MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Martin Truex Jr. “had a feeling” what was to come as he entered Turn 3 on the final lap of Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.
With a win and a place in the championship race in Miami at stake, that bumping in short-track racing on the last lap is generally accepted and Joey Logano was behind him, Truex knew what was next.
He didn’t wreck after the contact from Logano but also didn’t win, later calling Logano’s move a “cheap shot.” Logano said the winning move was a “classic bump and run.”
Pushed around early in his Cup career, Logano has maintained an aggressive posture on the track even if many of his competitors have not liked his driving style at one point or another.
Truex just becomes the latest to a long line of sparring partners for Logano:
Since the last lap Sunday, the question has been asked if Truex is too nice on the track. It’s a point NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. mentioned after the race and one that NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan examined this week and noted how maybe it’s not such a bad thing Truex is the way he is.
That’s not been a discussion with Logano. People know how he drives. Even though he’s in position to win his first Cup title, he drives with the urgency of one who could be competing in their last race. It’s a situation Logano felt he was in during the 2012 season when Joe Gibbs Racing decided to replace him with Matt Kenseth for the next season.
Although 22 at the time, Logano’s career seemed at a crossroads. He’d won two races in 147 starts and struggled with an elite organization. He later conceded he didn’t know where his career was headed at the time. Car owner Roger Penske signed the young driver and a new team restored Logano’s confidence.
While much is made that Truex has won 17 races since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2014, Logano has won the same number of races for Team Penske in the same time period. The lone difference between the two is Truex won the championship last year.
Even though Truex, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have dominated this season, a one-race battle for the championship could see Logano crowned two years after he finished runner-up and a year after he failed to make the playoffs.
“I remember the first Chase at the time that I made,” Logano said. “Jimmie Johnson said that it’s 10 weeks of hell. I told him this year, I said, ‘No, missing the whole thing is 10 weeks of hell. Not being in it is way worse.’ I don’t want to feel that feeling again, not at all. That is not a fun time.”
Easily overlooked in Joey Logano’s win was how his revamped pit crew played a key role.
Logano gained eight spots over three pit stops Sunday, twice taking the lead. He also retained the lead once and retained second place another time.
Team Penske moved jackman Graham Stoddard from Ryan Blaney’s crew to Logano’s crew after Blaney was eliminated from title contention at Kansas.
“When we got to a position where we had one car left that had an opportunity to race to Homestead, everybody at the shop and the athletic department came forward and said, ‘How do we make our best pit crew?’ It’s a testament to how closely our teams work together,” crew chief Todd Gordon said. “When you make a change like that, personalities sometimes don’t … click, chemistry isn’t built right off, you don’t have all the potential you had.
“Our groups worked together, they practiced together, they focused together. Kudos to (crew chief) Jeremy (Bullins) and Ryan Blaney for making the sacrifice to put this kind of best foot forward we could.”
Consider this one of the advantages of having only one team car left in the playoffs, something Stewart-Haas Racing can’t do with all four cars still in title contention.
Martin Truex Jr.’s runner-up finish continued an odd trend. His third-place finish was his 19th top 10 of the season. All of those finishes have been top fives. He’s not had a finish between sixth and 10th this season.
No driver has ever finished a season with at least 19 top 10s that were all top fives.
The last driver who had 19 top 10s that were all top fives at one point in a season was Jeff Gordon in 1997. He scored his first top 10 that wasn’t a top five in the 26th race of that season.
Joey Logano’s win prevents Stewart-Haas Racing from placing all four of its cars in the championship race in Miami.
This is the second time since the elimination format that an organization had all four cars in the Round of 8. Joe Gibbs Racing placed all four cars in this round in 2016. Two drivers made it to Miami but none won. Jimmie Johnson won his seventh Cup crown that season.
Even with Ally Financial signing to be the primary sponsor of Jimmie Johnson’s car for every race in 2019 and ’20, Hendrick Motorsports is still looking for additional funding for that car.
“There’s still some associate (sponsorship) on the car and my endorsement opportunities,” Johnson said before Sunday’s race at Martinsville. “I happen to have a few of my relationships run to the end of their contracts this year. I’m looking to any and all and of course, I can’t make any of those moves until we know what our primary is so there is not a conflict.
“The neat thing that has emerged about this partnership (with Ally Financial) is that … the way they go about things it’s a lifestyle brand although it’s a bank and a finance place. I feel this is really a good fit and they really want to support me and things I’m into. From a primary standpoint, this is a home run and it can only get better from here if I can loop in either an endorsement or associate sponsorship from there.”