Categories
News

Joey Logano leads Ford armada in Michigan Cup qualifying

BROOKLYN, Mich. – The Ford drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series apparently took the words of Edsel Ford II to heart.

At a dinner with Ford drivers on Thursday night, the member of the Ford Motor Company board of directors emphasized the importance of putting a Mustang in Victory Lane after Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

On Saturday morning at the 2-mile track, Joey Logano took the first step toward fulfilling the mission outlined by the Henry Ford’s great-grandson. Taking a racing line that differed from that of his competitors, Logano covered the distance in 38.474 seconds (187.139 mph) to win the pole position for Sunday’s race.

In winning his second Busch Pole Award of the season, his fourth at Michigan and the 22nd of his career, Logano led five Fords into the top six in time trials, edging Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola (187.047 mph) for the top starting spot by .019 seconds.

Logano demolished the rest of the field through Turn 3 and 4, entering the corner on the high side, arcing to the bottom in the center of the corner and getting off the bottom sooner than almost every other driver.

How did Logano develop the line he ran?

“I just got lucky—it was all luck,” Logano quipped. “Of course, we all work at things. We all try to figure things out and try to take an advantage when you have it. It’s always short-lived, but today we were able to take advantage of a lot of things and be able to have a fast car.

“Our (No. 22) Shell/Pennzoil Ford definitely has speed in it, for sure, especially for one lap. Hopefully, that maintains throughout the race to where we can stay up there. That (No. 1) pit stall is going to help a lot. The first pit stall here is quite the advantage. It’s nice to have that, and hopefully, it keeps us up front and keeps us out of the big chaotic mess that I think is going to be toward the middle of the pack.”

But did the lap go according to plan.

“It was all luck,” Logano joked again. “Of course, it’s planned—I drive the car. I’m still the driver. At least it went where I told it to go.

That part really helped a lot.”

Almirola was the only other driver to crack the 38.50-second mark. His teammate, Kevin Harvick was third in 38.522 seconds (186.906 mph). Denny Hamlin qualified fourth in the fastest Toyota, followed by the Fords of Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard. Kurt Busch was seventh in the quickest Chevrolet.

“I’ve heard everybody else talk about Edsel’s message to us Thursday night at dinner,” Almirola said. “That was really cool to get to go and experience that…

“That’s the (fifth) front-row for our team this year, the 10 team, and only one pole. That’s frustrating to get that close to getting a pole that often and only have one pole. We seem to always get beat just by a little bit by somebody different every time.

“I feel like our car is really fast. We have a really fast Smithfield Ford Mustang. All the Fords are really fast. I think eight of the (top) 10 are Ford. This is definitely Ford country, and we’re excited to go try and get a Ford to Victory Lane.”

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

While short tracks have been the rave for NASCAR fans, Richmond Raceway is missing the mark by a bit.

No doubt the Toyota Owners 400 will be called a success by many in the coming weeks, but that is solely based on the race to the checkered.

Martin Truex Jr. proved that he was talented in helping grow Furniture Row Racing from the small team in Colorado to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions. Though on Saturday night, he showcased his grit behind the wheel. Despite not having the strongest car, he was able to hold off the late charges from Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano to take the victory. Both were able to close the gap to the back bumper of the No. 19 Toyota – thanks to the leader having to weave through traffic, but Truex altering his line to match his competitors and not allow the racing room necessary proved to be enough. 

It is still a shock to many fans to learn that this is the New Jersey’s native first ever win on a short track in the premiere series, but that is indeed the case. It hasn’t been for lack of effort, as he led the most laps in his previous three starts on the 0.75-mile, and he was ready to win at Martinsville Speedway last fall until contact from Logano.

Outside of the battle for the win, there was nothing real special about Saturday in Virginia.

Although the restarts were wild with three-wide racing at times, the field would string out with difficulty for drivers to make passes on each other. Kyle Busch showed that as after speeding on pit road in the second stage, he only fought back for a eighth-place finish compared to running top-five before the penalty. 

There was also the same usual suspects up front with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), Team Penske, and Stewart-Haas Racing sweeping the top-five positions. 

The struggles also continued for Hendrick Motorsports (HMS), as they only had a driver in the top-10 for about 50 laps in the event with Jimmie Johnson scoring the highest finish in 12th. Chevrolet, though, showed promise with speed. Chris Buescher ran top-10 through the first half of the race before finishing 22nd, while Austin Dillon knocked out a sixth.

