Logano has sights on championship after “classic” Martinsville move

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 28: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, crosses the finish line ahead of Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 5-hour ENERGY/Bass Pro Shops Toyota, to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 28, 2018 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Joey Logano sat down to open a morning of press conferences at Texas Motor Speedway fresh off an appearance with his sponsor – and Sunday’s race sponsor – AAA. He had visited with high-schoolers  – new drivers – and helped teach them about safety, courtesy and making good decisions on the road.

The timing couldn’t have been better, the irony was obvious. Logano, 28, became the first driver to officially claim one of the four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship contender spots courtesy of his hard-fought victory last week at Martinsville Speedway. And the win has drawn plenty of commentary this week on Logano’s decision to unapologetically race hard and to challenge courtesy with a possible championship on the line.

As the Team Penske driver reminded on Friday prior to opening practice for the AAA 500 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), he didn’t wreck Martin Truex Jr. – whom he dueled with on that Martinsville last lap – and Logano reiterated, his “push” was certainly not the only assertive move of the day on the famous short track.

Logano confirmed that he received a text message late Sunday after the race from Truex.

“I think he was a little frustrated and that is part of it,’’ Logano said. “I also think it is short track racing. All of that was on the line at that point and I think we both understand that there was so much on the line and that is what happens sometimes.

“Like I said, it is short-track racing. That bump-and-run move, although that was probably the most popular one of the whole race because it was for the win on the last lap, probably happened 10 or 15 times before that and it didn’t get covered. It is a classic move in NASCAR that happens a lot, every time we go there, whether it is on lap 20 or lap 499.”

And although Truex clearly didn’t take kindly to the full contact last lap racing, the expectation for it at a short track in a Playoff race was accepted by others – from fellow drivers to NASCAR’s version of arm chair quarterbacks and fans.

“I think the majority of them have supported it, supported the move,’’ Logano said, of other Cup competitors reaching out to him this week. “It is a position that our sport puts you in, in the playoffs. You are in the playoffs and have an opportunity to lock yourself into the Championship Four. You don’t know what is going to happen the next two races. It is Martinsville. It is classic short-track racing that we have seen 100 times.

“Some fans love it and some don’t. Either way you are going to have plenty of questions afterwards. If you don’t do it they want to know why you didn’t do it. If you do it, half are happy and half aren’t. I am not here to make everyone happy.

“I am here to do my job for my race team and they did such a great job all day long and we led 300 laps. If you don’t try to win the race, I would expect them to be very disappointed in me as a driver for them. It was a classic bump-and-run. There was no crashing or cars in the wall. It was a bump up to get there and then that classic drag race and that cool finish for everybody.”

Truex addressed the situation Thursday during an appearance at a Plano, Texas Toyota plant telling ESPN, “I wouldn’t just wreck somebody to win a championship, just like I wouldn’t wreck somebody to win a race.

“It might be cool for a couple of hours. In 20 years, you are going to look back and say, ‘Did I really win that race or was that cheap?’ Some people might be OK with that.”

The bottom line, however, is that Logano is now the only driver to have assured himself a shot at the 2018 Cup championship – and for this No. 22 Penske Racing Ford team, that failed to qualify for NASCAR’s Playoffs last year – that is a major accomplishment.

And, Logano shows up at the notoriously tough Texas Motor Speedway one of only four drivers (also Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch) among the eight championship contenders with a previous victory there. He won the spring 2014 race, was the runner-up in the 2016 Playoff race and has five top-10 finishes in the last five races at the track.

His victory last week at Martinsville – controversial or not – gives him, his team and his car manufacturer Ford a shot at the season title – something all three have learned never to take for granted. Penske’s only Cup season title came from Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski in 2012, when the team fielded Dodges. Kurt Busch earned Ford its last driver’s title back in 2004.

“I don’t have to give it thought,’’ Logano said after being reminded of the significance of his championship chance.

“I get reminded plenty of times at how big of a deal it is to win a championship and a manufacturer championship as well for Ford. We want it. Of course. We know how big of a deal it is to do that, not only for Ford but for Roger Penske, myself, Shell, our race team.

“I brought it up last week about how it affected everybody’s livelihood. We are a performance-based business and there are a lot of bonuses that come with winning races and a championship. There are a lot of people looking at us to make it happen and it affects their life personally a lot. It is nice to have that support behind you. I like that pressure. That is a cool place to have that.”

Greg Engle