Todd Gordon was one of the first voices over the radio after Ryan Blaney took the checkered flag Sunday at Michigan. From atop the No.12 pit box, the Team Penske crew chief thanked his driver for doing what he asked.
“Got me a trophy here. Thank you,” said Gordon.
This victory speech differed from other Sundays when a driver has risen to the occasion, or answered the call after a pep talk before a late-race restart. You know, the ones where a team tells their driver there is no-one else they want behind the wheel, or that it’s their race to win. In this case, Gordon was thankful for at least one more NASCAR Cup Series trophy before the season ends when he hangs up the headset.
Gordon announced in June he is going to step away from the crew chief role after this season. During the COVID-19 shutdown last year, Gordon got to spend more time than usual with his family and realized he wanted more of that.
“I know (with) my own competitive nature that I need to actually make the commitment to step away to slow things down and make time to do the other things I want to do,” Gordon said after the win. “That’s pretty much most of where this is coming from. Roger [Penske] asked me, ‘You’re going to go work in racing?’ I told him, if I’m going to work in racing, I’m going to work at Team Penske.
“I’ve got the greatest boss in the world and greatest opportunity in the world. I’m walking away from this because I want to make time for other things. It’s been a great run, and I’d like to see what the next chapter of my life brings.”
NASCAR has one of the longest seasons in professional sports at 38 race weekends going from February to November. It requires long hours in the race shop during the week and then being at the racetrack on the weekend. Gordon acknowledges that it’s rough, but it’s also a passion.
Gordon has had great support through his wife, Amy. He credits her for being rock solid and said she “basically raised our kids on her own” because of Gordon’s schedule. Now 51 years old, Gordon has put in 23 years in the NASCAR garage, and 10 of those have been at the Cup Series level.
“Yeah, it’s a grind, but any professional sport is a grind if you talk to those guys,” Gordon said. “I’ve had a great run at it, and I’m sure I’ll miss some of it, but I’m looking forward to some time to do the things I want to do with the family as well.”
Blaney revealed before the race that Edsel Ford II came up to him and said they needed to get Gordon one more win in Michigan. Blaney hadn’t seen Ford in over a year, and knew how important it was to have Ford at the race and deliver for Gordon before the end of the year.
“That was cool,” Blaney said.
Gordon is in the top tier of active Cup Series crew chiefs. Sunday was the fourth time he’s guided a driver to victory lane at Michigan, and he has 24 career wins in 10 full seasons. Among those wins are the Daytona 500 (2015) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (2018) that won him and Joey Logano the championship.
Active crew chiefs with more wins than Gordon are Rodney Childers (38), Paul Wolfe (33), Alan Gustafson (33), and Adam Stevens (29).
Gordon was paired with Blaney last season, and they’ve delivered three wins together. Michigan is the second of the season, and moves them to fifth on the playoff grid.
“I’ve had a lot of fun working with Todd,” said Blaney. “It’s a shame we only have 11 more races together. I wish him the best, obviously. He’s been in the sport for a long time, but it’s been a blast. But it’s also kind of been bittersweet, because we got a month of normal season together last year, then COVID (and) just showing up and racing. It was hard to really work together and really get to know your crew chief, as opposed to having practice days and qualifying and getting to work hours and hours with them at the racetrack.
“It’s been a ton of fun. He has shown me many different things about race cars, and kind of has widened my knowledge of everything. I wish him the best, but we got a job to do this year and (that’s) sending him out with a bang.”
Gordon wants the ideal sendoff: a championship.
“We got a lot of races left,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of competition. I’m really comfortable with my decision, and I don’t know where it will take me. There are things that I can do. Heck, I can spend a year at my house just working on home projects.
“I’m comfortable with where I’m going to go. I’ve had a great career, and I do want to go out while I’m still relevant and still competitive. I want to pick my time, and this is it. I think it’s time for family, but it’s still great to win races. It’s a blessing and an opportunity that I’ll cherish for the next 11, and hopefully, we can get a couple more of these. And a championship.”