd Gordon and Greg Ives— For every high, there is a low. Gordon apologized on the radio to Ryan Blaney for calling him to pit road while leading before the final restart. Blaney finished 11th. Ives called Bowman to pit road while running second before the final restart. Bowman finished 13th. Ives tweeted that he was “VERY frustrated with my call at the end not to game on old tires, especially in Vegas.”

19 pit crew — Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew got him into the lead under caution after Stage 2 but he had to return to pit under that caution to tighten loose lug nuts. Said Truex after the race: “We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.”

William ByronLined up second on the final restart but contact with Matt DiBenedetto led to a tire rub and Byron falling back before he was involved in the crash that ended race. He finished 22nd.

Decision to pit or not dramatically altered Las Vegas Cup race

Leave a comment

Crew chief Todd Gordon apologized to Ryan Blaney for pitting from the lead before the final restart in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I should have left you out,” Gordon radioed Blaney after the race. “My gut told me to. I didn’t. My bad.”

Instead of celebrating a victory, Blaney walked away with an 11th-place finish. It was his teammate, Joey Logano, who celebrated after not pitting.

A caution on Lap 262 for Ross Chastain created consternation among crew chiefs on pit road and dramatically altered the finish of the season’s second race.

With a two-lap shootout for the win expected once the caution car collected the field and cars pitted, crew chiefs were left to decide if to pit for tires or stay out and gain track position.

For some, the crew chief’s decision worked brilliantly.

  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who did not pit, finished third for his best result at Las Vegas and JTG Daugherty Racing’s best performance at Las Vegas.
  • Austin Dillon, who did not pit, placed fourth for his best result at Las Vegas.
  • Jimmie Johnson, who pitted for two tires, was fifth, scoring his first top five since the rain-shortened race at Daytona in July.
  • Bubba Wallace, who did not pit, placed sixth, marking his best result on a 1.5-mile track.
  • Ty Dillon, who pitted for four tires, was 10th for his first top-10 on a 1.5-mile track.

Here is how the results changed in the final five laps:

When the caution waved for Chastain’s spin, Blaney led.

This was the running order:

  1. Ryan Blaney
  2. Alex Bowman
  3. Joey Logano
  4. William Byron
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Matt DiBenedetto
  8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  9. Kyle Larson
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. Kyle Busch
  12. John Hunter Nemechek
  13. Tyler Reddick
  14. Denny Hamlin
  15. Austin Dillon
  16. Martin Truex Jr.
  17. Chris Buescher
  18. Erik Jones
  19. Ty Dillon
  20. Bubba Wallace

Blaney and Bowman both relinquished their spots at the front of the field to pit.

Logano stayed out and moved from third to first.

Crew chief Paul Wolfe said he understood why some pitted but felt the decision not to pit was worth it for he and his team.

“The tires were wearing some,” Wolfe said. “Obviously, that’s why we saw a lot of guys pit from the lead. It seemed like the left-side wear was more accelerated than what we we’ve seen in the past. I think that was making guys favor wanting tires, but really, still, the falloff, if you looked at the start of a run to the end, it wasn’t extreme.

“In practice we were out there on older tires … and seemed to re-fire and have decent speed. It was kind of what we talked about. If you can get to the front row and get the clean air, it’s worth the gamble. Obviously we had a lot of cars behind us. I felt pretty good as long as he executed the restart. The guys on [new] tires weren’t going to catch you in two laps. There just wasn’t enough time.”

Byron also stayed out and moved from fourth to second.

Harvick gave up fifth to pit for four tires, Keselowski relinquished sixth to pit for two tires.

DiBenedetto stayed out and moved from seventh to third. Stenhouse also did not pit, going from eighth to fourth for the restart. Larson gave up ninth to pit for four tires. Johnson gave up 10th place to pit for two tires.

As the field lined up to take the green with two laps to go, the lineup was (with the top seven cars not pitting):

  1. Joey Logano
  2. William Byron
  3. Matt DiBenedetto
  4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  5. Tyler Reddick
  6. Austin Dillon
  7. Bubba Wallace
  8. Brad Keselowski (first car to pit; two tires)
  9. Jimmie Johnson (two tires)
  10. Martin Truex Jr. (two tires)
  11. Erik Jones (two tires)
  12. Ryan Blaney (four tires)
  13. Kevin Harvick (four tires)
  14. Alex Bowman (four tires)
  15. Kyle Busch (four tires)
  16. Kyle Larson (four tires)

Having six cars between he and the first car that had stopped for tires helped Logano.