The Easter Bunny brings a week without racing for teams, and certainly some need this more than others to improve their programs.

The return to racing will bring us to Talladega Superspeedway, with anything and everything is possible as manufactures and teams dance. The Daytona 500 showcased this with an alliance between JGR and HMS to challenge Ford, but was also bored fans with multiple laps spent single-file. The trip to Alabama typically produces a crazier race than the season opener, so fingers crossed there’s entertainment on the horizon.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway

After a quiet start to the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Martinsville Speedway was predicted as the place to see some spark created. Uh, that’s not quite what happened.

From the green flag to the checkered, the STP 500 was one of the tamest short track races for the Cup Series with no cautions caused due to drivers being spun around, and no notable feuds set to build for weeks to come. Sure, there was some contact and it certainly ruined Erik Jones‘ day with a flat tire, but every tap or bump was minor. 

However, that is not to take away from the excitement as there was side-by-side racing around the paperclip all race long, with drivers battling for multiple laps for positions. There was also some close calls that easily could’ve created the spark we were looking for, too. Compared to the previous races this season, it still ranks as one of the better races thus far – but that also doesn’t say much.

Perhaps the spark missing was a real close battle for the victory at the end, or a challenge for the lead. Instead, Brad Keselowski dominated in pacing 446 of the 500 laps en route to the win. It just continues to prove where Team Penske has their program this year, marking their third victory following Joey Logano‘s Daytona 500, and Keselowski at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The success for Keselowski marks no surprise as he has always been strong at Martinsville, scoring 13 top-10’s in 19 starts. On top of his two trips to victory lane, he could’ve easily won a couple other times if not for contact mid-race, including with Matt Kenseth in 2015. As a whole, Team Penske has proven to be masters of the paperclip as Logano led the field to the green flag, and won last fall in dramatic fashion after pacing 309 laps to lock himself in the Championship 4.

If they continue the trend through the first six races this year, they could place themselves as the team to beat – but they’re not quite there yet. Both of them admitted at Auto Club Speedway that Kyle Busch has Joe Gibbs Racing’s on a different level at the intermediates, knowing that he was going to get by them eventually for the win as he did. Busch was fast once again, scoring a third-place finish, still allowing him to be the only driver to finish all six races in 2019 in the top-five.

On the flip side, Hendrick Motorsports has struggled thus far this year, but we won’t need to hear about how they have no top-five finishes recorded in 2019 anymore. Chase Elliott ran in the top-three all race long, pacing 49 laps, en route to a runner-up finish. 

Elliott was satisfied with the balance of his Chevrolet all day long, as the No. 9 team made no adjustments on each pit stop per the driver reporting, “It’s not perfect, but it’s too close to change.” He also began to make ground on Keselowski in the final five laps by using the second lane, but ultimately ran out of time.

As he stated, he could have possibly tried to run that line a couple laps earlier and then maybe would’ve had a chance to race Keselowski for the victory. However, there is risk vs. reward with that as at the time with 10 or even eight laps to go, Busch was right there ready to pounce. What if he tries the lane and finds himself passed, or turned around backwards? The window of opportunity only opened by Busch getting hung up with a lap car for a bit.

Now, everybody is left wondering what could have possibly been. Damned if you don’t, damned if you do right?

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

After seeing fans and drivers contest the lack of passing and exciting racing on the intermediate tracks, NASCAR implemented a higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package. There were some positives, but it certainly did not deliver to the expectations touted before the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Through testing in January, pack racing was evident with the drivers unable to get away from each other through a 20-lap run. As a result, the restarts were predicted to be chaotic, and they certainly were. Drivers were three-wide around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway as they got runs on each other virtue of the air being disturbed by the new high rear spoiler. 

You also had the ability to pass back and forth over the course of  a run, with drivers making their way forward as much as they went backwards. Kyle Busch made his way back up to third despite a pit road speeding penalty in the second stage, while Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski swapped the top spot back and forth. There was also a battle between Busch and Logano in stage two for first, as well. 

However, drivers having to rely on other cars to get runs and draft with fellow competitors really doesn’t constitute to what “true racing” is supposed to be in saying everybody go as hard as they can with their own equipment. That is where the package has it’s biggest downfall with several drivers and fans.

