Joey Logano captures first Cup Series title
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
When Joey Logano was coming up through the racing ranks winning Bandolero and Legends races with ease long before he was old enough to legally drive on the highway, he was tagged with the nickname “Sliced Bread” — as in “the best thing since …”
But when he landed in the Cup Series in 2008 at the age of 18, and was quickly put in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing car that had been recently vacated by veteran Tony Stewart, he was unable to live up to the lofty — and, many felt, unrealistic — expectations.
After four full seasons with just two race victories and a best finish of 16th in the standings, he was shuffled aside at JGR to make room for Matt Kenseth.
On the recommendation of Brad Keselowski, team owner Roger Penske hired Logano and built the No. 22 team around the youngster, whom many had already written off at that point. Paired from the beginning with crew chief Todd Gordon, Logano blossomed into a major force on the Cup circuit.
His win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday night — a victory that delivered his first Cup championship — was his 19th since joining Penske and the fifth time he’d finished eighth or better in the final standings.
Logano’s late-race charge to the championship was typical of the way he’s been at his best when so much was at stake. In fact, just to be in the Championship 4 at Homestead, Logano had to pull off an aggressive bump-and-run on Martin Truex Jr. on the final turn of the Oct. 28 race at Martinsville Speedway.
At Homestead, the race — and the championship — boiled down to a 15-lap shootout set up by a spin by Daniel Suarez that brought out the race’s final caution flag. The four championship contenders — Logano, Truex, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch — restarted on the first two rows.
Logano lined up beside Truex on the front row and lost the lead to him initially. But a daring pass to the outside with 12 laps remaining gave Logano a lead he would never relinquish. He simply drove away from Truex, Harvick and Busch — the “Big Three” drivers of the 2018 season — to win by 1.725 seconds over the runner-up Truex.
Penske said Logano’s late charge at Homestead was one of those situations where Logano is at his best.
“When it’s time to go, he’s the guy,” Penske said. “To me, I couldn’t ask for a better result and a guy that delivers it for the whole team.”
Crew chief Gordon seconded Penske’s comments: “You give [Logano] that opportunity of ‘Here it is — it’s right in front of you,’ he steps up to another level.”
Logano said in his winner’s interview that his maturing into an aggressive, successful driver is actually a harkening back to his earliest racing days.
“I just feel like I’m back to where I was growing up,” he said. “As the kid growing up, I was an aggressive racer, and I was able to win a lot of races.”
Then came the struggles. But he was able to use those dark days to his advantage.
“The opportunity to make mistakes is one of the best things that can ever happen to you,” he said. “I made a lot of mistakes … things I shouldn’t say or whatever it was, but there are no regrets, either, because that’s formed me into the man I am today. And if it wasn’t for each and every one of those mistakes, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, and I wouldn’t have the people around me, either, that have surrounded me.”
He said those tough times, especially at the end of his Gibbs tenure, were tougher than he admitted at the time.
“That was a pretty low point for me,” Logano said. “I was thinking about, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m not going to be a race car driver anymore and what am I going to do with my life, and this is awful,’ and next thing you know, there’s the 22 car and Roger Penske and Todd Gordon and an amazing race team all the way through that wants you to drive.
“Like I say, God works in some mysterious ways sometimes, and it just really worked out for me.”
Photo Caption: Joey Logano hoists the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway.Courtesy of Ford Performance