Joey Logano wins NASCAR Cup Series championship

Joey Logano wins NASCAR Cup Series championship

November 18th, 2018 by Associated Press in Breaking News

Joey Logano drives during Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Joey Logano raced into NASCAR anointed as its next star. He was 18, dubbed "Sliced Bread" because of all the hype — and in way over his head.

It made Logano an easy target on and off the track and threatened his career. Logano was out of a job five years after he arrived but was given a second chance by Roger Penske, one of the titans of motorsports.

Now he's part of Penske's storied history as NASCAR's newest Cup Series champion.

The underdog on paper but the favorite in his mind, Logano busted up the Big Three and won an improbable first NASCAR title by soundly beating the trio of former champions who had dominated this season. Logano won the 2018 finale Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to grab the Cup Series title after a season in which he barely contended until the playoffs began.

The year was dominated by 2015 Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, 2014 winner Kevin Harvick and 2017 title-holder Martin Truex Jr., with Logano calling the four-drive championship field "The Big Three and Me."

But Logano kicked it into another gear during the playoffs, with two victories and eight top-10 finishes in the postseason. He led a race-high 80 laps on Sunday, but the title was slipping away in the waning laps until Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski spun Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez for a race-changing caution.

Logano was fourth on the restart with 15 laps remaining but powered his way alongside leader Truex, used a strong move in the outside lane three laps later to take over the top spot, then pulled away to win.

"We were the favorite. We executed down the stretch like nobody's business," Logano said of his team. "I knew we had a short-run car. I said it before the race started that if it was anything longer than 25 laps, we were going to be in trouble. That showed all day. But it came down to the short run, and we are champions. NASCAR champions."

Logano won the title in his 10th season at NASCAR's top level, six years after Penske rescued him from the unemployment line. He started with Joe Gibbs Racing as a teenager, made his debut days after his 18th birthday and was pushed into the Cup Series prematurely when Gibbs needed a replacement driver for Tony Stewart.

When Logano didn't deliver for Gibbs, he was grabbed by Penske, who won his first Cup Series title in 2012 with Keselowski, the driver who pushed for Logano to be hired as his new teammate.

"I think when it's time to go, he's the guy," Penske said. "I couldn't ask for a better result and a guy that delivers it for the whole team."

Gibbs, who watched his former driver beat current driver Busch for the title, was pleased for Logano.

"I think it's great for them and Joey," Gibbs said. "Great kid, great family. I'm sure he's going to make a great champion."

Logano's title closes a banner year for Penske. The 81-year-old team owner was elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, won the Indianapolis 500 for a record 17th time and celebrated Team Penske's 500th victory as an organization.

"Every time I think about how we succeed and how we can be better, one thing is 'What's your brand?'" Penske said. "This kind of winning, not only on the race track but in business, drives a great Penske brand."

Team Penske also has been the cornerstone for Ford the past six seasons, and Logano gave the manufacturer its first Cup Series title since 2004.

NASCAR's final weekend concluded with three new champions from three different teams representing all three manufacturers. Brett Moffitt won the Camping World Truck Series title in a Toyota for Hattori Racing, Tyler Reddick won the Xfinity Series title in a Chevrolet for JR Motorsports and Ford finally got a title on what is officially called "Ford Championship Weekend." The manufacturer sponsors all three series finales.

Logano screamed so hard when he crossed the finish line that he later joked he thought he pulled a muscle. Then he explained how far he has come from a kid in Connecticut who showed so much talent so young that Hall of Famer Mark Martin stamped him NASCAR's next superstar when Logano was around 15 years old.

Now he's 28, a 10-year veteran at NASCAR's top level and a champion in the second act of his career.

"I'm the kid who every single time I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said 'A NASCAR champion.' I said it every single time," Logano said. "Not a lot of kids in Connecticut say that."

Truex finished second in his final race with Furniture Row Racing. The team is closing because it lost its primary sponsor midway through Truex's championship reign.

"It's a tough way to lose," Truex said. "I had nothing for him at the end. That's just the way it goes. I don't know what else to say. It hurts a little, and I'm going to miss all of the guys."

Harvick was third and Busch fourth as the title contenders followed each other across the finish line.

"We weren't even close," said Busch, who used strategy to keep up with the other title contenders.

"We were so bad tonight on the race track and on pit road that nothing was kind of going our way. So it was just not all there the way that we needed it to be, and sometimes it all falls into place and falls your way, and other times you've got to be able to go out there and go earn it, and we didn't have either."

In fact, Busch's crew had one of its worst races of the year on pit road as the front-tire changer had hiccups on two stops. It negated any advantage Busch gained Saturday when team owner Gibbs forced pole-position winner Denny Hamlin, a JGR driver, not to take the first pit stall and leave it open so Busch would have an easier exit back on the track. But Busch lost six positions during one stop, four in another, and his team had to gamble on strategy to stay in contention.

It was Busch who said losing the title would be most disappointing if it went to Logano because Logano wasn't in the same league as the Big Three all season. But Logano was adamant he was the favorite, in part because he wasn't even supposed to make the final four after just one regular-season victory.

Busch and Harvick ended the season with eight wins each, while Truex had four.

"Lots of wins," Busch said. "Forget about it now, move on."

The title is redemption for Logano, who could have washed out of the sport when Gibbs cut him from the team. But he reinvented himself under Penske and became comfortable as an aggressive driver, even when it cost him.

Logano was the favorite to win the 2015 title but missed the finale because a feud with Matt Kenseth cost him on the track. He was the championship runner-up in 2016, but a penalty kept his No. 22 out of last season's playoffs.

This season, Logano had to move Truex out of his way in the final turn at Martinsville Speedway last month to earn his championship berth in the last race. Logano was criticized for his aggressiveness, and Truex promised he'd prevent Logano from winning the Cup Series title, but Logano insisted he made the necessary move to win a championship.

And in the final 15-lap shootout to the finish, Logano simply drove around the outside of Truex and pulled away. If Truex had any intention of stopping Logano, he had to catch him first.

He couldn't and finished 1.725 seconds behind.

Logano's third win of 2018 came at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the champion has won the race to win the title since this format was introduced in 2014. He's NASCAR's 33rd champion but the first from Connecticut.

Team Penske also won the owners' championship.