By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The talk of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season was all around the ‘Big Three’ of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. Rightfully so, given that the trio went to victory lane in 20 (Busch – 8, Harvick – 8 and Truex – 4) of the 35 races heading into Sunday’s championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
On paper, the deck was stacked against the Middletown, Connecticut native. Logano was the only driver of the Championship 4 without a previous win in the season finale and the only competitor without a Cup Series championship in his trophy case.
But this playoff format requires drivers and teams to be the best when it counts, and Logano and Team Penske just did that in the playoffs with five top-five finishes in the nine Playoff races heading to Miami – best among the championship contenders.
Logano book-ended that with a strong performance in the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, leading four times for a race-high 80 laps and taking the checkered flag 1.725 seconds ahead of rival Truex in the Ford EcoBoost 400.
“I told you we weren’t and showed you why we’re not,” Logano said of the underdog moniker. “We were the favorite like I told you before the race started. I am so proud of everybody for rising to the occasion. We executed down the stretch like nobody’s business. I have to thank everyone that supports us. Shell and Pennzoil, SKF, Ford.”
The final caution of the night came at Lap 247 of 267 when Brad Keselowski made contact with Daniel Suarez. All of the leaders hit pit road for fresh Goodyear rubber and Logano restarted third with 15 laps to to behind Busch and Truex. Logano followed Truex around Busch, who battled an ill-handling car throughout the race, and then made the victorious pass three laps later when he charged to the outside of Truex’s No. 78 Toyota.
“My car was really good on entry all day,” Logano said of making the move stick into Turn 1.
Logano had a stout Ford on the short runs and was fortunate that the final stint was a mere 15 laps.
“I knew we had a short-run car. I said it before the race started that if it was anything longer than 25 laps we were going to be in trouble. That showed all day. It came down to the short run and we are champions. NASCAR champions!”
Logano was cool, calm and collected on the radio after taking the lead as spotter Tab Boyd communicated the number of laps remaining after every circuit.
What went through Logano’s mind as he came to the checkered flag?
“Just a lot of screaming. I think I pulled a muscle. Man, I worked my whole life to get here. To win a championship. We have been so close. It has been 10 seasons of fighting for this. I wasn’t sure we were going to get it but (crew chief) Todd (Gordon) made a good adjustment at the end and we had that no quit attitude.”
Logano finished the season with three wins, 12 top fives and 25 top 10s. The championship is the second title for Team Penske and owner Roger Penske. The organization’s first title was in 2012 with Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 team.
On the strength of a series-high 19 victories, Ford won the Monster Energy Series Manufacturer Championship for the first time since 2002.