Joey Logano is Onto the Championship 4 Again After his 20th Career Win in Dramatic Fashion at Martinsville
Coming into the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, fans and drivers alike knew that tempers would get heated. This short track race in particular has made and ruined championship efforts in recent years. After leading over 300 laps, Joey Logano scored his 20th career win. This win puts the 22 team through to the Championship 4, their 3rd appearance in the finale. Even though Logano had the high of victory, Martin Truex Jr called the winning move a ‘cheap shot.’
Big Recoveries in Opening Stage
Staying consistent with a trend of 2018, the first stage at Martinsville was relatively calm. Only 2 cautions broke up the initial 130 lap stint. One of these cautions was due to 9-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson spinning. Even though the 48 brought out the yellow on lap 72, he would rebound to finish the day in 12th.
Although he started from the pole, Kyle Busch did fall back early on. The 2017 First Data 500 winner gave up the lead to Denny Hamlin on lap 31. Despite not being in the Playoffs, Hamlin was a strong contender at Martinsville. However, Busch would pass the Fedex 11 for the lead a few laps later on pit road.
Due to failing inspection, many strong cars were forced to start the 500 lap Martinsville classic from the rear of the field. This list included Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, and Playoff contender Martin Truex Jr. By the end of Stage 1, only Truex out of those penalized had driven himself into the top 10.
In total, 7 of the 8 Playoff drivers were in the top 10 for Stage 1. The only Playoff team not gaining points in Stage 1 was Chase Elliott’s 9. They all followed Stage Winner Denny Hamlin.
Stage 2 is the Calm Before the Storm
In terms of on-track incidents, there were none in Stage 2. The entire 122 lap segment ran without any breaks. Up front, it was Joey Logano leading the entire distance. Late in this Stage however, Denny Hamlin was mounting a charge for the lead in lapped traffic. At the Stage break though, it was Logano just edging Hamlin at the line.
Young Drivers Struggle in Final Stage
After racing resumed for the final stage, the next caution would come on lap 367. William Byron’s 24 car brought out this yellow, when he spun in turns 3 and 4. Just prior to this caution, Logano lost the lead to Martin Truex Jr.
Not long after the green flag came back out, another yellow flag incident occurred. The 66 of Timmy Hill came to pit road in a shower of flames. Thankfully Hill was able to exit his car unharmed, but the flaming 66 was a scary sight.
Another near-instant yellow came out on lap 398, when Kyle Larson crashed in turn 4. Due to Larson’s car leaving a lot of oil on track, this was an extended caution, lasting 17 laps total.
No Team Orders at Penske
The race restarted on lap 415, with Logano still in the lead. Just 4 laps later, Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski would pass him for the top spot. This was interesting to see, given that Logano is racing for his Playoff life, while Keselowski was eliminated. Brad never yielded the lead to Logano, and at one point had a 5 second advantage over his teammate. Logano would only pass the 2 car again on lap 460, on pit road after a lightning-fast stop.
The caution that would give Logano the lead was brought out by Clint Bowyer. Even though he won Martinsville in the spring, Bowyer looped it in turns 3 and 4 while racing 3 wide with Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson. Slight contact from the 48 sent the 14 around, and sent him to the bottom of the Playoff standings.
On the restart with just 37 laps to go, Logano got a great launch over Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Hamlin. Truex went all the way back to 5th due to a slower pit stop, but still had one of the fastest cars. Brad would catch Logano with 25 laps left, and the 78 was not far behind. Truex passed Brad with little time left to chase down Logano.
Initially Clean Racing Up Front
When Truex caught Logano inside of the last 10 laps, the 78 raced the 22 as cleanly as possible for the lead. For 6 laps straight, the 78 was to the inside of the 22, door-to-door for the lead with minimal contact. Coming into the last lap, it was sure to be a tight finish between them.
Last Lap Move for the Win
Coming to the white flag, Truex had a nose ahead of Logano, and would clear for the lead in turn 2. Going down the backstretch, Logano gained under braking into turn 3. The 22 would nudge the 78 from the inside line in turn 3, opening the preferred lane. Exiting turn 4, Logano slid wide, washing up into the 78. This turned the 78 sideways, and allowed Logano and Hamlin to beat him back to the checkers. Truex would go on to finish a disappointing 3rd-place, while Logano notched his 20th career win.
The top 10 finishers from Martinsville were Logano, Hamlin, Truex, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman, Daniel Suarez, and Kevin Harvick.
Significance of Logano’s 20th Career Win
With the Martinsville win, Joey Logano is the 40th driver to score his 20th career win in the Cup Series. In terms of the Playoffs, this win secures Logano into the Championship 4 at Homestead for a 3rd time in 5 years. Logano has a best finish of 2nd in the championship, coming back in 2016.
After the race, I asked Logano if this was his biggest win ever, especially when compared to the Daytona 500. He said “It’s hard to say anything is bigger than a Daytona 500. To me, this is definitely maybe a top three or four win in my career. I guess if you win Miami, that would be bigger than the Daytona 500 at this point, that we have a shot to win a championship there. Martinsville has always been a special place. It’s on the top of my list to get a win. We’ve been so close so many times, led so many laps, sat up here with a lot of poles but never was able to finish the deal off. Just a great feeling to finally get that done, get that grandfather clock.”
Harsh Criticism From Truex
After Logano’s push to score his 20th career win, Truex was less than happy at the result. Truex himself was going for his 20th career win, as well as his first victory on a short track. After the race, Truex proclaimed “they won the battle, but didn’t win the damn war.”
Truex and the 78 team are harboring resentment from Martinsville, as he went on to say “I’m just not going to let him win (the championship). I’m going to win it.”
On being raced hard by Logano, Truex said “he just took a cheap shot at the end there… I pretty much had the feeling going to the backstretch that that was going to happen and there was nothing I could do about it. It sucks, but that’s the way it goes. I can promise you I won’t forget what he did.” We will have to stay tuned to see if Truex ever pays Logano back for this move.
How to Watch the Next Race
After a thriller in Martinsville, the next stop for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be Texas Motor Speedway, for the AAA Texas 500. Tune in on Sunday, November 4th, at 3 PM EST. Coverage will be on NBCSN, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90. With the Playoffs nearing the end, the pressure will be Texas-sized this weekend on the fast mile-and-a-half.
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