“The cars don’t have any speed,” Busch said post-race. “You’re wide open just trying to suck off of any car that you can that’s in front of you to get a draft. I was running 31-flats when I was chasing those leaders down and then once I got there, I stalled out to 31.40s because the wind was just so bad behind those guys that you couldn’t corner anymore, you couldn’t maneuver. I couldn’t run low if they ran low and I couldn’t run high if they ran high so you’re always trying to figure out which way to go.”

Frankly, those battles were great to watch, but they don’t make up for the rest of the run.

The further you got into a run, the more spread out the cars got and essentially, you were stuck watching everybody run single file – and it happened only 15 laps into a run for the first stage, compared to 20 like testing. The second and third restarts would see the field stay closer for a longer period of time, thanks to everybody being held by the leader playing the strategy card – Keselowski taking two tires to start stage two, while Kurt Busch stayed out in the final stage.

You can see the idea of keeping the cars closer together falling apart when you see less than 20 cars on the lead lap. The drivers were even bored with Clint Bowyer telling his team that it was “pretty boring” and taking them for a lap by leaving the radio on for a full lap, letting the engine noise play, without any crack in the throttle.

Anybody remember the days of having to watch the drivers battle against the handling of the cars, cracking the gas at times due to sliding sideways? Darrell Waltrip touting “the cars are more driveable at this speed,” doesn’t make the fans feel any better when the racing puts them to sleep. 

The new package also showed the more things change, the more things stay the same as the familiar races reigned at the front of the field. The Big Three from last year (Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch), along with 2018 series champion Logano spent the day in the top-five, now joined by Logano’s teammate.

The ideology that the new package would allow some of the smaller teams to mix it up at the front was lost today, too. 

NASCAR on Fox’s TV Coverage has been a constant topic of discussion, and not in the lightest way possible. On top of fans criticizing Michael Waltrip‘s “Grid Walk” segment for the goofiness and the commentary heard from the booth, they need to be reminded about how to show a race properly.

As the leaders spread out single-file 15 to 20 laps into a run, they chose to focus on them and talk about drivers individually. Why not show “zoo-like” back half of the field that Aric Almirola described to give us some entertainment?

Additionally, they also chose to take three commercial breaks in the first 40 laps, and missed the first batch of leaders heading in for green flag pit stops. They also showed advertisements, rather than the three-way battle for first that was shaping up. 

If NASCAR ever wants to make the package more exciting to watch, they need to consult with their broadcast partners in showcasing what they are doing. 

Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson were both touted early for their speed and ability, with thoughts of them being in the discussion for the victory. Unfortunately, they were both handed a pit road penalty that they were unable to overcome.

For Larson, it marks the second straight week in a row that he has seen his run fooled by something happened on pit road. He showed the speed last year to contend for victories and be part of the Championship 4, though saw his playoff chances folded by engine failures. He needs to find some consistency if he is even going to dream of making a run this year.

Kyle Busch was also fooled by a pit road penalty, caught speeding as previously mentioned. While he overcame loose wheels in both the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series to win, he was only able to get back to third today. 

NASCAR may have gotten the officiating right in the race per the rulebook, but that doesn’t mean they are not insane in the process. Larson and Dillon were both penalizing for “having too many men over the wall.” The additional crew member didn’t service the car, nor they did step on pit road. Essentially, they reached over to help retrieve the tires as they were being rolled over to the wall and touched the ground. 

There’s one thing to make rules for safety, and another for fair competition. Then there’s insanity, which is what this is. Essentially, if I slip my footing a little and touch the ground, my team is screwed? That seems a little harsh.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Logano wins at Las Vegas; Team Penske goes 1-2

LAS VEGAS – It was a victory for Joey Logano.

It was a victory for Team Penske.

It was a victory for NASCAR’s new higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package, which debuted in full flower Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In a pitched battle between teammates, Logano held off Brad Keselowski on the final lap of the Pennzoil 400 to score the second straight victory for Team Penske and the second straight for the new Ford Mustang, which was introduced into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this year.

Pennzoil sponsored both the race and Logano’s car.

“I said we’re going to do donuts on that giant infield logo after the race, and we were able to do it,” said Logano, who won for the first time this season, the first time at Las Vegas and the 22nd time in his career.

