Logano flew un­der the radar for 2018 Cup ti­tle

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - News - By God­win Kelly god­[email protected]

Joey great­est Logano sea­sons had one as a NASCARof the Cup Se­ries driver and, for the most part, flew un­der the radar un­til late in the game. While the “Big 3” of Kevin Har­vick, Kyle Busch and Mar­tin Truex Jr. com­bined for 20 vic­to­ries and most of the me­dia lime­light, Logano qui­etly was putting to­gether a solid sea­son.

Those three driv­ers gave Logano a stand­ing ova­tion when the 28-year-old driver was of­fi­cially

crowned 2018 Cup Se­ries cham­pion last Thurs­day in Las Ve­gas at the NASCAR Awards Cer­e­mony.

“This is what we’ve worked for our whole life,” Logano said be­fore the cer­e­mony. “Not just 10 years

that we’ve been try­ing at the Cup level, but it started in ’95 when I first got be­hind the wheel of a go-kart. That’s when this goal started.”

If it seems like Logano has been around stock-car rac­ing for­ever, you are right. He got a Cup Se­ries ride at the ten­der age of 18 from Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, when Tony Ste­wart left to join ranks with Gene Haas.

Logano was on the lead­ing edge of NASCAR’s cur­rent youth move­ment, which placed four mil­len­nial driv­ers among the top 10 in sea­son-end­ing points.

But un­like his young coun­ter­parts Chase El­liott (23), Ryan Blaney (24) and Kyle Lar­son (26), he went

into the 2018 cam­paign with nine full sea­sons of Cup com­pe­ti­tion and 18 vic­to­ries un­der his belt.

Logano scored a toss-of-the-dice vic­tory at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way in the spring, then went win­less for 22 races … but was com­pil­ing top-five and top-10 fin­ishes nearly ev­ery week­end.

The ’Dega win was im­por­tant be­cause it guar­an­teed Logano a play­off berth.

A look back at the stat sheet shows Logano led in Cup points af­ter Race 2 and Race 3, be­fore he drifted down to sixth place af­ter crash­ing out at Watkins Glen In­ter­na­tional on Aug. 5.

His No. 22 Team Penske Ford started to get hot right as the play­offs be­gan; not win-a-bunch-of-races hot, but score-enough-points-to-ad­vance hot.

He made it to the Round of 12 and Round of 8 on points.

His sig­na­ture mo­ment was at Martinsville Speed­way when he pulled the last-lap bump-and-run on Truex to win the First Data 500 and earn a ticket to the Cham­pi­onship Round.

That win gave him an im­me­di­ate ad­van­tage, al­low­ing crew chief Todd Gor­don and his team more time to con­cen­trate on mas­sag­ing the car he would run at Homestead-Mi­ami Speed­way.

“This win al­lowed ev­ery­one at Team Penske to fo­cus on Homestead for three weeks,” Gor­don said. “It was awe­some to see all 550 Mooresville

em­ploy­ees pulling in the same di­rec­tion, get­ting us as pre­pared as we’d ever been for the cham­pi­onship race.”

On the fi­nal restart in the Ford EcoBoost 400, Logano sim­ply

mo­tored away from the “Big 3” and every­body else. He had the right car at the right time, and when he crossed the fin­ish line, the Cup Se­ries cham­pi­onship was won.

“It’s just how it kind of un­folds, but there’s typ­i­cally one (cau­tion) some­where late in the race,” Gor­don said. “And when it came up, there it was, our op­por­tu­nity, and Joey’s,

and you give him that op­por­tu­nity of ‘here it is, it’s right in front of you,’ he steps up to an­other level.”

Af­ter wrestling the lead from Truex, Logano would not be de­nied at Homestead. He led the last 12 laps for the win and ti­tle.

“There was never a sec­ond thing that I was go­ing to try to do,” Logano said. “This was it — NASCAR cham­pion.”

Logano be­comes the sev­enth dif­fer­ent cham­pion over the past eight years. The only driver to nab two ti­tles since 2011 was Jim­mie John­son (2013, 2016).

Logano’s cham­pi­onship is a child­hood dream ful­filled by the lanky driver from Mid­dle­town, Con­necti­cut.

“You’re a kid, and it’s a dream,” Logano said. “Maybe a goal is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. It’s a dream at that point.

A lot of kids want to be NASCAR cham­pion, and I’m here to say it can hap­pen, as long as you keep work­ing hard and tak­ing ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties in front of you.

“When I went to ele­men­tary school, and they said, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ it was al­ways race car driver.”

IM­AGES/BRIAN LAWDERMILK] [NASCAR GETTY

New NASCAR cham­pion Joey Logano did the cus­tom­ary photo op at the Ve­gas strip gate­way dur­ing NASCAR Cham­pion’s Week.

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