In the lead-up to Sunday’s season-ending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, driver Joey Logano referred to the four remaining championship contenders as “the big three and me.”
In the darkness of the South Florida swamps, it was a tear-soaked “me” hoisting the big, silver championship trophy in victory lane at the 1.5-mile oval following the Ford EcoBoost 400. The season championship was Logano’s first after 363 starts. The Team Penske driver led a race-best 80 laps in getting it. His margin of victory was 1.7 seconds.
“We did it,” he said. “We won the championship. I can’t believe it. I don’t even know what to say.”
The Big Three – as past champions Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were dubbed after piling up 20 victories in 2018 between them – headed out of Homestead with finishes of second, third and fourth, respectively. In victory lane, the 28-year-old Logano, from Middletown, Conn., was asked if he really thought he was the underdog.
“No,” he said. “We proved why we’re not. This is the favorite.”
Of his emotions, he said that on his way to the checkered flag on the last lap there was “just a lot of screamin’. Lot of screamin’. I think I pulled a muscle.
“We’re champions,” he reminded himself afterward, “NASCAR champions.”
Logano’s winning move came with 12 laps to go when he passed defending race and Cup champion Truex for the lead. From there, he sprinted to the easy win. All of the Championship 4 drivers led laps and all had shots at the win and title, but Logano was the one shedding tears of joy.
Truex, whose Furniture Row Racing team will shut down operations after the season, was asked about getting out of his No. 78 Toyota for the last time.
“Not sure yet,” he said, fighting back tears. “Going to miss these guys. Wish we could have won it.”
“They made me a superstar in NASCAR,” he said of FRR.
Harvick, winner of eight races in 2018 in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, said, “We just got loose as the night went on.”
“It’s been a great year. We just got beat tonight.”
Busch, whose team struggled with getting his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota right, was calm afterward.
“Not at all what we wanted. Not what we expected either,” Busch said. “Didn’t have the feel in the race car I wanted.
“Just not good enough on the night that mattered the most,” the winner of eight races this season said. “We finished fourth. Last of the (Championship 4) guys.”
Notable season-ending facts:
–Jimmie Johnson went an entire season without winning a race for the first time since become a full-time Cup driver in 2002. The seven-time champ and crew chief Chad Knaus will part ways after the season, as was previously announced.
–Denny Hamlin also failed to win a race for the first time since he became a full-timer in 2006.
–The race started a bit late, for two reasons. First, a parachuter participating in pre-race ceremonies got his chute tangled on the front stretch catch fence and it took a while to get him down from the fence. Then, an oil leak on a car starting near the back of the field brought out track workers.
–Among the non-Championship 4 drivers, Brad Keselowski led the way with a fifth-place finish. He was followed, in order, by Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch.