Logano wins at Homestead to claim NASCAR title

NASCAR

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Joey Logano proved that NASCAR’s playoff system is about performance late in the year, as he turned a one-win regular season into his first career NASCAR Cup Series title.

Logano, who was fifth in the regular-season standings, capped a strong playoff run with two wins in the last four races, including capturing the victory Sunday in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I told you we weren’t (an underdog) and showed you why we were not,” said Logano, who had declared himself the favorite a week ago. “We were the favorite like I told you before the race started.”

The Team Penske driver took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. with 12 laps remaining for his first win at a 1.5-mile track since an October 2015 victory at Kansas Speedway. He outlasted the three other championship contenders, who finished 2-3-4. Truex placed second, Kevin Harvick finished third and Kyle Busch was fourth.

“I am so proud of everybody for rising to the occasion. We executed down the stretch like nobody’s business. … I can’t believe it,” Logano said. “I don’t know what to say. This team, (owner) Roger Penske, (crew chief) Todd Gordon, the pit crew. Oh my God.

“They gave me the car I needed at the end to do my job, put me in position to do my job. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The championship race changed complexion with 20 laps remaining when Daniel Suarez spun following contact with Brad Keselowski.

Busch, who had not been in contention all day because of issues on pit road, was the leader because he had opted not to pit under green when the leaders pitted. Busch’s only chance to win the title was to stay out, get track position, and hope the caution would come out before he ran out of fuel.

That happened with the Keselowski-Suarez contact, and following pit stops, Busch retained the lead, with Truex second, Logano third and Harvick fourth.

The race resumed with 15 laps remaining. Truex took the lead on the restart, but Logano blew by him a few laps later.

Logano didn’t have the consistently strong season of the other championship contenders, as he entered the finale with 12 top-5 finishes, the fewest among them. But he has been on the brink all year, proved by his 25 top-10 finishes in the 35 previous races.

But he had four top-5s and seven top-10s in the first nine playoff races, and his win at Martinsville to open the third round gave his team two extra weeks to prepare knowing it was in the championship event.

It was at that race at Martinsville where he executed a bump-and-run on Truex to capture the win. While viewed by Truex and others as potentially overaggressive, Logano has raced in that style for several years, especially after struggling in his four seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He moved to Team Penske in 2013 and soon found a place where he could thrive. The 28-year-old had made two previous championship appearances, finishing fourth in 2014 and second in 2016.

The championship capped a comeback from a year ago when Logano didn’t make the playoffs and finished 17th — the best of the non-playoff drivers — in the standings.

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