Raise your hand if you had Joey Logano beating them all in the winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to earn his first career Cup championship…yeah, didn’t think anybody did.
The Connecticut native was able to secure his spot in the 400-mile South Beach clash thanks to his triumph at NASCAR’s oldest venue, Martinsville Speedway, in the Round of 8. As we know now, that win helped change the narrative of the season, and in turn produce a champion.
What if Truex roughed Logano up a little more in those last 10 laps battling for the win? What if Denny Hamlin was able to get to the gas a half second sooner and steal the win away? What if Truex’s promise of Logano “(not) winning the damn war” actually came to fruition?
We’ll never know, but numbers don’t lie, and one can infer that if Logano wasn’t able to earn his then second win of the season at the paperclip, the No. 22 wouldn’t even be racing for a championship in Miami.
The No. 22 had a third-place result at Texas the following weekend, but a 37th-place result in Phoenix in the penultimate race of the season proves that the No. 22 team probably wouldn’t have advanced. Especially when you factor in Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola‘s great runs at ISM Raceway, it’s more than conceivable that a different Ford would be in the Championship 4.
We know what happened, how it happened and what ultimately occurred at seasons end. But what did that day and Logano’s win mean in the grand scheme of things for the sport?
In short, it furthermore harped on the importance of winning, something the sanctioning body hammered when this ~new~ playoff format was announced ahead of 2014.
That year’s champion, Harvick, won five times, including the season finale. That tied his career-high for wins in a season. The year after, Kyle Busch won five races (including the finale) after missing the first 11 due to a broken leg. In total, Rowdy won an astounding 20 percent of the races he was in. TWENTY! Winning = important.
Fast forward to 2016 and Jimmie Johnson was crowned as the champ for the series-tying seventh time. He won five times as well, including the season finale. 2017 was the year of MTJ, as the No. 78 won eight times, smashing his previous career high. And you guessed it, he won the season finale.
Which brings us to 2018. Logano won three times, short of his career-high six in 2015. In some cases, it’s quality over quantity, and this past season was one of those cases for the 28-year-old.
He won when it mattered (once in the regular season, once to vault himself into the Championship 4 and the final time with everything on the line at Homestead-Miami Speedway). Above all else, this just accentuated the obvious.
Winning means everything.
Winning in the regular season earns you a playoff spot. Winning in the playoffs automatically advances you to the next round. Winning in the final race, when it counts, has yielded a championship for the past five seasons.
At the risk of being kicked off my makeshift soapbox by the traditionalists and long-time fans of this sport, the days of consistently pointing your way to a Cup championship are over. Long gone.
You can partially thank millennials and their short attention span and want to have everything amplified for that (but I recently discovered I’m technically “Gen Z” so don’t come at me). But you can also thank Matt Kenseth for his 2003 championship season.
He won once — ONCE — throughout the entirety of the 36-race schedule, but scored 11 top fives and 25 top-10 finishes on his way to the title, the last season-long triumph for Roush Fenway Racing at the sport’s top level.
Back then, a driver couldn’t gain adequate momentum to advance through the postseason because there wasn’t one.
Bottom line: if anybody kept Logano from Victory Lane at Martinsville, it’s more than likely he wouldn’t be champion. But he went out and snatched the win from his competition, putting himself in a position to ultimately capitalize and win it all.
So the saying goes … “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”