“What a great race. Brad and I were so evenly matched, and you just can’t drive away (with the lead). In the last five or six laps, Brad was catching me so quick, and I got stuck behind a lapped car. Man, it was so close. Lots of fun – my heart’s still running hard.”

Keselowski, who won last week at Atlanta, had a huge run through Turns 3 and 4 on the final lap, but Logano was able to clear his teammate off the final corner – with inches to spare – straighten his No. 22 Ford and head for the checkered flag.

“Yeah, I figured he’d run up against the wall there, and he made up more ground than I thought he would,” Logano said. “He made such a good run and I just barely cleared him there at the end.

“Team Penske going 1-2 shows the kind of speed we’ve got this season.”

On Lap 240 of 267 in a race whose only two cautions were the breaks between stages, Keselowski passed Logano in traffic to take the lead. Four laps later, Logano returned the favor and held the top spot the rest of the way.

“It was a good battle,” Keselowski said. “We were both running really hard on the top. It seemed to come down to what the lapped cars were going to do. The lapped cars screwed the leader, and the second-place guy got a really good run.

“It happened over and over again. First, Joey got hosed by a lapped car, and I got by him. Then I got hosed by a lapped car, and he got by me. But it was definitely a good event.”

In the end, the event came down to the final few laps, with Keselowski trimming Logano’s lead from just over a second to next-to-nothing with two laps left. Keselowski’s last-ditch try through the final two corners came up just short. The driver of the No. 2 Ford would have liked one more lap to settle the issue.

“I’d sure like to find out,” Keselowski said. “I passed Joey with the lapped traffic there and caught a break there, and then lapped traffic cost me the lead to Joey and he pulled a good slide job (off Turn 4 on the final lap).

“I tried to pull it back, and I was just a touch too nice to him.”

Kyle Busch recovered from a pit road speeding penalty to run third, his chances to make the final run a three-way fight for the win ending when he ran afoul of traffic on the final three laps. Pole winner Kevin Harvick dominated the first stage, but the handling of his No. 4 Ford deteriorated in the second half of the race, as it had done last week at Atlanta. He finished fourth.

Kurt Busch parlayed a divergent pit strategy into a fifth-place run. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin completed the top 10.

Logano led 86 laps, second only to Harvick’s 88. With the race running green except for the stage breaks, 18 cars finished on the lead lap.

The new competition package kept the racing closer at the front and more fluid within the pack. The event produced 47 green-flag passes for the lead versus nine in last year’s race. All told, there were 19 lead changes at the completion of laps as opposed to 11 in 2018.

Seventeen drivers each accounted for more than 100 green-flag passes, according to NASCAR’s loop data.

Categories
News

Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano lead Ford sweeps of Daytona Duel qualifiers

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Straight-line speed in qualifying is one thing. Speed and drivability in the draft is something quite different, as the Ford camp proved decisively in Thursday night’s Gander RV Duel at Daytona 150-mile qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway.

Kevin Harvick led the last 44 laps on Thursday night to win the first Duel and secure the third starting spot in Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano captured the second Duel in much more dramatic fashion, charging from fourth to first on the final lap to beat Clint Bowyer to the finish line by .126 seconds.

With a late pass of Tyler Reddick, who was already locked into for the Daytona 500 based on qualifying speed, Parker Kligerman earned the transfer spot into Sunday’s race with a 12th-place finish in the first Duel.

Brendan Gaughan grabbed the transfer position in the caution-free second Duel by finishing 15th, ahead of the Open cars of Casey Mears (who was already locked into the 500 on speed) and Joey Gase.

In Duel No. 1, Harvick finished .165 seconds ahead of fellow Ford driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who edged Paul Menard at the line for the runner-up position. Matt DiBenedetto ran fourth, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace.

Aric Almirola ran third in the second Duel behind his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, giving Ford drivers the top three positions in each of the Duels in the debut year of the Mustang in Cup racing—a far cry from Sunday’s time trials, where Chevrolets posted the five best laps in single-car runs.

With two Mustangs behind him, Harvick didn’t expect any outlandish moves in the closing laps of Duel 1.

