The final fan question for Joey Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon during a Coca-Cola-sponsored event Friday morning is the biggest one facing the No. 22 team going into 2019:
How do the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champions feel about their chances to repeat?
Logano kept his answer short, saying he feels great. He then deferred attention to Gordon, who admitted he’s felt since last summer the team had better chances in 2019 than 2018. The summer is the time when talk of the sport going forward with new aero package ramped up before being officially unveiled in October.
It’s an aero package Gordon feels plays right into his driver’s hands, leading to his confidence about success for this season.
“I think if you look back to when we did have big downforce (in 2015), the things that made people successful were drivers who were confident and could make big aggressive moves,” Gordon (pictured above, with Logano) told RACER and Kickin’ The Tires after the fan event. “The runs that you’ll get with this package because of the amount of drag we have in the cars, you’re going to run close to wide open; race time we won’t be but you’ll qualify wide open a lot of places, so the qualifying piece kind of becomes a leveling field.
“But when you get to racing, understanding how to make your car good and to make big moves and finish big moves, I think that’s something that … separates [Joey] from a lot of people, is how far ahead of his car he is mentally. A pass gets set up two laps before and how that happens, so I think his ability to be that far ahead of his race car will play into this package because the moves will be big, the runs will be big. … You’ve got to be anticipating it before it happens and he does a great job of that.”
Drivers will deal with 550 horsepower in races (not including Daytona and Talladega) at tracks larger than 1.2 miles. It will be 750 horsepower for tracks under 1.2 miles.
The package has its detractors. Last Thursday during testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch said driver skill had been taken away with this package and now “anybody” could drive it. Logano’s Penske teammate Brad Keselowski said last summer the package should stay in the All-Star Race and opined using it consistently would push the best drivers in the world away from NASCAR.
Gordon understands the grumbling, but his No. 22 team appears to be approaching the package with more of an open mind, viewing it as an opportunity to use to their advantage.
“Anytime that we’ve made a package change we’ve made racing better for a while,” Gordon said. “When we went to low downforce — I remember this going back to Kentucky — we went to low downforce and the groove went to the wall. I mean, we were four lanes wide at Kentucky because our cars didn’t handle well. Anytime we make a change not everybody gets the common solution, so you have differences in the cars. I think when we do that you’ll have cars that are good in certain ways and not good in other ways, and when we have that, we have more passing because different cars have strengths in different places.”
Gordon then referenced the ’18 season finale at Homestead. While Logano came out on top, Gordon noted there were two different strategies at play which produced a great race because it forced Logano and Martin Truex Jr. to pass each other. Logano had a short-run car while Truex had a long-run car.
“I think the new package will put people in different scenarios of how they balance out the pluses and minuses of having all the downforce or taking the drag out of the car, which will put cars in situations where they’re going to pass each other,” Gordon said. “I feel like we’ll have more passing and more opportunity to make an impact on what’s going on.
“Yeah, there’s grumbling about it because there’s always fear of the unknown — I think human beings inherently are fearful of the unknown and this is a change. But for what we can do racing wise, I think there’s an opportunity for this to be really exciting.”
Getting back to trying to be back-to-back champions, Gordon echoed what Logano said earlier in the week about being focused forward. The No. 22 team has been business as usual in its preparations, the egos no more inflated than they were before winning the championship. To Gordon and company, Homestead was just another race win.
“I hate to say it that way, and the cool part to me — and I think Joey would say the same thing and even to the race team — the month of November to December, it became consuming a little bit,” Gordon said. “Obviously, great problems to have, the responsibilities that go with it. But Roger [Penske] is big about looking out the front windshield, not in the rearview mirror. The score is zero [to] zero. We all have the same points right now, and we just have to go execute and do our thing.
“We love to race, and at the end of the day at Homestead, it wasn’t a championship, it was another race. It was cool to win a race. On stage it wasn’t that big a deal — the cool part on stage was the realization that Roger Penske goes into the Hall of Fame as the current Cup owner champion. That was a pretty awesome feeling, but the championship didn’t settle in until Vegas. But we’re at the point now we’re just back to racing.”