Throughout the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, the so-called Big Three has been the main topic of discussion. Composed of defending champion Martin Truex Jr. and past champs Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, the trio combined for more than half of the schedule’s wins. However, it was another driver who ultimately won the war: in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Joey Logano held off the triumvirate to score his first Cup championship.
Denny Hamlin started on the pole alongside Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Busch, which the two capitalised on for some pre-race strategy: as the pole-sitter has the right to choose their pit stall first, Hamlin elected to go against the norm of choosing the first stall and instead chose the fourth, allowing Busch to take the first. Truex qualified third and Logano fifth, while Harvick started in twelfth. For Harvick, he faced an uphill battle in both starting spot and his supporting cast as he was without crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Robert Smith due to penalties following the AAA Texas 500.
The green flag was briefly delayed as Regan Smith‘s #95 car, running his final race for Leavine Family Racing on an interim basis, began leaking fluid onto the track. He would not return to the race until lap 24.
Hamlin led the race early, but Harvick entered the top ten after five laps. By lap 21, the Championship drivers were running second through fourth as Truex took third from a dropping Brad Keselowski, who made contact with Kyle Weatherman and fell off the pace.
Kyle Larson pitted on lap 36 to begin the first cycle of green flag stops. Hamlin and much of the field, including Logano, Busch, and Harvick, did so shortly after. Truex, on the other hand, attempted an alternative strategy as he stayed out before pitting on lap 39. By the end of the stops, Harvick was in the lead. Larson eventually broke into the Championship Four’s stranglehold to run second behind Harvick, who scored the stage win.
Behind Harvick and Larson were Busch, Logano, Truex, Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Erik Jones, Keselowski, and Kurt Busch.
Harvick led the field off pit road, while Kyle Busch was marred by a slow stop to drop to ninth. Hamlin overshot his pit box and fell out of the top ten entirely for the restart.
Stage #2 began on lap 86 as Larson got the jump on Harvick to take the lead. Logano passed Larson for first five laps later before the latter reclaimed it on lap 105. Harvick eventually moved up to second as Logano began to slip.
The next pit cycle opened on lap 120, briefly giving Hamlin the lead until he also hit pit road and Larson was shuffled back to the top.
Lap 139 saw the first non-stage caution of the weekend for debris before the race resumed two laps later. Larson and Harvick dueled for the remainder of the stage; on the final lap, Larson’s strong run along the outside line enabled him to catch Harvick on the frontstretch and beat him to the line for the stage win.
The final stage of the 2018 season commenced on lap 166 with Logano and Harvick on the front row. As the former led, Harvick was passed by Truex and Larson, the latter eventually improving to second and beginning to chase down the leader. However, Larson’s fortunes took a turn on lap 193 when he hit the turn three wall to bring out the caution.
During stops, Busch’s air gun hose was caught in the front of his car, causing him to lose four spots for the lap 200 restart. Despite this, it did not take long for him to rebound as the Championship Four began running in the top four with Logano leading.
With 37 laps in the race, Harvick pitted, with the others doing so later. On pit road, Logano beat Truex as they exited, while Harvick pulled to the hypothetical lead that would place him officially in front once Busch pitted.
On lap 245, Daniel Suárez was clipped by Keselowski and spun to bring out the caution, serving as a major break for Busch. A strong stop kept him in front, but a great restart by Truex and Logano on the inside propelled them to the lead. With 12 laps remaining, Logano made his move on the outside to take the lead.
Truex was unable to catch the #22 as Logano stormed off to his twenty-first Cup win and first Cup Series title. Truex, running the final race for Furniture Row Racing, settled for second, while Harvick and Busch finished third and fourth, respectively.
Other finishes of note include Matt Kenseth, running what could be his last Cup start, in sixth. Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson finished twelfth and fourteenth, respectively, as they failed to score a win in a season for the first time in their careers; it is also Johnson’s final race with longtime crew chief Chad Knaus and sponsor Lowe’s. A.J. Allmendinger finished nineteenth in what is likely his final Cup race.
It is Logano’s first NASCAR national series title and Team Penske‘s first in the Cup Series since Keselowski won in 2012. Coincidentally, both of Keselowski and Logano’s titles came on 18 November.
“I worked my whole life to get here, to get to win a championship,” Logano stated in an interview with NBC. “We’ve been so close. We’ve spent ten seasons fighting for this. I wasn’t sure we were going to get it, but man, [crew chief] Todd (Gordon) made a good adjustment there at the end and the no-quit attitude, I was going to pass that car no matter what.”