Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Joey Logano provided his own interpretation of the Golden Rule in Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, as in “Do unto others as others didn’t do to you.”
With a guaranteed spot in the Championship 4 Round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at stake, Logano moved the Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. out of the way in Turns 3 and 4 of the final lap to win for the first time at the .526-mile short track and claim his berth in the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Just thinking about Miami, man,” Logano said unapologetically after climbing from his car to an evenly divided chorus of cheers and boos from fans in the frontstretch grandstand. “Some are going to like it, and haters are going to hate a little bit, but I’m a hard racer. I don’t think that’s a secret to anyone. We’re here to win a championship this year.”
Truex, who cleared Logano off Turn 2 on the final lap after an extended side-by-side battle, vowed that Logano wouldn’t win his first title this season.
“He may have won the battle, but he ain’t winning the damn war,” promised Truex, who slid across the finish line in third place after Denny Hamlin edged him for second in a wild scramble off the final corner. “That’s it. I’m not letting him – I’m going to win the championship…
“I was next to him for six laps. 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. We weren’t even banging doors for me to pass him. He just drove into the back of me and knocked me out of the way. It’s short-track racing, but what goes around comes around.”
From past experience, Logano knows that retaliation can be sudden and decisive. In 2015, after turning Matt Kenseth to win a Playoff race at Kansas, Logano appeared a likely winner at Martinsville and a favorite for the championship until Kenseth pile-drove him into the Turn 1 wall at Martinsville and ended his Playoff run.
But that incident seemed a distant memory on Sunday evening, as Logano savored his second victory of the season, the 20th of his career and the cherished grandfather clock trophy that comes with a Martinsville win.
“We raced hard there,” Logano said. “He raced really clean, and I laid the bumper to him, so I don’t expect him to be happy. We had to do what we’ve got to do, and we’ll hash it out, I’m sure, one way or another. But that was our shot. It may be our only shot, so we had to make it happen.”
Hamlin, who had an excellent long-run car but couldn’t fight his way past fourth-place finisher Kyle Busch and fifth-place Brad Keselowski in time to challenge for the win, nevertheless had a ringside seat for the pyrotechnics between Logano and Truex.
“I think the 22 (Logano) saw he was in a vulnerable position,” Hamlin said. “They were side by side for two laps. The 22 was on the outside. That’s a position where you can’t do anything to the leader. So it looked like to me that he conceded the spot on the white-flag lap. Once I saw that he conceded the spot, followed in behind him, I knew we were in for an exciting Turn 3 and 4. I knew it was coming. I just think it would have been still a cool battle if they would have just stayed side by side.”
Despite finishing third, Truex leaves Martinsville tied for third on the Playoff grid with 10th-place finisher Kevin Harvick, 25 points ahead of Kurt Busch (sixth Sunday), the first driver below the Championship 4 cut line. Harvick is the last driver above the cut line due to a tiebreaker because Truex currently has the higher Round of 8 finish. Kyle Busch sits second on the grid, 46 points ahead of his brother.
Chase Elliott, who ran seventh, is 31 points behind Harvick. Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola are 42 and 50 points out of fourth, respectively. A late spin cost Bowyer dearly. He finished 21st, one lap down.
Chase Elliott already in must-win mode after seventh place at Martinsville
Chase Elliott made the most of a 19th-place starting position and a balky No. 9 Chevrolet on Sunday, but he left the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway under water in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings.
Thanks to excellent pit work adjustments that improved the car’s performance during the race, Elliott managed a seventh-place result, but he’s 31 points below the current cut line for the Nov. 18 Championship 4 Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It was just really bad, really poor execution on our qualifying effort and better in the race, but not near where we needed to be,” Elliott lamented after the race. “So, I’m sure we’re in a hole and probably going to have to win one of these next two races.
“We needed some pace. The guys did a great job on pit road and things to get us kind of back in the ball game, but definitely not what we want.”
Elliott doesn’t expect to be able to claw his way into the top four on points.
“No, I need to win,” he said. “I mean playing the points game is nice, but I need another sticker.”
The good news is that Elliott has picked up win stickers in two of the last four races, and he’s the only driver who has won two events in the Playoffs.
Hendrick Motorsports unveils Ally as new sponsor
for Jimmie Johnson
Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has a new full-season primary sponsor.
Roughly an hour before the command to fire engines at Martinsville Speedway, team owner Rick Hendrick announced that Ally Financial has agreed to sponsor Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
“We are beyond thrilled to be in the fast lane with Jimmie Johnson, one of the most successful drivers in the history of NASCAR, and with Hendrick Motorsports, a premier organization in professional sports,” said Jeffrey Brown, Ally’s CEO.
The association with Ally marks a new chapter in Johnson’s career, as he tries to win a record-breaking eighth championship. Johnson’s 17-year association with sponsor Lowe’s will end this year, as will the driver’s partnership with crew chief Chad Knaus, who will move to the No. 24 Chevrolet of William Byron next season.
Kevin Meendering, Elliott Sadler’s NASCAR Xfinity Series crew chief at JR Motorsports, will move up to the Cup level with Johnson next year.
