Who are the Championship drivers at Homestead-Miami Speedway?
Yes, Joey Logano has heard your boos. Loud and clear.
But does he care what you think?
“No regrets,” Logano told the Observer Thursday. “No regrets at all.”
Context, first, would probably go a long way. The boos — at least the latest crop — started three weeks ago at Martinsville, Va., with a guaranteed berth in NASCAR’s Cup Series championship race on the line. Logano and Martin Truex Jr., the reigning champ, were neck-and-neck coming to the finish, as true a winner-take-all situation as you could draw up.
They banged and they bumped, not sabotaging one another but tires still screeching and echoing out off the surrounding mountains.
And then, on the very last turn ...
What comes next depends on who you ask.
If it’s Truex, he’ll say Logano pushed him. After not wrecking Logano all day long, at the last instant, Truex chose not to return the favor.
Or if you ask Logano, he’ll say it was an honest drag race. They were grinding, sure, but with a championship spot on the line, there’s no place for anything but the absolute hardest racing.
Either way, Truex got sideways and Logano won, sending him back to Homestead-Miami Speedway with a championship shot for the second time in three seasons. After missing the playoffs entirely in 2017, Logano saw his chance to get back to the championship, and he took it.
“Those last few laps, you’re just trying to win the race,” Logano said. “You know what it means to win that race — not only because it’s Martinsville and that’s a cool place to win, but because it sets you up to be good here. Not just here, but in a really good spot.
“You have those weeks where everyone has kind of been racing with their tongues out, and we’ve been able to stay relaxed and be more methodical about this weekend. I think with that, there’s a lot to be said about winning that race.”
No matter how you interpret Logano’s move — and there are plenty of ways to read it — he’s back. Logano admitted that before the past 10 or 15 weeks, he really wasn’t sure if he’d make it to the Championship 4 this season. Irregularity, inconsistency, coming close but not close enough ... Logano was having a fine season, but not necessarily a title-worthy one.
And then, that changed.
From Bristol in August until now (excluding a flat tire that earned him a 37th-place finish at Phoenix last week), Logano hasn’t finished worse than 14th. Meanwhile, his No. 22 team ripped off a string of five straight top-10’s including the Martinsville victory, which led Logano to proclaim himself the championship favorite after Phoenix.
That, naturally, brought out more boos.
“I didn’t mean to stir anything up,” Logano said of his remarks. “I just felt like I was (the favorite). I still do. I’m not trying to stir the pot when I say that. I feel like what we’ve been able to do the past 15 races to get into the playoffs, during the playoffs, all through this point, we’ve been able to execute under a lot of pressure.”
Logano is the only one of the remaining four drivers — Truex, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are the others — yet to win a Cup Series title, and yet he says a championship still isn’t the primary motivation for him this season.
Not that it wouldn’t be nice, or that it wouldn’t enhance his legacy and odds at one day joining the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but ... that’s not quite it.
It’s actually the opposite.
Asked his strongest motivator this weekend, Logano was clear: “I hate to lose.”
Even more than winning?
“Oh yeah, 100 percent,” he said. “Winning is great, it’s a lot of fun ... but losing stinks a lot. I’ve been through that before, I don’t want to do it again.”
In that singular moment at the end of the Martinsville race, that’s what Logano saw. As much his last-lap opportunity represented a chance for him to win his second race of the year, it always was something else: Ensuring he wouldn’t miss the Championship 4 for a second straight year.
So, he did what he had to.
“You don’t know if you’re going to make it if you don’t win that race,” Logano said. “It turns out that we were third in points going into Phoenix and we had a flat tire — we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t win that race.”
Logano made his move, and he’s more than confident living it. He said he expects Truex to race him hard Sunday, and understandably so.
But care about the public perception? Hear the boos, any criticisms, anything of the sort?
Logano isn’t paying it any mind. He has a championship to win, after all.
Or rather, a championship not to lose.
“Right now, what does it mean to win a championship?” Logano said. “I don’t have an answer for what it means. I don’t know yet.
“But I’ll let you know.”