Todd Warshaw | Getty Images
Todd Warshaw | Getty Images

Going out on top: Crew chief Todd Gordon stokes Cup title hopes in final season

It’s been nearly two months since Todd Gordon announced that he would soon step away from his role as crew chief for Team Penske’s No. 12 Ford and driver Ryan Blaney. There’s an 11-race runway before that move becomes official at season’s end, and all indications are that Gordon won’t coast into that career sunset.

Gordon gathered up his second NASCAR Cup Series win of the season with Blaney on Sunday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway, providing some pre-playoffs momentum for the No. 12 team and fulfilling a point of emphasis for Ford, not far from the automaker’s hub in Detroit.

RELATED: Blaney best at Michigan | Cup Series standings

No less than Edsel Ford II delivered that message personally to Blaney & Co. on Sunday. But in addition to the customary Blue Oval pep talk, Ford mentioned another goal. “We need to get Todd one more win here in Michigan before he leaves,” Blaney recalled Henry Ford’s great-grandson saying. “Last chance to do it.”

Sunday’s Michigan victory in the FireKeepers Casino 400 would rank as quite the send-off for Gordon on its own. But the 51-year-old crew chief says he wants more from his final year on the pit box, now presented with the ideal scenario to leave his role on top.

“Ideally, Ryan has talked about this a little bit, but I want to go out a champion,” Gordon says. “We’ve got a lot of races left. We’ve got a lot of competition. I’m really comfortable with my decision. I don’t know where it will take me. There’s 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. 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.”

Relevant and competitive are bars that Gordon has cleared in all nine full-time seasons as a Cup Series crew chief. He’s won at least once every year since 2013, collecting 24 Cup victories in his time with Team Penske and hoisting the 2018 series championship with Joey Logano.

Gordon was first paired with Blaney as part of an organization-wide crew chief shake-up before the 2020 season, but routine driver-crew chief communication was halted by the COVID-19 outbreak just four races into that campaign. No practice or qualifying meant that opportunities to collaborate during a race weekend were reduced, a development that Blaney called “bittersweet.”

That said, Blaney has still called his experience with Gordon, “a ton of fun. He has showed me a lot of different things about race cars, kind of has widened my knowledge of everything.

“Wish him the best that’s for sure next year, but we’ve got a job to do this year — sending him out with a bang. Nice win today. Hopefully we can get a few more wins and be able to bring home the big one at the end of the year. Be a pretty big send-off for Todd. Hopefully we can do that for him.”

The coronavirus stoppage threw the NASCAR industry into transition, and Gordon shifted from spending more time at the track or at the race shop to having more time with family at home. The break prompted him to reassess his life’s priorities. Both of his daughters were back home, and he reconnected with his parents, who used to take a motorhome from track to track to follow their son’s travels. It’s what fed his decision to announce June 28 that he’d hang up his headset after the season.

“I want to spend some time with my family. I wanted to have more time to do that,” Gordon said. “I know my own competitive nature, I need to actually make the commitment to step away to slow things down and make time to do the other things that I want to do. That’s pretty much most of where this is coming from.”

Even as he continues to add victories to his career portfolio, Gordon maintains there’s not a lingering itch to stay in his current role. He said Sunday that he’d surely miss the camaraderie that comes with being a part of team owner Roger Penske’s organization and the sense of community from being at the track each week, but that also he has the rare chance to step aside on his own terms.

Should the next 11 races play out favorably, those terms might include a second Cup Series championship.

“I’ve got the greatest boss in the world, greatest opportunity in the world,” Gordon said. “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.”