PHOENIX – When Todd Gordon woke up Monday morning (Nov. 1), the main thought on his mind wasn’t on his last race as a NASCAR crew chief.
It was on the “disappointment” that he and the rest of Ryan Blaney‘s No. 12 Team Penske crew weren’t able to advance out of the Round of 8 in the Playoffs.
“But that’s past,” Gordon told Frontstretch Saturday in the Phoenix Raceway garage. “You can’t do anything about what happened there. [I’m] looking forward to having one more great run.”
That last run for Gordon comes today at Phoenix Raceway, site of Championship 4 weekend.
It comes 23 years after Gordon and his wife moved from upstate New York to North Carolina in November 1998 to pursue his NASCAR dreams.
The start of that dream was a one-off with Lance Hooper’s Busch Series car at Daytona. It wasn’t the best beginning. Hooper failed to make the race.
But Gordon “hung around” for the weekend to experience the garage area.
His path truly started in 1999 when he latched onto Phil Parson’s Busch Series team, working on the No. 10 Alltel car.
“I walked in an engineer and a racer and all the things that I could do mechanically and technically, and [Parsons] asked me if a broom could fit in my hand,” Gordon recalled. “I said, ‘Sure,’ so started cleaning the shop.”
Six years later, his crew chief career began with ppc Racing, a team owned by Greg Pollex (father of Sherry Pollex).
As the next six years went by, Gordon was “really content” with his time in NASCAR’s secondary series despite never winning a race.
“Part of it was I got Sundays at home with my family,” Gordon explained.
But an opportunity arose in 2010 at Team Penske to work on the team’s No. 22 Discount Tire car in what had become the Nationwide Series. (The equivalent of the modern-day Xfinity Series)).
“You get moments and you have to make the best of the moments and figure out what the path is,” Gordon said.
That moment came during the interview process when Michael Nelson, the team’s vice president of operations and a fellow Clemson graduate, presented him a “very pointed question.”
“Why haven’t you ever aspired to Cup?”
It was a loaded moment for Gordon.
“You have to think about how you answer that question,” Gordon said. “You got about a second-and-a-half to formulate your answer. … It could dictate your future.”
If he said he didn’t want to go Cup, “you may not get the opportunity again.”
Gordon replied the right opportunity hadn’t come up.
“I don’t regret the answer at all.”
As he speaks outside the No. 12 team’s hauler, Gordon’s attention is grabbed by a fan standing nearby holding two diecasts, hoping Gordon will sign them.
Could the young man who was handed a broom by Phil Parsons in 1999 ever have imagined he’d one day be getting autograph requests?
Gordon smiles and shakes his head.
“No, probably not.”
It could be argued Gordon’s answer back in 2010 led to many big moments that created that small one.
Over the last decade, Gordon claimed 32 NASCAR victories. He won the Daytona 500 in 2015 with Joey Logano. Three years later, he led the No. 22 crew to Team Penske’s second Cup Series title.
This year, he led Blaney to his breakout season in Cup with four wins and a spot in the Round of 8.
Amidst that success, Gordon decided it was time to get back to his family.
In June, Team Penske announced 2021 would be his final year.
“It was a great ride,” Gordon said, “But when you looked at it, it was seven days a week, solidly six and a lot of times seven. So I won’t miss that I have to make the sacrifices with the family. And I’m looking forward to that. I’ve got a daughter, who’s a junior at Clemson. And I’ve got a daughter in high school. And I’m looking forward to having more fun with those those guys.”
Aside from family, he’s excited about one another aspect of the next chapter of his life.
He gets to be a car guy again.
“You’re a manager at this level, you’re not a car guy,” Gordon observed. “I’ve got a couple car projects. I’m kind of a car guy. I’ve restored a little bit of everything. I got a ’65 Mercury Comet that’s undergoing a drive train implant at this point. I restored a car for my parents, I restored a car for my in-laws. I built a car for my daughter. And I’m going to need to get rid of my company car. So I’m going to build one for myself, too. I enjoy that, I enjoy kind of getting down to the shop and working on things myself.”
But before he gets to be a car guy once more, he has to cross the finish line in Phoenix.
His last Sunday on the job will start in a good place.
In his last qualifying session as a crew chief, Blaney qualified fourth.
What did Gordon plan to say to his team before his final race as their leader?
“I’ll talk from the heart,” Gordon said. “I don’t have anything put down in writing, because you don’t formulate those things. You just talk real and that’s the biggest thing is, I think you just have to be real.”
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.
You can email him at email@example.com.
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