After a hard-fought victory at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, Joey Logano now has one last race standing between him and his first Sprint Cup Series championship.
Oh, and three other drivers who want it just as badly.
For Logano, however, this will not be his first time in this situation. NASCAR announced an elimination-style Chase format in 2014 and Logano made it all the way to the Championship 4 in Homestead. An issue with the jack stand on the final pitstop prevented him from winning the championship. In 2015, Logano won a season-high six races, but didn’t make it to the finale, in large part because of a spat between he and Matt Kenseth.
Now, he has a chance to redeem both of those seasons next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a race for the title against Carl Edwards, defending champion Kyle Busch, and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
“I don’t think I can put it into words,” Logano said post-race. “I’m still excited about it. I’m still yelling and screaming down in victory lane. This isn’t just a race. This is a championship. We raced today like it was Homestead because we had to, and what an amazing feeling to be able to succeed under that amount of pressure and to have a race team that is truly better under pressure. I couldn’t be
more proud of that, and to have the opportunity to have the pressure on us.”
For a while, it looked like Logano wasn’t going to make it. While the No. 22 car had great short-run speed, the car had a tendency to fade over the course of a long green flag run. As the race wound to a close, Logano was losing ground and losing positions, and was in jeopardy of missing out on a chance for the championship.
However, a late-race caution, restart, subsequent caution, and overtime restart allowed Logano to obtain the lead and drive to the victory for his third race win of the season.
Logano’s Homestead statistics are iffy. He has finished in the top 10 in two of the last three races and led 72 laps last season. However, those laps are the only laps he’s ever led at Homestead and all of his other finishes at the track are 14th or worse.
With that said, this team has been extremely strong the last few weeks and Logano feels the victory will really help the team with their confidence level heading into the season finale.
“We’ve got momentum,” Logano continued. “There’s a lot of excitement. It gives you that feeling, I remember when we got through a couple years ago to Miami, and I remember standing out here, and I think we finished third or fourth that day, and I was like, you know, I wasn’t as excited. I was immediately nervous right after the race here. This is not that feeling. This is that feeling that, hey, we’ve got confidence. I know we can do it. It wasn’t the, I don’t feel like it’s a long shot like it was last time. It was my first time there, I’m racing for a championship, oh, my God, what’s going to happen. This time I feel like we’ve been here before. We’ve been in these situations.”
Logano also believes that having the experience of being in this situation before will help him next weekend.
“Yeah, sometimes you’ve just got to live through things once” he said. “And then after the race, everyone told me, you’ve got to lose one to win one, and I thought that was the biggest crock of crap I’ve ever heard in my life, but you know what, it’s not the fact that you have to lose one to win one, it’s the fact that maybe it really helped me to just live through it once, and since then, we’ve been in those situations. We raced today for a championship. We raced in Talladega for a championship. We’ve done this before.”
“After Homestead was the first time we ever had to do that,” Logano continued. “You think about the way that Chase went, you know, we’ve won races in each round, where we never really had our back against the wall or anything. These last few years we’ve been in the position that we’ve had our back up against the wall and had to win, and we’ve been able to do that this year a couple times, so it’s really cool.”
With the four in the championship race, it might be difficult to label Logano as the favorite. At the same time, given their performance over the last few weeks, it would be foolish to bet against them. With his win at Phoenix, he has now won two of the last four races. The
two races in between – Martinsville and Texas – he finished ninth and second, respectively, leading the most laps at Texas before the rain was called because of weather.
Now that’s not to say that Edwards, Johnson, and Busch haven’t been strong as of late either. All four have had very impressive numbers in recent weeks, so no one really has a clear cut advantage.
Even so, no one can argue that Logano hasn’t been championship bound the last two seasons. The circumstances just haven’t worked out. That’s just how it goes in racing. For the days between now and Homestead, it’s all about staying focused, keeping your eye on the prize, but also about making sure to relish the opportunity.
“Well, I know they have a heck of a media tour, so being home is probably not going to be part of it by the time I get home tonight,” said Logano. “I’ll get some sleep and some rest for sure, but I make sure we enjoy this moment, and I’ve got to be able to still have a life outside of this. It’s an amazing opportunity, yes, but you can also stress yourself out and be whipped before the race starts. My wife Brittany helps me a lot with that. She’s more happy go lucky than I am, so we have some fun together, and we’ll be able to enjoy this week.”
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