Johnson underscored the value of a single primary sponsor for the entire season.
“To have one sponsor for all 38 races for two years … clearly, I’ve had just one sponsor, and to enter this new chapter in my racing career and have one sponsor once again, I think says a lot about Hendrick Motorsports and the value of this No. 48 car and also in our sport.
“As today unfolds, with the media buys they’ve done and the way they’re going to advertise in our sport, and as you see them engage next year, they’re really using NASCAR as a marketing tool for their company. You will all be very impressed with their vision and the importance they see in NASCAR racing. (That’s) the main reason why they are here and involved.”
Playoff pressure intensifies with only three spots left in the
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs has perhaps never been as crucial as it is entering the final two Playoff races to set the 2018 Championship 4 for the season finale on Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Joey Logano has assured himself a position in that final four courtesy of a not-to-be-denied fending off of reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. on the last lap of Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.
It was a winning move reminiscent of many other short track last laps. And this time, not only did it land Logano a shot at the title, it had major impact on the championship chances of his competitors as well.
Kyle Busch remains the championship points leader and after a fourth place finish at Martinsville, he now holds a healthy 21-point edge on his season-long closest challengers Truex and Kevin Harvick.
Counting Logano, who has now qualified for a title shot at Homestead – the top-four in the standings are 25 points up on fifth place Kurt Busch and 31 points up on two-time Playoff winner Chase Elliott, who had been among the Championship 4 heading into Martinsville.
Clint Bowyer is now seventh in the standings, 42-points behind the cutoff. And his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola – also a Playoff race winner this season – is now 50-points back. Both will need to win at either this week’s Texas Motor Speedway or next week’s new-look ISM Raceway in Phoenix. That’s really the game plan for all the contenders.
“Obviously we are disappointed,” said Bowyer, who won at Martinsville this Spring but finished 21st – last among the eight Playoff drivers last weekend.
“We struggled all day trying to fix our loose car, but we stayed in the top-10 until there at the end when we got spun. We lost a lap, and that killed us. We have two races left, and we’ll do our best to win at Texas or Phoenix.”
For several of these drivers, history indicates that scoring a win at Texas or Phoenix will be no easy task.
Only four of the eight Playoff drivers have ever won at Texas – Kyle Busch, his brother Kurt Busch, Harvick, and Logano. The same foursome are the only ones among the Playoff contingent to win previously at Phoenix.
Texas Motor Speedway may be the bigger wildcard for the championship hopefuls. With the exception of Almirola, the other Playoff drivers have all led laps at the track. Harvick is the defending winner of this week’s race and Truex was runner-up. Kyle Busch won at Texas this Spring and Harvick finished runner-up to him.
Busch’s three wins at the track are most among the Playoff drivers. Harvick and Kurt Busch each have one, as does Logano. Harvick, however, is riding a string of eight consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas – including three runner-up showings in addition to his win last year.
Kyle Busch has seven top-five finishes – including two more wins – in the 10 races since his first victory in 2013. Kurt Busch won the Fall, 2009 race but has started on pole the last two Texas races. He has six top-10s in the last eight races here. He was seventh this Spring and ninth in last year’s Playoff edition.
Of the four drivers essentially needing to win at Texas – Truex and Elliott boast the best records. Truex had a string of six consecutive top-five finishes until an accident earlier this season and 37th-place finish derailed that mark. He has led 363 of his career 595 laps led at Texas in the last five races.
Elliott scored his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Texas in 2014 en route to that series championship. And he has five top-11 showings in five Cup starts there. He was fourth in last year’s Playoff race.
Bowyer has only three top-fives in 25 starts at Texas, but was ninth in the Spring – his first top-10 since 2014. Almirola has never led a lap at the track and has only one top-10 (seventh in spring, 2013). He was involved in a crash this April and finished 32nd.
When it comes to Phoenix, Harvick has proven himself the “master.” His nine wins is most of any active Cup driver – and exactly triple the total from the only three Playoff drivers to win at Phoenix combined. Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Logano each have one victory at the track. Harvick’s 1,522 career laps led at the facility is nearly twice that of the next best Playoff driver’s number – Kyle Busch has led 827 laps. And Harvick has only one finish worse than sixth-place in the last 13 races (six years) at Phoenix.
For those without a prior victory at Phoenix, again Truex and Elliott have established good resumes at the track. Truex was fifth this March and third last year en route to his championship. Elliott has four top-10s in five starts. He was runner-up in the 2017 Playoff race and third earlier this year.
Both Bowyer and Almirola have looked stronger at the track this year than in the past. Bowyer’s sixth place here in March was his first top-10 in the last 10 races. Almirola has earned two of his three career top-10s at Phoenix in the last two races. He was ninth in last year’s Playoff race and seventh this Spring.
With the points differential that exists now following Logano’s win at Martinsville, the way to the Championship 4 is at least now straight forward, if not easy.
“I need to win,” Elliott said, echoing the sentiment of his closest challengers. I mean playing the points game is nice, but I need another [race winner’s] sticker.”