“I’m just glad we finally came out on the right side of this, and everything’s not tore up,” said Harvick, who had finished fourth, third and second in his previous three Daytona qualifying races.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

The Duel victory was the first for Logano, who won the Daytona 500 in 2015. As the laps wound down, he was planning his move and got an assist from Team Penske teammate and drafting partner Ryan Blaney.

“You have the whole race to think about making a move, and we were all out there just waiting,” Logano said. “Everyone behind me really wanted to go, and I just knew that I had to wait. The later you can do it, the less the risk if it doesn’t work. I got a good run from the 12 (Blaney) behind me and went to the bottom and got a good run.

“Was able to side-draft the 10 (Almirola) and pull him back and just barely get enough to break that plane in front of the 14 and clear him up. From there I was just blocking to the finish. My spotter, TJ (Majors), did a great job feeding me all the information I needed to make a decision. We had a really fast Shell Pennzoil Mustang.

“It’s cool to see a couple Mustangs in Victory Lane already. I hope it continues for the big race on Sunday. Great start for our race team. Off we go.”

Bowyer led 41 laps. Logano led one—the one that counted.

A two-time Duel victor, and the winner of the 2007 Daytona 500, Harvick will start third in Sunday’s race, with Stenhouse behind him in fifth and Menard in seventh. Logano claimed the fourth starting position with his victory. Bowyer will take the green in sixth, Almirola in eighth.

Neither Stenhouse nor Menard could mount an effective challenge against Harvick in the closing laps of the first Duel.

“I spent the last 25 laps trying to figure out exactly what I was going to do,” Stenhouse said. “I think Paul was trying the same thing behind me. Paul would get a run on me out of the tri-oval. I felt like I’d get a run on Kevin out of the back straightaway. The 21 (Menard) wasn’t close enough to us, so I couldn’t make a move. Felt like I’d get stalled out.

“Tried to back my entry up to the tri-oval. I was going to try it going into (Turn) 1. Nothing really materialized there. Down the back straightaway, the 21 went to go to the inside. I thought about blocking him. I felt like I could at least finish second if we stayed on the top. I was really kind of hoping the 19 (Truex) would have a little bit better run to get to us, maybe push us up close to the 4 (Harvick). Just nothing really materialized.”

For his part, Harvick felt his car was strong enough to keep Stenhouse and Menard behind him.

“They were going to have to have a pretty big head of steam,” Harvick said. “They were going to fill those holes pretty quick. Unless they had a huge head of steam, they weren’t going to clear me without a whole line of cars, unless the whole line was going to bail on me, which is highly possible.

“But I doubt they would have done that. I think at that particular time, especially in the qualifying races, everybody wants to win, but they don’t want to tear up their cars either. You want to put as little work as possible on your team, get to the race on Sunday. There’s still points on the line and a trophy. You had to be on your toes. Our car was fast enough to guard. They got side by side. That just slowed everything down.”

In a three-wide situation on Lap 26—with Jimmie Johnson on the inside, Kyle Busch in the middle and Tyler Reddick on the outside—Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet moved up the track into the left rear quarter panel of Busch’s Toyota, sending Busch spinning into the infield to cause the 60-lap race’s only caution.

After pitting with a flat tire and exiting alone, Busch soon lost a lap and ultimately finished 18th. But he teamed in a two-car draft with Kligerman, a fellow Toyota driver, to make the crucial pass of Reddick.

“First of all, I have to thank Kyle Busch, us linking that TRD Toyota power together,” Kligerman said. “Without him, there’s no way I get by Reddick.”

Daytona 500 pole winner William Byron, who did not compete in last Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash, dropped to the back mid-race and used the final lap for a practice pit stop before coming home 16th—and preserving his car for the top starting spot in Sunday’s Great American Race.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series Nigel Kinrade Photography

Through the Eyes of NKP: 2018 MENCS Champion Joey Logano

With three victories and 13 top-five’s, Joey Logano put together a stellar season en route to being crowned the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion.

With the help of Nigel Kinrade Photography (NKP), led by veteran photographer, Nigel Kinrade, lets take a look back at the season that was for the Team Penske driver.

Nigel Kinrade | Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway
John Harrelson | First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway
Rusty Jarrett | Ticket Guardian 500 at ISM Raceway
Nigel Kinrade | GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
Matthew T. Thacker | Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Russell Labounty | Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway
Nigel Kinrade | 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
Matthew T. Thacker | Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway
Nigel Kinrade | Gander Outdoors 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
Matthew T. Thacker | Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Fierce Competition Makes Logano’s Championship More Impressive

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Joey Logano’s 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship will be remembered as one of the most impressive feats in history considering the strength of his competition.

