It came down to one event. Forget about the last 35 races. Disregard the last nine weeks. For NASCAR, it was down to one final race, winner take all. Toss out the playoff points, forget about stage racing, and forget about everything else regarding the season.
What mattered this week was how everyone finished at the end of 267 laps, because among four drivers, the one to finish the highest was hoisting a trophy at night’s end.
The scene: a sold-out Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Every fan for the most part was looking at the “Big Three” that have been so dominant all season long. Between them, 20 of 35 races were victorious between them. Without one single question, everyone anticipated any one of them taking the big trophy home on this night, along with potentially the race trophy with it. Since the playoffs went to the 16-driver format in 2014, this race was always won by the team that won the championship. It seemed expected that this would happen again.
Those three drivers certainly had the potential, and they all finished in the top-four. But…so did the fourth in the title picture.
Kyle Busch, had it not been for a few issues on pit road, seemed to be out of the running, until the late restart put him in the thick of it. But he faded, and had to settle for just outside the podium. Kevin Harvick, the one who had the most winner stickers on his car, struggled all weekend to find speed, but found it on this day and night, but could not close the deal. In the end, he took home the bronze medal, finishing third.
Then there’s Martin Truex Jr, the underdog that literally had nothing to lose. His team was closing the doors at year’s end. The best swan song he could give was walking away saying the little team away from NASCAR’s hub was the top team one more time.
He wound up one spot short…coming home second.
The “Big Three” got denied, as the man who pushed, shoved, and powered his way into the title race, powered his way to the front, and drove away from the field. The one team that won it’s way into the title race, now won the final event of the year, and with it a championship.
Congratulations to the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Champion, the best thing since “Sliced Bread” as Mark Martin deemed, Joey Logano.
What does that mean for the League, at least when it comes to the Championship 4 in the title hunt? Well, for one, it meant a perfect pick, and a perfect finish. Here’s the final season standings after the season-finale Ford EcoBoost 400:
Misan Akuya – 5040 – Joey Logano WON (5)
Penny Whitecotton – 5032 – Brad Keselowski finished 5th (7)
Trisha Rodisch – 5030 – Chase Elliott finished 7th (7)
Billy Fellin – 5024 – Kyle Larson finished 13th (5)
Ashley Hobbs – 2315 – Kevin Harvick finished 3rd (5)
Sal Sigala Jr. – 2314 – Martin Truex Jr. finished 2nd (4)
Dustin Parks – 2285 – Martin Truex Jr. finished 2nd (2)
Rob Tiongson – 2279 – Kyle Larson finished 13th (4)
Rob Blount – 2209 – NO PICK SENT (2)
Thanks to picking against the “Big Three” in the final race, the new champion is one that has stuck with this league since I have taken it over beginning in 2010. Now, he’s taken the ride to the top of the mountain, and has won a prize of his own to go along with that trophy that Logano is taking with him.
How about the pick by Misan Akuya, not only to take the win in the final race of the season, but to capture a championship in the process?!
It was an amazing season of domination, but the dominance has come to a close. A pair of drivers go winless that have consistently won every year, while some new blood tasted victory for the first time this season. It’s been a year of highs, lows, and tough breaks. Now, the time at the track has drawn to a close. The champagne and confetti have been sprayed for the last time. Cars have gone through tech one last weekend, and the teams loaded up the hauler to head to the track for the remaining miles home.
The holiday season has come, and NASCAR has reached it’s rather short off-season. Now it’s time to celebrate a champion, Vegas style, and look ahead for 2019.
It will be here before you know it, and sooner than later, I’ll be asking to send in those picks for the season-opening big event, the 61st-Annual Daytona 500.