As Todd Gordon bids farewell to Team Penske and NASCAR, he does so knowing the No. 12 team is in good hands and has plenty left to accomplish.
“This group, they’re great. They’re phenomenal,” Gordon told RACER through The Racing Writer’s Podcast. “I’m really proud of getting this group together and just watching them be as successful as they can be, and be the people they are. They’re all great, and they mesh really well.”
While Gordon only worked with Ryan Blaney for two seasons, the team has been together for quite a while. They were formerly the No. 22 under Gordon’s guidance, which won the 2018 championship with Joey Logano. But they became the No. 12 team for Blaney going into the 2020 season when Roger Penske swapped the crews for each driver.
With Gordon retiring after 11 years at Penske and 23 years in the sport, Jonathan Hassler takes the reins.
“Jonathan Hassler is going to jump into a situation here where he has a group that has a lot of chemistry and comradery, and they don’t have to learn each other,” continued Gordon. “He’s got to learn them, and they’ve got to learn him, but Ryan and all the guys, they should just be able to continue forward. I think Jonathan has done a good job here. He’s been here longer than I have at Team Penske, so he’s been in the mix and knows all the people, knows all the personalities, and I feel good about where this 12 team is.”
Gordon and Blaney clicked from the beginning. Openness between the two was key, as Blaney laid out for Gordon on day one what his weaknesses were, and what he needed help improving.
“Controlling emotion was number one on his list, and that he could get excited in a race and that could get him sidetracked,” Gordon said. “You saw the evolution of that through the last 72 races. He had good pace, but we’d get in situations, and you’d start to see us come unraveled, and then he’d gather it back up. I think part of that is just creating the environment. Josh Williams does a great job as he spotter with him, and Josh and I (talked) back and forth about how to kind of help him through that at times, and it’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t need to.”
Having a calm voice on the radio was important. Blaney could pop off, but a lap later was back focused. Another part of the growth was Blaney understanding the importance of not to getting caught up in the current lap, but seeing the bigger and longer picture.
“Atlanta, he said it there at the end,” Gordon said of the race on March 21. “(Blaney) said, ‘I can’t run with him [Kyle Larson] right now, I’m going to take care of my stuff,’ and he let the five car go and didn’t burn up the tires trying to chase him down. And knew that 25 laps into the run, he was going to have the pace to go run him back down and trusted in that and had enough mental bandwidth to process that and say, OK, I’m not going to do that because I know 25 laps from now I can go ahead and run him down, and that’s essentially what he ended up doing.”
In two seasons together, the Gordon and Blaney pairing won four races and made the playoffs twice. This past year, Blaney went to the Round of 8 in the championship and had the chance to advance into the Championship 4 going into the elimination race at Martinsville Speedway. An 11th-place finish ultimately wasn’t enough to make it happen.
But with Gordon, Blaney had a career year in 2021. He won multiple races for the first time in a single season, and tied his career-best finish at seventh in points. Gordon and Blaney needed their run together – and Gordon’s time in NASCAR – with a fourth-place finish in the finale at Phoenix Raceway.
“I told everybody in the team meeting on the hauler on Sunday that I know we’re not racing for a championship, but I know you will, and I know you’ll win one,” Gordon said. “I think Ryan’s got that in him; I think he’s not at his 100 percent potential yet. And that’s the really exciting part of it is that I got to watch him grow through some of it. You see that coming in him.
“I feel very confident that Ryan will win a championship, and it’ll come in the next four or five years.”
The full interview with Gordon can be heard below: