Joey Logano earned a shot at NASCAR's Cup title by using an old fashioned bump-and-run on Martin Truex Jr. to win at Martinsville Speedway. Truex slid sideways across the finish line and promptly declared Logano won't take his title from him this year.
Logano won Sunday's 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 hurtled across the finish line.
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 NASCAR's so-called “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 and was among the fans jeering Logano as he was interviewed post-race on the address system.
“We should be in victory lane right now,” said Truex, who stood on pit road alongside his Toyota and gave Logano a double thumbs-down gesture as the crowd booed the winner.
“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.”
Logano seemed to be aware that the way he won was unpopular, but his eyes were on the bigger prize.
“Miami. I was thinking about how we could win a championship,” Logano said. “That's NASCAR racing. That's what the grassroots are, that's what fans come here to see. Some may not like it.”
Logano led a race-high 309 of the 500 laps but had to contend with Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in the waning laps. That gave time for Truex, whose Toyota failed inspection prior to the race so he started 31st, to close in on the leaders.
Truex first got past Keselowski, who raced Logano so hard it is clear Penske does not have team orders, and got to Logano with 10 laps to go. They raced side-by-side, door-to-door, round-and-round the Virginia paperclip until Truex finally got the lead with one lap remaining.
Truex thought he was clear and headed to not only the right to defend his championship, but also his first career victory on a short track. Instead, Logano used his bumper to claw the victory back into his control and earned an enemy while doing so.
“I was next to him for six laps, I never knocked him out of the way,” Truex said. “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.”
More from Martinsville:
NEW DEAL FOR JJ: It took a long search for Hendrick Motorsports to land a new sponsor for Jimmie Johnson. About an hour before the race, Ally Financial said it would sponsor the next two seasons for Johnson.
Ally will replace Lowe's, which is leaving NASCAR at the end of the season. Lowe's has been on Johnson's car since his debut in 2001 through seven championships. The deal with Ally covers all 38 races a season — a huge financial commitment in present-day NASCAR.