Sunday, August 23, 2015

Right Sides Only: Irwin Tools Night Race Winning Crew Chief, Todd Gordon

Apparently, the nighttime is the right time for Team Penske. Led by crew chief, Todd Gordon, and driver, Joey Logano, the No. 22 team picked up their second consecutive night race win at Bristol Motor Speedway when they picked up the checkered flag at the Irwin Tools Night Race on Saturday.

There are certain tracks where drivers excel, especially after they've previously conquered there. Thunder Valley is one of those places for Gordon and Logano.


Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
"This is one of those racetracks that once a driver and a team figures out what they need to be successful, you can focus on that, and in practice we weren't necessarily the fastest car here, but we had pretty good speed, and we had the right balance, and that's something that we build off of and felt like in happy hour we really hit on something. We didn't qualify on the pole but we had a flat tire in our first session, so I thought that was a really good recovery for the guys -- have a right rear going down and figure out how to get through the round to get another tire on -- and a fifth-place qualifying effort was an accomplishment for the team and what they did. Pretty proud of everybody there and pretty proud of the execution tonight. 

"To be successful here takes the complete package, and there's several opportunities to make mistakes, and if you execute, you can be successful," Gordon said.

Part of that complete package is working well with teammates, and the Penske pair of Logano and Keselowski does that part exceedingly well.

"Both of our drivers challenge each other. I think when you look at our setups, we build off each other.  I think to the point of it is Team Penske. We share a lot of information between the two teams, and when you've got two teams attacking it and two drivers like we've got, Brad and Joey are both phenomenal race car drivers, and they challenge each other but constructively. I think that's a key to our success, and here it's something we all work together for a common goal. Last year we were 1-2, and tonight we were 1-2 for a while. Didn't end up being that way. But we all work together, we understand what it takes to be successful here, and we work on it," Gordon explained.

Logano, just 25, has matured as a driver, and with this win, his third of the season, is becoming a driver who's now recognized for his long-term potential. Does Gordon believe that Saturday night's performance was the best win of Logano's career to-date?

"He performed flawlessly. Best race he's ever driven? I don't know, Daytona was pretty phenomenal. But it was a typical Joey Logano performance. As I said in Victory Lane, I'll put the analogy to basketball, but there's only certain a handful of guys that want to have the ball in their hands with three seconds left on the shot clock, and Joey is that guy. When it comes down to the time to make it happen, he elevates, doesn't make mistakes. I think Kevin challenged us pretty formidably, and Joey never folded, never made a mistake and did what he had to do and executed, and that's a Joey Logano performance. I don't know that I'd call it his best performance. He's had a bunch of really good ones," Gordon said.

Despite the team's affinity for Bristol, the track still has some traits that make driving a flawless race next to impossible.

"This place itself is rough on wheels. It's just a place that you've got so much lateral load in the car and there's so much drive and brake, it's 500 laps, of a lot of load on especially the rear wheels, so you'll see -- if you're going to have a weakness, if you're borderline on having wheels torqued every week, it's going to show up here. You've got a lot of gear in the car and you've got a lot of acceleration, a lot of deceleration, a lot of lateral load.  It's a really, really high lateral load place with all of the banking that's in the corners and running right up there in the grip strip up there at the wall.
            
Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
"I'm sure that the lug nut rule has a slight impact on that, but I'd say there's a bigger impact of this racetrack is just rough on rear wheels," Gordon explained.
 
Throughout the race, some drivers had more solid long runs than short runs and vice versa. Since every driver basically had similar, if not the same, tire compounds, what was Gordon's insight for how well different drivers performed?
 
"I think it's air pressure and tires, it's camber settings and tires as to what you're doing making short-run speed versus long-run speed. I think how your splitter is off the racetrack. When you see tires build up through -- you look at these cars and the rotors are glowing in them, and glowing rotors are 1,300 - 1,400 degrees, so there's a big heat source in the middle of it, which builds the tire pressure up a bunch. As the tires build up, then the whole ride height of the car comes up, and if the splitter is on the racetrack, it makes them tight. So there may be guys that early in the run they're on the splitter and they just can't turn the way they need to make speed, but as the tires build up from the rotor heat and just from the grip heat, that splitter comes up and gets to a happy spot and then their car works. You'll see that. That's stuff we all work on as race teams as to how we feel the race strategy will play out to long runs and short runs of whether you want to be good in the short run or good in the long run. I felt like the Gibbs cars were a little quicker than we were firing off, but about 50 laps in we could run them back down, and we just -- I feel like there's several pieces there we had different philosophies on," Gordon revealed.
 
With both Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing having performed so well over the past several weeks, their drivers are poised for incredible match-ups in the weeks to come. Hang on tight, fans. It's gonna be a wild ride.

----------------------------

   Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    Her other interests include country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.

3 comments :