NASCAR & Auto Racing

Joey Logano’s NASCAR championship reminds us that, in the end, great teams take titles

Joey Logano wins NASCAR Monster Energy cup series championship

Joey Logan hoists the Monster Energy Cup Series trophy after winning the 20th Annual Ford EcoBoost 400 on Sunday, November 18, 2018.
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Joey Logan hoists the Monster Energy Cup Series trophy after winning the 20th Annual Ford EcoBoost 400 on Sunday, November 18, 2018.

It’s easy to forget -- and seems often forgotten -- in an era of “how much has HE won?” or “His record as a starter is,” but teams win titles, not individuals. Even in auto racing, where too many people often consider only the driver and the motorized inanimate object being driven.

Another November Sunday night in Homestead drove that home as surely as Connecticut native Joey Logano screamed in hsi helmet as he drove under the checkered flag. Logano celebrates his first NASCAR top series title after winning Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 because he and his Penske Racing team performed with the precision expected from anything carrying Roger Penske’s surname.

Roger Penske said on NBC afterwards, “It’s a team effort. This guy did it when it counted.”

Exactly. Overall, Logano didn’t dominate the other Championship Four -- 2017 series champion Martin Truex, Jr., 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick, 2015 series champion Kyle Busch -- from the driver’s seat. He just handled his role on the team.

Logano drove beautifully, unsheathing his daring with a swashbuckling late pass on Martin Truex, Jr. that teased physics by staying out of a spin. When the car left him late in each stint between pit stops, he held it together until the next pit stop. Each time -- except for the last time -- the crew sent Logano out with better track position.

And when they flubbed the last stop, they kept it to a minor flub instead of the calamitous fail that took Logano out of the 2014 Homestead race and the championship chase o the final stop. Sometimes, championship performance means minimizing not just the number of mistakes, but the size.

The theme of team ran through this year’s NASCAR Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Logano’s car carried the name of Dewayne Felkel, “One of our key guys who died in a car crash two weeks ago,” Penske said.

This was the last race weekend for seven-time NASCAR big series champion driver-crew chief team, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knauss. Friends Johnson and Knauss are getting a professional divorce after unparallelled success in an era otherwise marked by parity.

Johnson and Knauss’ won their last title in 2016, racing to victory after contenders Logano and Carl Edwards tangled late in the race. Though the wreck goes more on Edwards’ account, that still left a job unfinished in 2014 and 2016 for Logano’s team.

Logano’s crew chief Todd Gordon said, “We were in the hunt. We just didn’t completely cleanly execute.”

Team execution killed Busch Sunday. He qualified second and, by a canny smart decision of car owner Joe Gibbs Racing to have Busch teammate and pole-sitter Denny Hamlin take the fourth pit box, had the prime No. 1 pit box. That came in handy on the last stop on the yellow created by Brad Keselowski spinning Daniel Suarez.

But Truex and Logano gobbled Busch up almost before the green finished waving with 15 laps left, an appropriate denouement for Busch. Pit stops melted the M&M’s crew between Busch fighting a car that he lacked grip everywhere.

“We were so bad tonight on the race track and on pit road that nothing was kind of going our way,” Busch said.

Truex’s team ran out of time, both in a macro and micro way. Despite a championship season in 2017 and being seconds from another championship this year, finances forced Furniture Row Racing’s closure.

Sunday, as Logano said, he had a short run car, so 15 laps of green meant he could outrun Truex for the long green.

“I needed 15, 20 more laps, and that’s just the way it goes,” Truex said. “I’m not sure what else to say.”

As the Penske team danced down pit road toward Logano doing his celebratory front straightaway burnouts, Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser accepted hugs and laments of “we just needed 10 more laps.”

After Saturday’s practice struggles, Harvick’s team gave him a competitive car, just not a championship car. Homestead’s won at night and night time was not the right time for the Jimmy John’s Ford.

“We didn’t make a lot of big changes,” Harvick said. “We made a lot of small changes and the car was definitely better. But when it got dark, we just lost the rear grip and couldn’t get off the corner and were having trouble turning in the corner.”

While Harvick’s crew hammered out the problems with his car Saturday night, Logano tried to help 100 families with the problem of Thanksgiving dinner. Through the Joey Logano Foundation and with help from Shell Oil, Homestead Police Department, Motiva Enterprises and Planet Fitness, he bought Thanksiving dinner for 100 families in need.

Logano did the same thing in 2016. There’s a reason Comcast awarded Logano with its Community Champion of the Year Thursday for his work through the Joey Logano Foundation.

After all, good teammates contribute to the communal good. This, too, is championship play.

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