HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — 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 favorite 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 Sunday 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 champion 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 postseason. He led a race-high 80 laps 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.
He was fourth on the restart with 15 laps remaining 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 Logano pulled away to win for Penske.
“We were the favorite. We executed down the stretch like nobody’s business,” Logano said. “I knew we had a short-run car. I said it before the race started that if it was anything longer than 25 laps we were going to be in trouble. That showed all day. 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.”