By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Four drivers entered Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a chance at the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. For Joey Logano, it was his second chance in three years to earn his first championship.
Logano was riding a wave of momentum entering the Ford EcoBoost 400 after winning at Phoenix International Raceway a week earlier.
Logano was fast immediately after his Team Penske team unloaded his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion off of the transporter. He was fourth fastest in the first practice, sixth fastest in the second practice, and eighth fastest in the final practice. In qualifying, Logano just missed the final round of qualifying, ending up 13th on the speed charts.
The race started off quick as Logano and his championship rivals, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch moved into the Top 10. Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson, the fourth driver of the Championship Four, started from the rear of the field after unapproved adjustments.
Logano, Busch, and Edwards stayed in the Top 10 for much of the early part of the race, as it took Johnson time to catch up.
Logano was quick on the short runs, while Edwards was fast on the long runs. The lead of the Championship was passed back and forth between Edwards, Busch, and Logano for much of the race. Meanwhile, Kyle Larson controlled the lead of the race.
A late caution with 15 laps to go changed the course of the race. Edwards had a commanding lead of the championship over Busch and Logano. Dylan Lupton cut a left rear tire and slid out of control in turn two to bring out the caution.
On the restart, Logano dived below Edwards, who blocked. The two made contact, sending Edwards head-on into the inside wall. Logano then swerved back up the track as Edwards’ crippled car spun uncontrollably up the track. Logano received minor damage from Edwards and teammate Brad Keselowski. Meanwhile, Edwards was clobbered in a wreck that wiped out as many as eight cars.
After the race, Logano was understanding with why Edwards attempted to block,
“It’s hard racing. I understand exactly what he did. I think he understands what I was trying to do. We’re racing for a championship and there’s 10 laps to go. That’s the race. I got a good run, got underneath him. I don’t blame him for running me down there, and I don’t think he blames me for putting my nose in there. There was nothing else to do, it was just racing. I didn’t have an option, that was my chance to pass him and win this thing.”
Under the ensuing red flag, Logano and his crew chief Todd Gordon debated on whether to pit to repair the damage.
When the red flag was lifted, Logano hit pit road from eighth. His crew repaired the damage, gave him fresh tires, and beat everyone behind him off of pit road.
Logano restart in eighth, and quickly jumped to the outside in turn one. The advantage of the fresh tires easily allowed him to cruise past Busch, Kevin Harvick and others. By the time they reached turn three, the caution was out once again as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun into the inside wall.
Logano restarted in third and got loose entering turn one. As he moved up the track, Johnson took the lead from Larson. As Logano regained his momentum, Johnson was long gone.
When the checkered flag waved, Johnson won the race, and his record-tying seventh championship. Meanwhile, Logano crossed the line in fourth, second in the championship.
Logano was disappointed he didn’t win the championship, replaying the moments before the final caution.
“Todd made a great call. I never would have thought of coming down pit road to put tires on and pump up it up, tape it up and go for it. I had a good restart and was able to gain some track position. I was able to pass the 4 (Harvick) off of two, and I wish I didn’t. That would have given me the outside lane behind Larson, and it would have allowed me to get to the outside of the 48 if that was the case. It’s amazing how close it can be when it comes down to that.”
“Everyone did a great job today. We recovered after the incident and had a shot to race for a championship. I guess that’s all that you can ask for. There’s no good way to put it, but it really hurts right now, second stinks. That’s motivation for next year to come back and win that championship.”
Now Logano and his team can regroup during the off-season as they prepare for the Daytona 500 where Logano will hope to win for the second time.