Martinsville, Va. — When the reigning series champion slipped past him with one lap to go at Martinsville Speedway, Joey Logano figured he had lost his shot at racing for NASCAR’s title.
A win would earn Logano one of the four spots in the winner-take-all championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. So if he didn’t try something, his chance at a Cup championship might slip away.
Logano used an old fashioned bump-and-run on Martin Truex Jr. to Sunday and snatch one of the four tickets to the finale. Truex slid sideways across the finish line and promptly declared Logano won’t take his title from him this year.
“He may have won the battle, but he ain’t winning the damn war. I’m not going to let him win it (the championship.) I’m going to win it,” Truex fumed.
Logano took Truex’s warning in stride.
“OK. That’s expected,” Logano said. “This was our shot, maybe our only shot, so we had to make it happen.”
Logano was showered in boos and Truex, standing on pit road next to his third-place car, jeered the winner with both thumbs down as Logano was interviewed over the address system. On pit road, Truex crew chief Cole Pearn Jr. had an angry exchange with Logano crew chief Todd Gordon. Nearly 30 minutes later, Pearn still appeared visibly angry.
Truex and Pearn are part of Furniture Row Racing, which is shutting down at the end of the season, a year removed from its championship run. Naysayers cast doubt on the No. 78 defending its title with the closure looming, but both driver and crew chief are determined to prove everyone wrong.
“With everything we’ve got riding on it, the team closing down, it’s tough to take,” Pearn said of his confrontation with Gordon. “I used a few choice words I probably shouldn’t have. I probably shouldn’t be around a baseball bat or a jackhammer right now.”
Logano won the opening race to the third round of the playoffs by using the bumper on his Ford to shove Truex out of his way on the final lap. The contact caused both cars to wiggle, but Truex’s slide was nearly sideways while Logano corrected after a swerve and straightened himself out as hurtled across the finish line.
“I’m a hard racer, I don’t think that’s a secret to anyone, and we are here to win a championship this year,” Logano said.
Eight drivers started the day vying for the four spots in the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Now one of the slots is gone, to Logano of Team Penske, and NASCAR’s so-called “Big 3” is still trying to lock down a berth. Truex, along with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, dominated the regular season and as a trio were expected to make it to Miami to race for the winner-take-all title.
Instead, Truex wound up third.
“We should be in victory lane right now,” said Truex. “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.
“And he just drove into the back of me and knocked me out of the way. Yeah, it’s short track racing. But what goes around comes around.”
Logano was aware how he won was not popular but his eyes are on the bigger prize.
“He raced really clean and I laid the bumper to him. I don’t expect him to be happy,” Logano said. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, and he’s got to do what he’s got to do, and we’ll hash it out one way or the other. That’s NASCAR racing. That’s what the grassroots are, that’s what fans come here to see. Some may not like it.”
Logano led a race-high 309 of the 500 laps but had to contend with Penske teammate Brad Keselowski (Rochester Hills) in the waning laps. That gave time for Truex, whose Toyota failed inspection prior to the race so he started 31st, to close in on the leaders.
Truex first got past Keselowski, who raced Logano so hard it is clear Penske does not have team orders, and got to Logano with 10 laps to go. They raced side-by-side, door-to-door, round-and-round the Virginia paperclip until Truex finally got the lead with one lap remaining.
Truex thought he was clear and headed to not only the right to defend his championship, but also his first career victory on a short track. Instead, Logano used his bumper to claw the victory back into his control and earned an enemy while doing so.
“I was next to him for six laps, I never knocked him out of the way,” Truex said. “We were going to race hard for it, in my book. I cleared him fair and square. We weren’t even banging doors. And he just drove into the back of me and knocked me out of the way. Yeah, it’s short track racing. But what goes around comes around.”
Lewis Hamilton keeps climbing his way up the list of Formula One’s greatest drivers.
The top now looks very much in sight.
The British driver won his fifth career F1 championship with a fourth-place finish at the Mexican Grand Prix. It was a race dominated by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, but one that will be remembered for Hamilton tying the late Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina for the second-most championships in F1 history.
At age 33, he can now make a run at something once previously unthinkable: The seven titles won by Germany’s Michael Schumacher.
“Michael’s still the (greatest),” Hamilton said. “Fangio is the godfather and always will be. I feel honored to have my name alongside his. If I stop today, I’ll always have my name up there.”
He’s not stopping. Hamilton has won four of his five titles with Mercedes and this year extended his contract through 2020. His 2008 championship was with McLaren.
“I feel like I still drive with that fire that I had when I was 8-years-old,” Hamilton said. “I’m here for a few more years, so hopefully I’ll get close. I’ll always be a fan of (Schumacher).”
Hamilton’s fifth championship arguably ranks among his best. He had to fight off a strong challenge from Ferrari, which even Hamilton admitted often had the stronger car. Ferrari beat him Sunday with title rival Sebastian Vettel taking second and Kimi Raikkonen third.
“I always believed we could win this championship, but it was one of the toughest,” Hamilton said.
Steve Torrence won his first Top Fuel season championship during eliminations and won the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas for his fifth straight victory and 10th of the year.
Torrence beat Leah Pritchett in the final with a 3.751-second run at 326.32 mph in the fifth of six playoff events in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
J.R. Todd won in Funny Car, Bo Butner in Pro Stock, and Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Todd powered to his fifth victory of the year, topping Matt Hagan with a 3.921 at 318.39.
Butner raced to his second Pro Stock win of the year, beating Erica Enders at 6.657 and 207.43. Arana took his third victory of the year, edging Eddie Krawiec with a 6.885 at 193.35.
The season will end Nov. 8-11 at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, California.