“A lot of cars stayed out and that was key to that move,” Logano said.

A crash after the leaders took the white flag to begin the last lap, ended the race and left many of those who had pitted seeing their hopes for a strong finish end.

Blaney was stuck and couldn’t move up before the crash, finishing outside the top 10 in a race he looked as if he’d win before Chastain’s caution.

“It was just a crappy situation,” Blaney said. “We fight our butts off to get the lead there from third and get it.  I had a good shot of holding the 88 off. I thought we could have once we got in clean air I thought our car was pretty decent. The caution came out and we pitted, some guys didn’t, some guys took two and we just end up getting absolutely destroyed with people not knowing how many cars were to the outside of them.  It’s easy to look back on it and say we should have stayed out.  That’s a tough call for Todd Gordon in his position, but I’ve got to thank him for giving me a really good car.”

Bowman also placed outside the top 10 after he appeared to be headed for a runner-up finish and maybe a chance to challenge Blaney for the lead.

“Dang it,” Bowman said in a video he posted on social media after the race. “Man, we had such a good car there at the end. Obviously running down (Blaney) pretty quickly, at least looking at a second-place finish, if not battling for a win there.

“Our car was so good and caution came out and we read it just a little bit wrong, so bummer that we didn’t get the finish that we probably deserved, but, at the same time, I’m just so proud of my guys. We had such a good race car today. We made it better all day. Obviously had it rolling there at the end. … Obviously bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win, but it’s part of it.”

While Blaney and Bowman lamented their results, others were more fortunate.

“Luckily, we got the outside (on the final restart),” Austin Dillon said. “Our teammate (Reddick) was doomed on the bottom. The bottom (lane) just seemed to lose spots all day unless you were the leader.”

Said Wallace of the decision not to pit: “It was just a good gamble.”

This is how they finished (and if they pitted before the final restart/positions gained or lost from final restart):

  1. Joey Logano (did not pit/maintained lead)
  2. Matt DiBenedetto (did not pit/gained one spot)
  3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (did not pit/gained one spot)
  4. Austin Dillon (did not pit/gained two spots)
  5. Jimmie Johnson (pitted for two tires/gained four spots)
  6. Bubba Wallace (did not pit/gained one spot)
  7. Brad Keselowski (pitted for two tires/gained one spot)
  8. Kevin Harvick (pitted for four tires/gained five spots)
  9. Kyle Larson (pitted for four tires/gained seven spots)
  10. Ty Dillon (pitted for four tires/gained 10 spots)

Friday 5: Key storylines entering Daytona Speedweeks

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Eighty-three days after Kyle Busch celebrated his second Cup championship, the garage opens today at Daytona International Speedway.

And with it will be the sense of renewal and unbridled optimism that often pervades during the offseason and Daytona Speedweeks.

Such feelings are evident in drivers who think this is their year to win the Daytona 500 and with smaller teams that count on the race’s big payday to help fund their operations for the coming weeks. Hope also will be strong with those among the many driver and crew chief changes made since last year.

With all the good feelings entering Daytona Speedweeks, here are five storylines to watch:

1. When will Kyle Busch’s Daytona 500 drought end?

While Kyle Busch has won a summer Cup race at Daytona, three qualifying races, a Busch Clash, a summer Xfinity race, a Truck race, and an ARCA race, he’s never won the Daytona 500 in 14 previous attempts.

The closest Busch has come to winning the season-opening race was last year when he placed second to Denny Hamlin as part of a 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing that included Erik Jones finishing third.

David Pearson celebrates winning the 1976 Daytona 500 after a last-lap crash with Richard Petty.(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

If it is any solace for Busch and his fans, Hall of Famer David Pearson didn’t win his lone Daytona 500 until his 15th attempt.

Others who needed more years before winning their first Daytona 500 were: Kurt Busch (in his 16th start), Darrell Waltrip (17th start), Buddy Baker (18th start) and Dale Earnhardt (20th start).

Of course, some Hall of Fame drivers never won a Daytona 500. Mark Martin failed to win the race in 29 starts. Rusty Wallace didn’t win in 23 starts. Tony Stewart, inducted into the Hall of Fame last weekend in a class that included Baker, did not win the Daytona 500 in 17 starts.

