Joey Logano wasn’t part of the so-called “Big Three” entering the championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway on Nov. 18, yet he emerged from the fray with his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Much like Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham and the Rainbow Warriors in the mid-1990s, Logano did so with an air of confidence and a simple motto: Refuse to lose.
Logano initially showcased that mantra during the first race of the Round of 8, bumping his way past Martin Truex Jr. in the final corner at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway to lock up a spot in the Championship 4.
He wasn’t content to sit behind Truex that day, and he wasn’t content to follow him on finale day, either.
With 12 laps remaining in the last race of the season, Logano drove his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford deeper into turns one and two than anyone had all day, allowing him to pass Truex and secure a career-defining victory.
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The Championship 4 drivers — Logano, Truex, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch — finished first through fourth in the event.
Logano climbed from his car jubilant, but he faced the media with grace and perspective that many doubted he possessed.
“When you put yourself in high-pressure situations, you get more out of yourself than you ever knew was there, and I think that move at the end of the race showed it,” said Logano. “It’s simple, you refuse to lose. You really do, because I know how much it hurts to finish second and I didn’t want to again.
“As far as I was concerned, we didn’t have a reason to not feel confident. We really didn’t,” he added. “We’ve executed under high-pressure situations before, and we’ve been here before and done a great job. My pit crew was incredible. I had everyone around me. I just had to go do my job. The hard part was over. Plus, all you guys thought we were the underdog. I didn’t think that, but most everyone else did. Who knows? Maybe someone won some money in Vegas.”
Logano’s championship moment was more than two years in the making. The journey began in the latter stages of the 2015 season, when he got into Matt Kenseth at Kansas Speedway in a widely publicized incident that led to Kenseth intentionally wrecking Logano at Martinsville later in the playoffs.
Logano missed the Championship 4 that season, but he vowed to come back stronger the following year and did so, making the final race at Homestead, but finished second to Jimmie Johnson.
In 2017, Logano had one of the worst years of his career, winning once at Richmond (Va.) Raceway and missing the playoffs because that victory was encumbered by penalty, meaning Logano couldn’t use it for automatic advancement into the postseason.[caption id="attachment_283747" align="alignleft" width="300"] Joey Logano hoists the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (NASCAR Photo)[/caption]
This year, he went from the outhouse to the penthouse.
“That’s crazy, isn’t it?” Logano quipped. “Last year, we had a very challenging year, and there was a lot of lessons we needed to learn and we were just — we got stubborn and stuck in our ways, and we felt like this is what worked because we almost won the championship the year before and we were the fastest car down here, we should have won and all this stuff, and then you go to the next season and you get spanked. We had to take a step back and say, ‘OK, we kind of need to think things over.’
“The rebound started maybe about four or five races before the playoffs last year and it’s been a slow but steady climb back to now the top. It’s just so crazy to think about,” he continued. “We dropped like an elevator and we took the flight of stairs back up to the top, man. To be able to do that … fighting together with the whole race team — not just the two of us but all the way through — it’s something to where you make a little gain here, a little gain here and a little gain there and all of a sudden, we’re champions the next year. What a fight.”
Logano won only once during the regular season but went on a tear when it mattered most.
He won twice during the playoffs, at Martinsville and Homestead, and posted the best average finish of the 16 drivers that made up this year’s playoff field at 8.6. Take out his crash at Arizona’s ISM Raceway that resulted in a 37th-place finish and Logano’s average through the other nine races was an astounding 5.44.
“That’s what the playoffs are about, right?” said Logano. “It happens in all sports. You have to be able to race for wins when it’s most important. We had to. We didn’t have anything to fall back on. We had to go, and we did and look where we’re at now.”