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. on 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 public 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 he 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 each of NASCAR's “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.