After 23 years, Todd Gordon shifts focus from racing to family



AVONDALE, Ariz.—Todd Gordon packed his Penske suitcase for the last time—although, with the return of a somewhat normal three-day race weekend at Phoenix Raceway, his bags were a little heavier than normal.

Soon, there will be more weight to shed.

After more than two decades of missing special moments and many a weekend with his family, the self-described “girl dad” will hang up his radio and headset at the end of the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race on Sunday.

“My girls are both juniors, one in college, one in high school,” Gordon said. “And I’ve been racing 23 years. That’s all of their lives. When you look at it, I think the whole Covid pandemic opened a lot of people’s eyes—I know it opened mine to how focused I was on work. Having time at home was really enjoyable.

“You realize the things you’ve missed, and I’ve had a great career. I’ve had a wonderful career. It’s been awesome, but I’m ready for a different chapter in my life. I don’t know what that chapter is going to be, but I’m going to take some time off.”

For more than two decades, Gordon, 51, has endured the NASCAR grind while wife Amy raised their daughters. From testing in January to the Playoffs in November—the longest schedule in professional sports—a career in motorsports takes commitment.

And Gordon gave it his all, first from the driver’s seat to earning an engineering degree at Clemson University, then applying those tools to as a team engineer and eventually a crew chief.

After Gordon spent six seasons in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, team owner Roger Penske chose him to oversee AJ Allmendinger’s Cup program in 2012. The following season, Penske recruited Joey Logano, then 22. Under Gordon’s tutelage, the pair won 21 races and the 2018 title.

“I got to play a little bit of dad with Joey, which was kind of cool,” Gordon said with a smile. “I’ve got girls, so it gave me a boy.”

Gordon remained with the No. 22 team until Team Penske shuffled the crew chief deck for the 2020 season. For the last two years, he has led Ryan Blaney and the No. 12 squad. The 28-year-old racer has blossomed through Gordon’s guidance.

“Being Todd’s last year before he hangs it up is kind of bittersweet,” Blaney said. “I’m happy for him to start that next chapter of his life, but I hate to see him go. It’s been fun to work with a guy like Todd. I wish it had been a little bit longer than two years, but it’s been fun sticking with him the last couple of years—or him sticking with me, I should say. But getting the wins was pretty cool.”

Blaney has enjoyed a three-win season, the best of his seven-year career. The most memorable win of their season came at Michigan—with Edsel Ford, the Godfather of Ford Performance, in attendance. Although the No. 12 team showed tremendous potential in the offseason, a few ill-timed accidents took Blaney out of contention for Sunday’s Champion 4 round.

Still, Blaney will be forever grateful for the lessons learned from Gordon.

“He just approaches things differently,” Blaney said. “I worked with Jeremy Bullins during my whole Cup career. He was a rookie Cup crew chief at the time. I was rookie Cup driver. We were really learning things together. When I got with Todd, he’s been through it for many more years than Jeremy. He had won a championship. Everyone has different ways of approaching everything, and me as a young driver, I enjoy working with Todd, someone who acts like a huge veteran in the sport.

“He’s very calm and docile and it’s good for me to get calmed down by him if I get wound up. I thought that connection was good. We called it resetting. He would reset me, tell me to forget about it and move on. That’s helped me a lot mentally. I think it’s made me a better race car driver, talking to him and how he approaches car set up and how I adapt to drive it. It’s all just a big learning process—and that’s good for your whole future.”

The veteran crew chief believes the key is providing drivers with an environment they can succeed in, but that’s his job. Over his last 10 years on the Cup side at Penske, Gordon has amassed 25 wins and qualified for the Playoffs in eight of the last nine years and advanced to the Championship 4 round three times.

Gordon has lent his expertise to the Morning Drive on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel. On Monday mornings, Gordon would break down the race weekend and offer analysis and insight to upcoming races. Growing up with parents who were educators, Gordon is a natural when breaking down the details. He’s become a valuable resource for both the media and the fans.

“The reason I did the Sirius deal was I thought I owed it to the fan base,” Gordon said. “Anything I could do to help the fan base understand and get a deeper picture into what our sport is, only makes our sport stronger. Without them, we don’t get to do this. I like the opportunity to share.”

For now, his future is open-ended. After winning the title with Logano in 2018, Amy suggested he pursue his love of flying. So he obtained his pilot’s license, purchased a plane and even flew the family to Phoenix last year.

“I’m an instrument pilot, I’m not commercially rated yet—that will happen soon,” Gordon said. “I’ve flown to 18 races this year.”

Spending holidays with the family ranks near the top—including his parents, who used to drive Gordon’s motorcoach. Although he thought they might move closer to him one day, Gordon realizes now it might be the other way around, particularly since his father is living with Parkinson’s. His oldest daughter, a political science major at Clemson, is studying abroad next year, and Gordon would like to visit her during that experience.

Over the last week at the Team Penske complex in Mooresville, Gordon did his best to stick to a routine and “try to be real” as he helped prepare cars and work on race strategy for the final time. Instead of catching a ride on the team plane, Gordon flew out to Phoenix with a friend but really didn’t take time to reflect on what he was leaving behind.

“It didn’t bother me, it completely didn’t bother me,” Gordon said. “I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I really, truly believe that this is the right call. I’ll miss the people. I’ve had the pleasure of working with so many great people through all my years. I’ll miss the guys. But I’m looking forward to what I can do.”

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