Todd Gordon

Joey Logano’s crew chief explains call to pit for tires late at Bristol

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Todd Gordon admits hindsight may be 20-20.

Joey Logano‘s crew chief reflected Monday on “The Morning Drive” on what he may have done differently at the end of Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

With Logano leading late in the race, Gordon debated whether to bring his driver in for tires. When Kyle Larson hit the wall on Lap 479, bringing out the caution, Gordon made the call to bring Logano in for four tires.

I thought we were in position to win the race, but the late caution threw up a decision-making time and with the information I had at the time, I chose one route and probably could have been a different route,” Gordon told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

MORE: Joey Logano finishes third at Bristol after pitting from lead late

Gordon entered the pits as the race leader, only to watch Kyle Busch remain on the track and take the lead on Lap 482. 

“We had been 33 laps on tires, thought we were going to have about 18 (laps) to go (before the restart),” Gordon said. “The sort out (of the lineup) afterwards took a bit longer than I thought so we had about 15 (laps) to go when we got done. … I was scanning the radios and the 18 (Busch) said it might stay out, but my concern was that if we and the 18 stayed out and everybody else behind us comes to get tires, then there’s tires lined up on the rows behind us.

I didn’t want to be that guy that stayed out and then got beat by tires behind us. It was a last-minute call. We had talked back and forth about whether to stay out or come for tires. I felt like if we stayed out, my opinion was we were going to see tires in Row 2 and at worse in Row 3 and it didn’t end up being that way. When we came off pit road, I think we ended up in Row 4.

It’s just trying to anticipate what other crew chiefs are going to do with their cars is a gamble and a guess and as (the race) leader, I think we had a really strong car and everybody knew we had a strong car. I think at times people react to whatever decision you make and go the opposite way. If we stay out, I don’t know that everybody that stayed out stays out, but we’ll never know that and you try to make the decisions you can with the information you have at the time. Immediately once you see how many guys stayed out, it’s pretty evident maybe we should have made the other call.”

Logano, who won Stage 2, finished third and led the second-most laps in the race (146). 

In the future, do you make that call differently? I don’t know,” Gordon said. “You take the information you have at the time and make decisions from the information you’ve got. You’re never going to make every call right. People can second-guess what you do and where it goes and it’s very easy to sit back on Monday and say they should have run the ball instead of throwing it.

They’re reactionary calls. You can’t calculate every situation. In this one, could I have gone the other way? Yes. Was I all the way into the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2 before I made the call for him to come because I was waffling on it? I got to the point where it was a 50-50 call in my head and when I get to 50-50 calls, I go for putting tires on because Joey is an awesome, aggressive driver and when we put him in those positions, he usually elevates.”

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NASCAR might return to single-car qualifying on drafting tracks

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After another controversial group qualifying session on a drafting-style track, NASCAR chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said a return to single-car qualifying is being considered.

“We’re going to look at every option, including the possibility of going to single-car qualifying,” O’Donnell said in his weekly Monday interview on SiriusXM NASCAR’s “The Morning Drive” program. “The reason we haven’t is that’s on the teams. That’s parts and pieces. We’ve tried to be as efficient as possible trying this method of (group) qualifying.

“But we’re definitely going to look at it and see what we can do. We’ve got a couple of weeks to do that. We’ll make adjustments as needed.”

A NASCAR spokesman said discussions of any potential changes have yet to occur. A move to single-car qualifying likely would happen only on drafting tracks. Group qualifying has worked at short tracks such as Bristol Motor Speedway (site of Sunday’s race) where drafting doesn’t happen.

The next track at which group qualifying could be problematic is Kansas Speedway, which will play host May 11 to the Cup Series. NASCAR already has been using single-car qualifying at Talladega Superspeedway (site of the April 28 race) for a few years.

When the lower-horsepower 2019 rules package created more drafting at larger speedways aside from Talladega and Daytona International Speedway, there was speculation that NASCAR would tweak group qualifying (which made its debut five years ago) at those tracks.

But citing the need for “show business” in qualifying, officials have resisted calls for change this season despite debacles at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Auto Club Speedway (where there were no recorded speeds in the final round) and most recently last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Despite new rules to incentivize teams, the Friday session still resulted in controversy.

Clint Bowyer was particularly upset with NASCAR after feeling he was blocked in by Ryan Newman during the session. Bowyer playfully chided officials about it after finishing second Sunday at Texas.

Drivers have spent nearly the entire final round of each session waiting idle in the pits because the first car to leave is at a disadvantage without a drafting partner (though Daniel Suarez qualified fourth as a single car at Texas).

The strategy results in long periods of inactivity during qualifying.

“It’s really unfortunate for the fans,” O’Donnell said Monday. “It’s miraculous that Daniel Suarez is able to make a lap on his own and qualify fourth, so I don’t know how that’s possible based on all the data the teams seem to be putting together to sit on the end of pit road and wait.

