NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR: Did Joey Logano deserve championship berth? And now that he’s in, can he win?

Joey Logano’s win at Martinsville sealed his spot in the championship race at Homestead in November, where he’ll be gunning for his first NASCAR Cup Series title.
Joey Logano’s win at Martinsville sealed his spot in the championship race at Homestead in November, where he’ll be gunning for his first NASCAR Cup Series title. AP

Your choices: defend Joey Logano’s Sunday move to win at Martinsville as “rubbin’s racing’” — just good ol’-fashioned bumping and grinding...

Or say that that’s a bunch of bull.

On Sunday at Martinsville, after weaving his way from the back of the pack all the way to first place, Martin Truex Jr. appeared poised to win his first-ever short track race and advance to the NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead. Only, things seldom work out that nicely.

Instead, after Truex cleared him on Turn 2 of the final lap, Logano bumped Truex out of the way as they came to the finish, sending Truex wobbling sideways across the finish and stealing the win for himself. Truex finished third, and Logano walked out of Martinsville with a grandfather clock and the golden ticket to Homestead.

And while fans booed Logano immediately after — no doubt spurred on by Truex’s post-race comments that Logano “may have won the battle, but he ain’t winning the damn war” — the decision is final. Logano went for broke at a crucial decision, and whether you agree with his tactics or not, now the man is into NASCAR’s championship race for the second time in three years.

Which raises an entirely separate question: now that he’s in, can he actually win?



Logano hasn’t had a bad season by any means, but of all the remaining playoff competitors, he’s also far from the first you would have expected to qualify for Homestead. His lone win before Martinsville came at Talladega, and while he came close at Darlington, ultimately he finished in second. In total, Logano has 11 Top 5s this season and 24 Top 10s through 33 races.

Certainly not bad, but not overwhelmingly good, either.

That’s especially true compared to someone like Truex, or his compatriots in the Big 3 in Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Not only has the threesome dominated this Cup season in terms of wins, but they’re easily the three highest point-getters, too.

That all said, it certainly felt like Logano’s win might cost one or even two of those guys their shot at a championship.

And that brings it back to Logano — now that he’s in, what are his realistic chances at winning?

Simple math would tell you he’s got at least a 25 percent shot at winning this thing, but that discounts the volatile nature of Homestead and racing in general. In his past five races at Homestead, Logano has four top-10 finishes, including his 2015 race where he led 72 laps. Even last season, when he failed to qualify for the playoffs, he still finished sixth at Homestead after starting 19th.

No, he hasn’t won there before, but he’s always in the mix, and that’s about as good as you can ask for.

If Harvick and Busch and Truex fill the final three championship spots, Logano will enter the finale not only as the biggest underdog but also as the biggest villain. But if more unlikely winners fill those spots and keep the Big 3 out, then Logano’s odds shoot up dramatically.

But if I’m Logano, the one person I do want in the championship race?

Truex — that way, we’ll know if winning the battle translates to winning the whole war.

This week’s NASCAR race at Texas: What you need to know.

Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA Texas 500.

Distance: 344 laps, or 501 miles.

Where: Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile asphalt oval in Fort Worth, Texas.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday.

TV: NBCSN.

Radio: PRN.

Last year’s winner: Kevin Harvick.

Also this week: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, Xfinity Series, Texas Motor Speedway, 4:30 p.m., Saturday, NBCSN.

Worth mentioning: Jimmie Johnson is the all-time winningest driver at Texas, having won seven races there altogether and five in the fall.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not

HOT

Joey Logano: His win at Martinsville wasn’t the prettiest, but a win’s a win — and now, Logano’s into the championship race at Homestead.

Martin Truex Jr.: Many thought Truex was going to walk out of Martinsville with a grandfather clock and ticket to Homestead, but he’s still well-positioned to qualify after finishing third.

NOT

Clint Bowyer: A 21st-place finish doesn’t help his championship hopes much, as he’s now 42 points below the cutoff line.

Aric Almirola: He’s currently last of all the remaining playoff contenders, and while that doesn’t mean he can’t get in, he’ll have to win one of the next two races to do so.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889; @brendanrmarks
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