Blaney eager to move forward with new crew chief Hassler

Ryan Blaney doesn’t have a deep history with Jonathan Hassler but knew enough for Hassler to be on the list of candidates to assume crew chief duties on Blaney’s team next season. Blaney had a say in who would succeed Todd Gordon and admitted Sunday morning at Talladega Superspeedway he’s happy with the decision to make Hassler that guy and work with him going forward.

“There was a handful of options out there that we were considering … and he was one of the guys,” Blaney said.

It was in a meeting with team owner Roger Penske, Austin Cindric — who takes over the No. 2 Ford Mustang next year — and executive vice president Walt Czarnecki that Hassler was mentioned as a possibility for Blaney’s crew in 2022. Cindric inherits Brad Keselowski’s car and team, led by Jeremy Bullins. Paul Wolfe and Joey Logano remain together, and it came down to needing a leader for Blaney.

The meeting took place around when Hassler took over as crew chief of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford with Matt DiBenedetto, which was in early June before the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway. While DiBenedetto missed the playoffs, the team has seen improvement under Hassler.

“I was interested to see how he did, and I think he’s done a great job on that 21 car and talking to all those guys over there and the Wood Brothers; they really like him,” Blaney said. “I’ve known Jonathan for years — he’s been at Penske for a while — but you don’t have that personal relationship with another engineer on another team.

“But we sat down and talked about all these different things from racing to outside of racing, of good qualities, bad qualities, what do you like, don’t like. He and I got along really well. I think his performance at the track is really showing, and I really like him as a person as well, and his personality is great too.”

Jonathan Hassler will transfer over from the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing squad, whose performance he helped improve in the second half of this year. Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images

Hassler is a long-time Penske engineer, but he and Blaney never previously crossed paths in an extended way before. When Blaney was in the Xfinity Series, Hassler never worked on that car. Then Hassler went from being an engineer on Keselowski’s car to Logano’s car and now working with the Wood Brothers.

“He kind of crew chiefed that test I did at Texas for the Next Gen car,” Blaney said of the May test. “It was cool to kind of work with him and hear him on the radio, how his vocabulary is. You kind of get a flow for somebody, so that was nice to work with him in that test.”

The ’22 season will be Blaney’s seventh full year in the NASCAR Cup Series. He’s worked with Gordon for two years.

Next year will be Hassler’s first full season as a crew chief. Hassler served as an interim crew chief with Joey Logano earlier this year at Dover and finished fifth. In 15 races, to date, with DiBenedetto, the duo has five top-10 finishes.