“I think the one clarification on our end, we instructed (Newman) to move. He did that. I think Clint Bowyer could have gotten out and gotten past (Newman), but regardless of that, the optics of what is taking place with the teams is not tenable for us with the fans.”

Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick weighed in with a suggestion Monday morning.

O’Donnell replied “absolutely” when asked whether he was angered by the incessant controversy and openly wondered whether drivers were trying to subvert the process.

“I think it’s ridiculous, candidly,” he said. “I know the drivers did not like this qualifying before the season. Part of you says, ‘Are we doing this on purpose to get rid of it?’ I know it can be done. I know we have the best drivers in the world and crew chiefs to figure it out. We seem to want to outdo each other, and that results in sitting on pit road.

“We’ll react to it. We’ll make the right call and get it right. We don’t want to see cars sitting on pit road for 8 minutes. That’s not NASCAR racing. We’ll make the fix there.”

O’Donnell said any switch would be met by resistance from team owners who lobbied for group qualifying to help hold down costs. A move to single-car qualifying would mean teams focusing on more expensive and specialized parts and pieces.

“If we have to go back to single car, simple,” he said. “We’ll do that. It won’t be popular with some of the owners, but unfortunately, we’re getting put in this position.”

In an interview 45 minutes later on “The Morning Drive”, crew chief Todd Gordon said he liked the current system of group qualifying on drafting tracks, suggesting it needed better elucidation.

“The problem is we’re not explaining what the strategies are, what the pieces are,” said Gordon, the crew chief for Joey Logano. “I like it. If the fan base or NASCAR doesn’t like it, we’ll adapt to what’s next.”

Sitting idle for long stretches during qualifying is just part of the strategy, Gordon said.

“It’s not that we’re doing something deviant,” he said. “We’re doing something that’s been laid out by NASCAR. … That’s the biggest problem. We haven’t done a good job to explain to our fan base, our TV partners, our radio partners what’s going on and what the strategy is and what the rules are.

“There’s a structure here, and we maximize our opportunity as it unfolds.”

Friday 5: ‘Chaotic’ qualifying is entertaining and shouldn’t change

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Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?

It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.

While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.

It became a game of who would blink first and take off.

When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.

“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.

“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.

“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”

Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.

What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.

Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.

These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.

But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.

What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.

Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.

Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.

That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?

The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.

This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.

“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”

There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.

2. Second to Kyle Busch

For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.

The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.

Kyle Busch celebrating a NASCAR win has been a familiar sight through the years. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.

Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.

Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).

They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.

The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.

Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:

18 — Kevin Harvick

15 — Carl Edwards

13 — Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

8 — Kyle Larson

7 — Todd Bodine, Matt Crafton

6 — Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter

5 — Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ron Hornaday Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart

4 — Jeff Burton, Austin Dillon

3 — Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr.

2 — Mike Bliss, Terry Cook, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, John Hunter Nemechek, Timothy Peters, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler

1 — Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Kurt Busch, Colin Braun, Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Hemric, Sam Hornish Jr., Parker Kligerman, Jason Leffler, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Brett Moffitt, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Nelson Piquet Jr., Ryan Preece, Brian Scott, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Bubba Wallace, Cole Whitt

3. Multiple surgeries

Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.

The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.

According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.

The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.

4. First time in new garages at Phoenix

ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.

One person missing that weekend was Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. NASCAR suspended Childers the final two races of last year as part of penalties imposed to the No. 4 team for failing inspection after its win at Texas. So Childers missed the new look at Phoenix – until this weekend.

Childers shared his excitement of being in Phoenix on Thursday night.

5. Remarkable record

Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.

Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.

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Brad Keselowski: Expect Team Penske to be ‘more aggressive’

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It has taken only three races for Team Penske to lock down two of the 16 available spots in this season’s Cup playoffs.

Joey Logano joined teammate Brad Keselowski in the playoffs after he held off Keselowski on the final lap of Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Keselowski earned his playoff spot with his Atlanta win last weekend.

With those playoff berths secured, Keselowski anticipates the No. 2 and No. 22 teams to push the limits of their Fords over the rest of the regular season.

“Expect us to get more aggressive with things that might break,” he said during a Facebook Live video on a flight after the race. “Things of that nature that could make us run faster but might break, because we don’t have to worry so much about points.”

Logano leads the point standings after three races while Keselowski is fifth.

Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, views things differently after the win.

“I don’t think that I’ll do things differently, the only thing is (the win) allows you to be a little more aggressive,” he said. “That’s how you call a race or some of the things you do. You can be a little bit more aggressive to try to go get wins. Those things you’ll still do, but we’re still trying to learn what we’ve got to do to race this package, and where we go.”

The third Penske driver, Ryan Blaney, has yet to finish in the top 10 this season

This is the fastest Team Penske has secured two playoff spots in the elimination era, which began in 2014.

