EditorsNote: fixes typo in lede, adds quotes
Joey Logano secured the first berth in the final round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Sunday, winning the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.
The victory in the opening event of the three-race Round of 8 Cup playoffs was the Team Penske driver’s second of the season and first of the playoffs.
It was also his first at the Martinsville short track.
“To come here to Martinsville and finally get the win ...” said Logano, who drives the No. 22 Ford Fusion for Team Penske. “We’ve led so many laps, qualified so good and to finally get a win. We’ve been so close so many times here to getting that grandfather clock (the Martinsville winner’s trophy), and man it feels good.”
With his spot in the Championship 4 secure, Logano will race for his first Cup championship at the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in three weeks.
In order to get the spot, Logano had to fend off defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. as the two ran nose to tail and door to door over the final 10 laps.
Truex actually took the white flag and was clear of Logano on the final back straightaway. However, Logano got on Truex’s bumper entering Turn 3 and then did a better job of keeping his car straight on the final dash to the finish line as he and Truex viciously banged doors, with Truex nearly going sideways.
“Just thinking about Miami,” Logano told the media about his thoughts over the final, metal-bending laps. “Thinking about how we can win a championship with this car.”
The victory was not a popular one with fans as the crowd at Martinsville showered him with boos after the contact-marred final laps.
“Like I said, it’s racing,” Logano said. “It’s what we got to do. To get there, we got to get there first.
“I’m a hard racer. I don’t think that’s a secret to anyone. Were here to win a championship this year.”
After the race, Truex — who finished third as Denny Hamlin passed him while he was getting loose — was thinking about revenge.
“He may have won the battle, but he didn’t win the war,” said Truex, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota. “I’m just not going to let him win (the championship). I’m going to win it.”
Of the final laps, Truex said, “I was next to him for six laps, and I never knocked him out of the way. We were going to race hard for it in my book. I cleared him fair and square. He just drove into the back of me. What goes around comes around.”
Told that Truex was not thrilled with his tactics at the end, Logano said, “That’s expected. We raced hard there. He raced really clean and I laid the bumper to him, so I don’t expect him to be happy. We got to do what we got to do. He’s got to do what he’s got to do, and I’m sure we’ll hash it out ... one way or another. This was our shot. Maybe our only shot, so we had to make it happen.”
Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing finished fourth and Logano’s Penske teammate Brad Keselowski was fifth. Hamlin and Keselowski are out of championship contention.
Busch started the race from the pole and led until he was passed by Hamlin on Lap 31. Busch regained his lead during the first pit stops of the day and held the spot until Hamlin overtook him with 15 laps to go in Stage 1. From there, Hamlin sprinted to the stage victory.
Logano earned his first lead of the day when he beat the field out of the pits during the caution between stages. Once out front, he led every lap in winning Stage 2.
Busch, Truex and Kevin Harvick left Martinsville as the top point scorers behind Logano. Harvick came in 10th on Sunday. The other drivers still in contention for the season-long title are Kurt Busch (sixth place at Martinsville), Chase Elliott (seventh place at Martinsville) and Aric Almirola (11th place at Martinsville).
—Field Level Media