Stare Down - South Dade News Leader: Opinion

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Posted: Thursday, November 1, 2018 9:07 pm

The schedule says Ford Championship Weekend is still two weeks away. Reality says it began last weekend at Martinsville. If you weren’t sure of that, you were reminded immediately after Joey crossed the finish line following a heated battle with defending champion Martin Truex Jr., when the first words Logano uttered were, “Miami, baby.”

That’s what Logano was aiming for down the stretch as he and Truex bumped cars numerous times around the half-mile track. With as iconic as the Martinsville’s grandfather clock is as a prize for the race winner, that really didn’t matter for Logano, who recorded his first win at the Virginia short track. It very well might at some point down the road, but for now a spot in the Championship 4 in the Ford EcoBoost 400 on Sunday, November 18 is the only thing that is of consequence. A chance to lay claim to the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

And to do that, Logano was resigned to the fact that he needed to do just about anything in his power to make sure that happened. Some, most notably Truex, weren’t ecstatic with the way Logano went about capturing the win. You would expect that from Truex, however, as he could have been the one who earned the right to rest easy the next two weeks as a result of the win. Instead, it’s Logano, who unlike Truex, knows that the chances of etching his name into the Championship 4 

were reliant on a win and not points. He didn’t have that luxury, and thus had to seize the opportunity when it was at his fingertips.

And Logano knew that before, during and after the race. Following the race, when asked about the late-race bumping with the 2017 champion, Logano said, “This was our shot, maybe our only shot.” When that is the case, you do whatever is required to keep your dreams alive. Logano remembers all too well the agony of barely missing out on a title in 2016, the last time he was part of the Championship 4 and the same year Jimmie Johnson registered his record-tying seventh championship. Logano was also a part of the foursome in its first year – 2014. Now he hopes the third time is a charm.

The introduction of the new playoff format in 2014 brought with it many things for the benefit of the fans. Drama, intensity, excitement and entertainment are just a few of them. For the drivers still alive in the playoffs it carried something else – pressure. And it only escalates with the passing of each subsequent race. You wouldn’t think the “Big 3” of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Truex would be among those to feel this pressure. Their regular season performances, as well as their success in the playoffs to date, would have appeared to be enough to pave their way into the Championship 4.

With Logano earning his second victory of the year last week at Martinsville, though, a win by ay one of the other four playoff drivers – Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola – in either of the final two races of the Round of 8 would mean that one of the Big 3 would not advance to the Championship 4. All of a sudden, you now see that the pressure is on for everyone.

That’s what playoff action – no matter the sport – is all about. It’s about rising to the occasion when the stakes are at its pinnacle. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t really make a difference how successful of a regular season you might have put forth. The fact that the 2007 New England Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season and that the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors registered an NBA-record 73 wins during the regular season are lost on many people. Both teams fell in the championship round in those years.

Now, while the focus turns to Texas and if another fantastic finish is in the offing, what people have been talking about since the conclusion at the historic half mile at Martinsville, is the potential battle that could be waged between Logano and Truex at Homestead-Miami in just a few weeks. As Truex stated after last weekend’s race, in his mind Logano might have won the battle but he won’t win the war. It goes without saying that if Truex manages to join Logano in the Championship 4 on November 18, there won’t be many pleasantries exchanged between the two in the week leading up to the Ford EcoBoost 400.

That’s exactly the way everyone should want it. It’s a stare down. It’s not an All-Star Game for East-West bragging rights. It’s all for a championship. In two weeks we will be crowning a champion who will be concluding an extensive journey that was embarked upon nine months ago. It all culminates at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18. When you put it in those terms, opponents in the Championship 4 should view one another as obstacles to what could be the greatest moment of their career.

As Joey Logano exhibited last week, very little will get in the way of those aspirations. Logano did what he had to in order to stake his claim, and now we will see who can accomplish that same thing over the next two weeks, setting up the greatest weekend in motorsports. And it all happens right here at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NASCAR ACTION THIS WEEKEND

Sunday, November 4 at 3:00 PM (ET)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Tune In: NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Saturday, November 3 at 4:30 PM (ET)

NASCAR XFINITY Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway

Tune In: NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Friday, November 2 at 8:30 PM (ET)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series JAG Metals 350 at Texas Motor Speedway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90

2018 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES

Nov. 16

Ford EcoBoost 200 Camping World Truck Series Championship Race

Nov. 17

Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series

Championship Race

Nov. 18

Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy Series Championship

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