Last year, the team didn’t earn its second win and playoff spot until Keselowski’s Southern 500 victory at Darlington in September.

During his Facebook Live video, Keselowski was asked about his thoughts about running a night race at Martinsville Speedway.

“Don’t get me started,” Keselowski said. “I think we should be running Martinsville in the middle of the summer at night. A good ole’ short track race. I think like a good midweek race at Martinsville would be awesome. That’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime. But I can ask and I can dream, right?”

NASCAR is expected to make significant changes to the schedule in the next two years.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps has said “everything is on the table” in regards to schedule changes.

Regarding a night race, Martinsville President Clay Campbell said last summer, “We would love to swap dates with somebody, but the question is who wants to give up a date and give it to us? Because most of the dates are taken, it would take something that makes sense for the other track and makes sense for us and it’s complicated.”

NASCAR sees better racing with rules package but can ‘continue to improve’

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A NASCAR executive saw signs of better racing with the new rules package at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but also said “we can continue to improve on that.”

Joey Logano beat Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski by less than a quarter of a second. The race featured aero ducts for the first time this season to go along with a tapered spacer that limited engines to 550 horsepower and other aerodynamic changes intended to keep the cars closer together.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, gave his review of the race:

“What we said from the beginning was we wanted to see the best car still win. We wanted the ability … if you look up in Turn 2 or Turn 3 during a run, we wanted to see the leader and the ability for second or third to be at least in that shot and have the ability to pass. We saw that.

“We certainly saw the last stage, 100-lap, green-flag run, no cautions and the top four within 2.5 seconds. So directionally I think better for sure but not satisfied. I’m a race fan first and liked what I saw but also think there’s more to come hopefully.”

What would make O’Donnell more satisfied with the race?

“I think it’s not really up to me,” he said. “It’s the fans. You want higher ratings and you want more butts in seats ultimately. You want rivalries out there and drivers getting after it. I think what happens in that situation is you have more passes for the lead and you have cars closer together. I think we’re on the march to do that. I think we saw some of that today, but we can continue to improve on that.”

Where will that improvement come from? 

“I think over time,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve said from the beginning this is going to be a season that we analyze. We’re not every race going to say was that a good race? I know fans do that.

“For us, directionally, are you improving upon where we wanted to be, and if you look at last year vs. this year, I would say we are. Was it tremendous improvement? Probably not, but again as a fan you want to see lead changes. We saw that today. I think if you would have looked in the past with no cautions, we would have seen someone check out all race long and we wouldn’t have seen a lead change.”

Sunday’s race saw 19 lead changes among nine drivers. The lead changes were the most for this event since the March 2016 race.

Eight of the 19 lead changes were passes on the track. The remaining lead changes were the result of green-flag pit stops when the leader came in or during stage breaks. Both stage breaks saw lead changes. Brad Keselowski took the lead with a two-tire stop after the end of the first stage. Kurt Busch took the lead after the second stage when he did not pit.

Sunday’s race also had cautions only for the two stage breaks.

“I think you never forecast a caution-free race other than the stages and that’s what you had,” O’Donnell said. “You had cars sticking together for a longer period on a restart. What we really wanted on an intermediate track was if you had a long green-flag run, the ability to make a pass during that stretch vs. one-second, two-, three-, four- (second lead), almost what you saw in stage one vs. the second and third.

“I think it was good to see directionality that guys could come up through the pack and make a pass for the lead. Still work to do. It’s early. Three different winners in three races. We’ll take this one and head to Phoenix.”

Asked about how difficult it was to come through the pack, Martin Truex Jr. said: “It’s insanely tough. You have to hope other guys run different lanes than you. It’s hard to follow through the corners. You have to be a half-second quicker than they are to be able to stay in line against them in the corners. It’s really tough once you get a few laps on your tires.”

Denny Hamlin said the racing was “about what I expected” with the rules package.

“The restarts were super exciting, and you’re able to kind of dice around and put yourself in good positions,” he said. “Then once it gets strung out with all the on-throttle time, it seems like the bottom lane is the place to be and then if you’re second you can’t run the bottom either because the wake is so big. It’s kind of a catch-22 and it will work really, really good at some tracks. Other tracks it won’t, but overall, I don’t know how tight the field was there, but it definitely seemed like it strung out.”

O’Donnell also addressed the penalties to the teams of Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon for having a crew member, who was behind the wall, reach over and touch the pit stall with their hand.

Section 10.9.8.i of the Cup Rulebook states: “Crew Members/Servicing: Crew member(s) purposely assisting (e.g. rolling tires, signboard) from the equipment side of pit road, either in the vehicle’s assigned pit box or in an adjacent pit box, may not contact the pit road surface and may be counted towards the six crew member total.”

Asked about those penalties after the race, O’Donnell said: “That’s the way the rule is written and we made that call. We’ll go back and continue to look at it but under the rule that’s the call we needed to make.”