This season’s headlines have been dominated by the historic performances from the big three drivers of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex JrAll three competitors put up record numbers over the course of 36 races.

Busch tied his career-high wins mark of eight set in 2008, scored 22 top-five’s, which is five more than ever before, and finished inside the top-10 28 times, beating his 2016 record of 25.

Harvick won eight events, three more than any other season in his career. He tied his 2015 record of 23 top-five finishes and 28 top-10’s marks the most in his NASCAR Cup Series tenure.

While 2017 remains Martin Truex Jr.’s banner year overall, he scored a career-high 20 top-five finishes in his final year behind the wheel for Furniture Row Racing.

Each driver accumulated a healthy amount of playoff points throughout the year as a result of this success and entered the playoffs as the favorites to make the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The only question that remained is who would join them to round out the field where ultimately, one race would decide which member of the big three would reign supreme. A victory at Martinsville meant they would face the assumed underdog, Logano.

It was not a record year for the No. 22 team as entering Homestead-Miami, they had two wins, 12 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes. All three statistics had been topped previously in Logano’s career in seasons that did not end with a title.

Additionally, intermediate tracks haven’t historically been Logano’s strong suit as his last mile-and-a-half win came in 2015 at Kansas Speedway.

In contrast, the big three won eight of the 11 intermediate races this season and captured three of the last four victories at Homestead-Miami entering Sunday, with those wins en route to the first and currently only championships for each driver. They had been in this situation before, faced the pressure, and left with the title.

This seemed to lend them the upper hand over Logano who had competed in the Championship 4 twice before but came up short each time.

While Logano emerged as a rising threat as the post-season progressed and self-titled himself the championship favorite at ISM Raceway, history and statistics were not on his side. However, the No. 22 crew overcame those challenges to capture Team Penske’s second title and the first for Ford since 2004 on Sunday.

The finale has not played favorites under this format as the fifth running featured a fifth different winner. While Logano may not have had the best season-long statistics, once in this race, it’s anybody’s game.

In a season that many predicted a big three champion, Logano outperforming three drivers putting up career numbers for the title is an upset story that will be remembered for years to come.  

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Whether or not Joey Logano is the driver you would’ve preferred to see as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion for 2018, you have to admit – the Ford EcoBoost 400 produced a fitting end to the season.

After traveling across the country since February, and going through three playoff rounds, the title was decided by all the Championship 4 running in the top-five throughout the event, and ending the race in the top-four positions. Over the course of the night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, none of them were easily able to run away from the field and stay there, with advantages being shined in each of their directions at one time or another. Everybody in the thick of the action, combined with pit road miscues and strategy, kept you guessing until the final laps.

Does it get any better than that?

It always seems in these races that you get a late caution, and Sunday night was no different. Todd Gordon put his money in the right spot with the No. 22 Ford’s set-up as Logano was fast on the short run, before fading after 20 laps. With only 15 circuits making up the final run to the checkered, it worked perfectly in their favor. Simply put, the move by Logano to get by Martin Truex Jr. was a thing of beauty, too. 

From there, it was game over as he drove away, taking the race victory and championship. Not bad for a driver that was written off near the beginning of his career due to a rough start.

Truex Jr. would close the doors on Furniture Row Racing with a runner-up, once again showcasing what was built by him and Cole Pearn together over the years. Kevin Harvick finished third after showing speed on the long run under the sun, while Kyle Busch rounded out the four-some after struggling with the car’s handling.

Although the caution came out to set up the final run to the checkered, there was drama brewing before then.

Busch was awaiting an incident to make his stop under the yellow flag and keep the track position, but ultimately that didn’t play out as he wasn’t strong on the restarts. So therefore, he would’ve fallen out of contention once pitting with 10 laps to go.

Though at the time, Harvick held a steady advantage over Truex which appeared to be shrinking. Would Truex had enough to catch Harvick? What would the final laps been like with them battling for the title and win?

