NASCAR Insight: Well, we got that wrong...
By Kelly Crandall | RACER.com NASCAR correspondent
How wrong the biggest story of the season ended up being.
All year, so much fuss had been made about the performances of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. that a nickname was created: Big 3. The moniker was used in written stories, on the radio, and even referenced during at-track press conferences. Homestead-Miami Speedway and the championship race was going to be all about them: a crowning moment for one after a dominant year.
But everyone was wrong. Lacking the same fat win column and resultant fanfare as Busch, Harvick, and Truex, Joey Logano was never given the respect or attention he deserved.
Wins aside, Logano was always there in the shadow of the Big 3 in all other categories. Those numbers have been covered extensively here and here in recent weeks, especially when it came to how Logano was outperforming all others in the playoffs.
“I felt so confident going into this week that we were the car to beat,” Logano said. “I felt like after winning Martinsville, it put us in the spot to really focus in on this race, and we did. We built a great race car that was able to be good on the short runs. It wasn’t a long‑run race car, but a 20‑lap car, it was that for sure.
“My race team; I wasn’t worried about them at all, and I knew I just had to do my job, and everyone was going to do their job, and everything was going to be fine. Either way, everything was going to be fine. But I felt confident and relaxed that today was going to be a good day.”
Image by Cantrall/LAT
Last Sunday night at Homestead wasn’t a surprise, nor an accident, nor a stroke of dumb luck. Logano knew, even if everyone else didn’t or wouldn’t admit it, that his No. 22 team was good enough to be in the title race and would be well-prepared for battle.
Did he have the best car last weekend? Maybe, depending on who you ask. Logano qualified fifth and swept both Saturday practice sessions. He also led the most laps (80) in the Ford EcoBoost 400.
“I told my interior guy Daniel Lynch when I got in the car, I said, ‘I’m getting in as a driver and getting out as a champion,’ and we were able to do that, so what a great feeling,” said Logano. “I was just pumped up, man. I was pretty jacked up.”
The fourth-best driver all year – that was Logano. It wasn’t the Big 3 and everyone else. It was the Big 4 all along.
Being fourth-best is no slight either, because it can get a driver to the title race. And once there, it’s game on. Logano mastered the final game of the season and beat Busch, Harvick and Truex when it counted.
So, the numbers should say Logano had a top four year, but to some, he was either overlooked, underestimated or simply the underdog. However Logano is no fluke champion. He simply knew when he could go from being fourth-best to the best.
“Honestly, my wife can probably vouch for this ‑‑ 20 weeks ago, I thought, ‘man, if we get to the Round of Eight, that’s pretty good this year for where we were at the time’,” Logano said of when his mindset changed toward the title. “We were consistent, that’s what kept us up in the point all year long. We didn’t have many bad races throughout the season. But I guess just as the playoffs went, everyone rose to the occasion. Everyone picked it up.
“We talk about it at playoff media day; you always talk about how you have to find another little bit inside of you to just maintain [your level] when the playoffs start because everyone is able to get a little bit better. Then as we do that, we started running better, and we were running top five and winning stages, so okay, we’re in a decent spot here.
“I don’t think anyone scored more points than us throughout the playoffs. It goes to show that we executed under pressure, not just today or the last five races, but the last 10, really, is when I felt like we’ve got a shot at this thing, and probably the last seven or so was when I felt like we had a great shot.”
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