Joey Logano bumped his way into the finals. The 28-year-old Team Penske driver’s run to his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship was clean, although no less dramatic.
Logano didn’t need to nudge defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. like he did to earn a spot among the Championship 4 last month. Logano just sped past Truex with 11 laps left in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 to claim both the race win and the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It’s an amazing night,” Logano said. “I know what second felt like, and I know how much it stinks. I didn’t know what winning felt like, but it feels really, really good.”
Logano finished second to seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson in 2016 after a fourth-place finish in the finale two years ago and, before Sunday, Logano hadn’t finished any higher at this 1.5-mile track in nine previous starts.
Still, Logano declared himself the favorite after bumping Truex at Martinsville — even if he didn’t have a title like the other three Championship 4 drivers (Truex, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch). Those three also were each seeking a second Cup title.
“I said before we weren’t the underdog,” Logano said. “We proved it why we’re not. My team rose to the occasion and executed under pressure like nobody’s business.
“I’ve worked my whole life to get here. We spent 10 seasons to get here. We are champions — NASCAR champions!”
The Championship 4 contenders were the class of the field at Homestead and finished 1-2-3-4. Truex held on for second; Harvick, the 2014 champion, came home third; and Busch, the 2015 champ, finished fourth.
Busch, after a couple of missteps earlier in the race, rebounded on the final pit stop as the leaders came in when Daniel Suarez was spun out with 20 laps left. Busch had been holding out for a yellow because he was on a different pit strategy than the leaders.
“I was optimistic about it but didn’t think it would be that short-lived,” Busch said. “I figured I could at least maybe lead three or four laps, but Martin got a good restart.”
Truex raced for the final time with Furniture Row Racing, which announced in September it would cease operations at season’s end. Truex will drive the No. 19 Toyota next year and team with Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing.
After he passed Busch on the final restart, it looked like Truex could send off the one-car Denver-based operation with another celebration before Logano made the pass with 11 laps left.
“Just didn’t play out the way we needed it to,” Truex said. “I had nothing for him at the end. I needed 15, 20 more laps, and that’s just the way it goes. I’m not sure what else to say.”
Brad Keselowski finished fifth, Matt Kenseth sixth, Chase Elliott seventh, Clint Bowyer eighth, Aric Almirola ninth and Kurt Busch 10th.
The first caution of the weekend — not counting the yellow flags after stages — came on lap 139 for debris. Neither Friday’s Camping World Truck Series nor Saturday’s Xfinity Series races had “natural” cautions.
The second came after Kyle Larson clipped the wall in Turn 4 with 75 laps left. Larson was third at the time and led the most laps (45) of any driver not in the Championship 4.
Kyle Buch’s crew — one of the most dominant this season — had its second miscue of the race as the air gun got caught under the car during the caution for Larson. That cost Busch four spots. Earlier in the race, a tire changer dropped a lug nut.
Harvick raced minus his crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Robert Smith, who were suspended for the final two races of the season after NASCAR found Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford had an illegal spoiler after a victory at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 4.
The race’s start was delayed a few minutes to clean up oil left on the track by Regan Smith’s Chevrolet during the pace laps. That came minutes after a skydiver towing a flag got caught on the catch fence near turn 1. The skydiver was not injured, according to a track spokesperson.