Instead, there was an incident and we got the ending that played out, which wasn’t that bad either. Admittedly, there was some irony with the caution as a Team Penske driver (Brad Keselowski) spins a Gibbs driver (Daniel Suarez) which kept a Penske driver (Logano) and Gibbs (Busch) in the title running. However, going four-wide, contact was certainly inevitable.

The broadcast, by the way, was lacking just like the Camping World Truck Series on Friday night. The focus was on the Championship 4 all night, except when Kyle Larson was leading and a brief through the field. Being the season-ending race, the storylines that were missed are ultimately sickening. From Lowe’s final race with Jimmie Johnson, to Johnson and Knaus parting ways at season’s end, to the drivers stepping away from the sport that included Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, and A.J. Allmendinger. Thanks to Lowe’s, and those competitors – along with Kasey Kahne, for their contributions to the sport.

As for the rest of you, we look forward to seeing you once again in February at Daytona International Speedway.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Late charge gives Joey Logano Homestead victory and first Cup championship

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – On Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it was “The Big Three and Me” – with the “Me” being Joey Logano waging vehicular war against the three most prolific winners in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Now “Me” is a champion.

In a thrilling finish that featured all four Championship 4 drivers battling for the race victory and the title-and finishing 1-2-3-4 in the Ford EcoBoost 400-Logano charged past defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 256 of 267 and pulled away to win his first championship.

“Oh, my God, yes!” Logano screamed on his radio as his No. 22 Team Penske Ford flashed across the finish line 1.725 seconds ahead of Truex, establishing a handful of milestones in the process.

“We did it! We won the championship! I can’t believe it. I don’t know what to say. This team, (owner) Roger Penske, (crew chief) Todd Gordon, the pit crew. Oh, my God! They gave me the car I needed at the end to do my job. Put me in position to do my job. I couldn’t be more proud of them. We won the championship! Oh, my God!”

The victory was Logano’s third of the season, his first at the 1.5-mile track and the 21st of his career. With the win, he sealed the first manufacturer’s championship for Ford since 2002 and the first driver’s championship for the car maker since Kurt Busch won the first Playoffs in 2004.

It was the first title for the Ford Fusion. It was the last title for the Ford Fusion, which will be replaced by the Mustang in the Cup series next season. It was the second championship for Penske, who got his first in 2012 when Brad Keselowski beat Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson for the top prize in stock car racing.

Keselowski figured prominently in Sunday’s outcome, but not as a contender. With 21 laps left, Truex passed Logano for third place and took off in pursuit of eventual third-place finisher Kevin Harvick, who was running second at the time, with Kyle Busch holding the lead on old tires, hoping for a caution.

On Lap 247, Busch’s prayer was answered. Contact from Keselowski’s Ford sent the Toyota of Daniel Suarez spinning to cause the fifth caution of the race. That yellow flag changed everything. Busch got the caution he needed to get back into contention, and Logano got the chance he needed to win the championship.

Busch was first off pit road and led the field to green on Lap 253, but Truex surged past him in the first corner with Logano following into second place. Three laps later, Logano made a breathtaking charge into Turn 1 and sped around Truex to the outside. Game over.

“My car was really good on entry all day,” Logano said, in what may be the understatement of Ford Championship Weekend.

The victory was the culmination of week in which Logano had declared himself the favorite despite his total of two victories entering the race, compared with eight each for Harvick and Busch and four for Truex.

“We were the favorite, like I told you before the race started,” Logano said in Victory Lane. “I’m so proud of everybody for rising to the occasion. We executed down the stretch like nobody’s business.”

In his excitement after taking the checkered flag, Logano thought he had pulled a muscle, but the pain was well worth it.

“Man, I worked my whole life to get here,” Logano said. “To win a championship. We’ve been so close. It has been 10 seasons of fighting for this. I wasn’t sure we were going to get it, but Todd made a good adjustment at the end, and we had that no-quit attitude.”

Notes: Keselowski finished fifth behind Kyle Busch, the last of the four title contenders… Matt Kenseth ran sixth in his last trip in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford… Jimmie Johnson was 14th in his last race with crew chief Chad Knaus, ending a 17-year pairing that produced a record-tying seven championships… Driving the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet for the last time as a full-time driver, Jamie McMurray came home 18th, the last driver on the lead lap… AJ Allmendinger was 19th in his final ride in the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet… Suarez, who is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at season’s end, came home 30th after the Lap 247 wreck.