Postscript to a championship

I like the fact that there are NASCAR fans out there who don’t like Joey Logano.

He’s the newest Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, by the way.

They will tell you they can’t stand him. Or they’ll write it or tweet it or whatever …

I think their numbers get blown out of proportion – “most disliked in the sport” and “vast majority” are two descriptions I’ve seen recently describing Logano’s non-fan base and how that was determined will forever remain a mystery to me.

Regardless, I’m fine with it and I don’t personally know how Logano feels about it, but I’d be willing to bet he’s past losing sleep over such things.

Besides, can you imagine how boring it would be if everyone liked every driver?

But this isn’t about whether folks like or dislike Logano.

It’s about what he has become and the journey.

Most NASCAR fans know Logano came in to the top series in 2009 as a replacement for the departing Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing.

They know Logano was only 18 when he made his Cup debut in ’08.

Maybe they remember he was barely 15 when Gibbs signed him to a development contract and that was a couple of years AFTER Mark Martin said he was the best young driver out there.

Now, at 28, Logano has been places and done things. Big things. He’s won the Daytona 500. He’s won 21 times in Cup. And he beat three of the best Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to become the 33rd different NASCAR Cup champion since 1949.

Martin Truex Jr. had the most intriguing story going into the final race of the season – his Furniture Row Racing operation was shutting down just a year after he and the Cole Pearn-led team had won it all with the No. 78 Toyota. No one wanted to win it any worse than the group from Denver. Colo.

Kevin Harvick had won a career-best eight times and his No. 4 Ford appeared to have more speed than the rest of the field combined at times this year. How big of a miss was crew chief Rodney Childers, suspended for the final two races? Interim crew chief Tony Gibson is one of the best in the garage but the loss of Childers at the track had to have an impact.

Kyle Busch was another eight-time winner, matching his career-best. A winner of Playoff races at Richmond and ISM (Phoenix), Busch and his No. 18 JGR team appeared to have plenty of momentum heading into the championship race. But the combination never seemed to click, there were pit-road issues and only a late-race gamble that worked in their favor kept the team in position for a shot at the title.

Meanwhile, Logano and his Team Penske No. 22 team with crew chief Todd Gordon just kept clicking along. When it came down to a 15-lap shootout, he wasted no time in chasing down and passing Truex for the lead, then began to pull away.

Logano touched on a lot of different things during his post-race press conference but to me a couple of things stood out.

At one point he was asked about the satisfaction (vindication?) of winning a title after not living up to the hype at JGR and the difficulty of dealing with that and moving on.

A condensed version of his answer was partly that “I expected to go out there and win … and just got my butt handed to me on a platter” early on, but he added “I still don’t really know what I’m doing, but just have a better idea of it, I guess.”

It’s the latter response that stands out. He’s only 28 and yet he has 10 years of Cup experience. He’s still figuring it out, and now he’s won a championship and 21 races and a Daytona 500 while doing so.

The other comment came when he was asked about the team’s turnaround. A year ago, Logano missed the playoffs in spite of winning at Richmond, a victory that was ruled “encumbered” by NASCAR. It was the team’s only win of the season. That came on the heels of a three-win season and runner-up finish in the championship race.

“We dropped like an elevator and we took the flight of stairs back up to the top, man,” Logano said.

That’s the most spot-on, accurate description one could possibly come up with when explaining the team’s ascent.

“You make a little gain here, a little gain here, a little gain there, all of a sudden we’re champions the next year,” he said.

“What a fight.”

What a fight indeed.

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