With Toyota the presumptive favorite again this season — based on few rule changes and Toyota’s 19 wins in 36 points races last year — will this be the year that Busch wins the Daytona 500?

2. Putting the puzzle together

Car owner Roger Penske shocked many by jumbling his driver/crew chief lineup after his organization won six races and placed all three drivers in the top eight in points.

But as Brad Keselowski recently said: “We want to be great. We want to win championships. You’ve got to recognize that winning races is still a significant accomplishment in this sport. It’s great competition week in and week out, so winning is good but also emphasize that greatness is the championship. We didn’t win it. It means we’ve got work to do.”

Todd Gordon (left) will serve as Ryan Blaney‘s crew chief this season. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Daytona marks the debut of the new combinations. Keselowski is paired with crew chief Jeremy Bullins. Joey Logano is teamed with crew chief Paul Wolfe, who led Keselowski to a championship in 2012. Ryan Blaney is working with Todd Gordon, who guided Logano to the Cup title in 2018.

Other new pairings to watch include Martin Truex Jr. and James Small, who takes over with Cole Pearn leaving the sport, and Chris Buescher and Luke Lambert, who both come to Roush Fenway Racing from other teams.

Crew chief strategy often is limited at Daytona because of the need for cars within the same manufacturer to work together (i.e. pit at the same time), but Speedweeks can be valuable for new driver/crew chief pairings with communication. After Daytona, Cup teams race seven consecutive weekends before the Easter break in April. If the communication falters, the results may not be as good.

3. Will the chaos continue?

Last year’s Daytona 500 saw 36 of the 40 cars involved in a crash, according to NASCAR’s race report (Racing Insights, which supplies statistics to NBC Sports, had 37 cars involved in accidents).

“It’s incredible to me how many times we were able to crash in the last 10 laps,” Jamie McMurray said after last year’s race, his final Cup start.

“Brains come unglued,” Kyle Busch said after last year’s race. “That’s all it is.”

Just a portion of the chaos in last year’s Daytona 500. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

There were three cautions, including two red flags totaling nearly 40 minutes, in the last 17 laps. Those incidents collected 29 cars and forced the race to go seven laps beyond the scheduled distance.

Such destruction has become a trend. The past three Daytona 500s have seen an average of 32 cars involved in accidents. 

Last year’s Daytona Speedweeks was especially tough on Cup car owners. A total of 60 cars were involved in accidents in practices, qualifying races, the Busch Clash and the Daytona 500. That was an increase of 16.7% from the previous Daytona Speedweeks.

As another Speedweeks begins, key questions are how many cars will be damaged, how will that impact teams and who can emerge from the chaos to win?

4. Who steps up in this pivotal contract year?

Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski are among the drivers in the final year of their contract this season.

Who will drive this car in 2021? (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

What better way to have some leverage at the bargaining table then to be the reigning Daytona 500 champ?

Silly season could be frenzied with several drivers, including Erik Jones, Alex Bowman and Clint Bowyer, among those in the last year of their contracts. A strong start could build momentum over the next several weeks and help drivers remain in their current spot or find a tantalizing ride elsewhere.

One thing is for certain, the No. 48 is open next year with Jimmie Johnson set to step away from full-time Cup racing after this season. 

5. Hailie Deegan’s Daytona debut

The 18-year-old makes her debut on Daytona International Speedway’s oval with today’s ARCA practice sessions. Of course, she was on track a couple of weeks ago in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race.

Hailie Deegan will compete in her first race on Daytona’s oval this weekend. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Deegan left Toyota’s development program for Ford in the offseason and will drive full-time in the ARCA Series for DGR-Crosley. She won three races in what was called K&N Pro Series West over the past two years.

Deegan’s move to ARCA will be watched closely at Daytona and throughout the season. She has the best funding and resources among any female drivers in NASCAR.

Some may view her as the next Danica Patrick but Deegan and her family are wanting to take a more measured approach to moving up the NASCAR ladder.

Deegan understands what’s at stake. She said last month during sports car testing at Daytona that “this is the year that’s very important and crucial to my career because it decides contracts for years out with sponsors getting behind you for the higher levels.”

It all starts this weekend for her.

 and on Facebook