HOMESTEAD, Fla.—Joey Logano raced into NASCAR anointed as its next star.
He was 18, dubbed “Sliced Bread” because of all the hype, and in way over his head.
It made Logano an easy target on and off the track, and threatened his career. Logano was out of a job five years after he arrived but given a second chance by Roger Penske, the titans of motorsports.
Now he's part of Penske's storied history as NASCAR's newest champion.
The underdog on paper but the favourite in his mind, Logano busted up the “Big Three” and won an improbable first NASCAR title by soundly beating a trio of former champions.
Logano won the season-finale yesterday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to grab the Cup title in a season in which he barely contended until the playoffs began.
The year was dominated by Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and reigning series champ Martin Truex Jr., with Logano calling the championship field “The Big Three and Me.”
But Logano kicked it into another gear during the playoffs with two victories and eight top-10 finishes in the post-season.
He led a race-high 80 laps yesterday but the title was slipping away in the waning laps until Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski spun Busch teammate Daniel Suarez for a race-changing caution.
Logano was fourth on the restart with 15 laps to go but powered his way alongside leader Truex, used a strong move in the outside lane three laps later to take over the top spot, and then pulled away to win for Penske.
“We were the favourite. We executed down the stretch like nobody's business,” Logano said.
“I knew we had a short-run car," he added. ”I said it before the race started that if it was anything longer than 25 laps, we were going to be in trouble.
“But it came down to the short run and we are champions. NASCAR champions.”
Logano won the title in his 10th season at NASCAR's top level—six years after Penske rescued him from the unemployment line.
He started with Joe Gibbs Racing as a teenager, made his debut days after his 18th birthday, and was pushed into the Cup Series prematurely when Gibbs needed a replacement driver for Tony Stewart.
When Logano didn't deliver for Gibbs, he was grabbed by Penske, who won got his first Cup title in 2012 with Keselowski—the driver who pushed for Logano to be hired as his new teammate.
“I think when it's time to go, he's the guy,” Penske said.
“I couldn't ask for a better result and a guy that delivers it for the whole team.”
Gibbs, who saw his former driver beat current driver Busch for the title, was pleased for Logano.
“I think it's great for them and Joey," Gibbs said. ”Great kid, great family.
“I'm sure he's going to make a great champion.”
Truex finished second in his final race with Furniture Row Racing. The team is closing because it lost its primary sponsor midway through Truex's championship reign.
“It's a tough way to lose," Truex said. ”I had nothing for him [Logano] at the end.
“That's just the way it goes," he reasoned. ”I don't know what else to say.
“It hurts a little and I'm going to miss all of the guys.”
Harvick was third and Busch fourth as the title contenders followed each other across the finish line.
“We weren't even close,” said Busch, who used strategy to keep up with the other title contenders.
“We were so bad tonight on the racetrack and on pit road that nothing was kind of going our way,” he noted.