LAS VEGAS — Joey Logano was emotional, as expected, when he spoke Thursday night in front of the crowd at the NASCAR Cup Series awards ceremony.
That was expected from a driver who often talks about his family. As is typical with awards ceremonies, the speeches were relatively routine. But inside some of the speeches and chatter the past few days, there was plenty to ponder.
Here are five takeaways from the NASCAR 2018 celebration week:
A great year for Penske
Roger Penske touted 2018 as the best year for his racing organization. That’s saying something, considering that the team began competing in 1966.
Team Penske won the Cup title with Logano, the Indianapolis 500 (its 17th) with Will Power and the Australian V8 Supercar title with Scott McLaughlin. It also won for the first time in the Brickyard 400 with Brad Keselowski.
“This is probably the most successful season we’ve had in 52 years, if you can believe it — I’ve been around a long time,” Penske told the crowd.
Afterward, Penske credited his employees. He said that more than 200 people in the Penske organization have more than 10 years with the team.
“It’s just hard to believe,” Penske said. “We’re going to go back at it again next year. But each year we set this bar a little bit higher, and I think that’s what makes us so good.
“Part of the success is the human capital. We’ve got to provide a driver with the best race car.”
In an eight-day span, Penske saw those people at work, helping Logano and McLaughlin win their titles.
“It was one of those things, either you win it or don’t win it [in Australia],” Penske said. “Going to Australia and seeing Scott McLaughlin, a young man we want to bring here [to NASCAR] at some point, it was just a thrilling and unbelievable situation for me.”
For Logano, it was special just to be part of Penske’s best year.
“It is incredible to just drive for him and to end up it being one of his best seasons ever — there’s so much that goes into what he does,” Logano said. “It doesn’t just happen.
“It may look like that everything Roger Penske touches turns into gold, but it is that way because of the work and the people that he has surrounded himself with.”
NASCAR will push Logano’s philanthropy and attitude
Having Gavin Grubbs — a teenager who met Logano about 10 years ago as part of a Make-A-Wish Foundation visit and later served as a groomsman at Logano’s wedding — introduce Logano showed that NASCAR will want try to show the off-the-track Logano as much as his on-the-track persona.
“He has made a major impact on my life as well as many others,” Grubbs told the crowd.
Logano talked about family and tried to put the past few weeks in perspective. His wife, Brittany, gave birth to their first child, Hudson, in January.
“Family means a lot to me,” Logano told the crowd. “We have so many long talks at night and I’m not always smiling. … [Brittany] is an amazing mother to our child and what an amazing year to have Hudson and now a championship.
“I would trade all of this [championship stuff] in a heartbeat [for them]. But the great part is we don’t have to.”
And Logano continued to embrace the fact that he won’t be the most popular driver. He told the fans: “Whether you’re booing or cheering, it’s pretty good. We all do it for you guys.”
Logano reiterated that after the ceremony.
“Love me or hate me, the fact that [fans] love NASCAR means the most,” Logano said. “Because, honestly, that’s what keeps everyone standing around here employed.
“That’s a big deal for the growth of our sport. I’m a fan before I was a driver and I’m still a fan before I am a driver.”
Truex hopes for better days
Martin Truex Jr. seemed almost offended following the awards ceremony when it was suggested that things might never be as good at Joe Gibbs Racing as it was for him and crew chief Cole Pearn the past three years at Furniture Row Racing. The organization closed its doors following the 2018 season.
“It’s not going to be a tick lower because we won’t stand for that,” Truex said. “That’s not why we’re here. Cole and I and the team he assembles, we’re going to have the same attitude.
“We get paid to win. That’s our job, to figure out how to win.”
Pearn and some other team members will move to North Carolina to work at JGR.
“Cole is going to be in North Carolina next week getting to work and I’ll be pestering him about what we’re doing getting ready for Daytona and how the car is going to be,” Truex said.
Sometimes it can be more difficult to influence change with a bigger team.
“The mad scientist part of Cole is still there, and he will still be a driving force,” Truex said. “We’ll just have to see. It will be new territory.”
Jim France makes short statement
Jim France, who has taken over as CEO and chairman while his nephew Brian continues on an indefinite (permanent?) leave of absence following his DWI in August, was honored Wednesday with the Myers Brothers Award for contributions to the sport.
In accepting the award, France gave a very brief analysis of the sport:
“I’ve had the opportunity the last part of this season to spend a lot of time again in the garage area and pits of our racing series, and I’d like to pass on one quick observation from the 1950s in the pits at Bowman Gray Stadium to the 2018 pits in the NASCAR Monster Energy Series:
“That NASCAR spirit, the competitive spirit of the drivers and teams, is alive and well and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
France, while affable, prefers to remain in the background and has not done a news conference since assuming his new role. This would have been an opportunity for him to give more of his state-of-the-sport thoughts. While that would have been welcome and likely productive, it isn’t his style.
Xfinity Series fun day
Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick got to have fun at Universal Studios on Tuesday, where he rode on the float that led the afternoon parade. He also met fans and signed autographs.
“It’s incredible to be out here,” Reddick said.
Universal and Xfinity are part of the Comcast family of companies, so it was a natural setting to try to highlight the young driver and the series champion.
“It’s pretty cool,” Reddick said. “I got the trophy sitting right next to me. We had a bunch of calls [with media] and sitting down and talking about how it all happened. It’s starting to really sink in.”
Reddick enjoyed the day. It was good to see the series sponsor trying to promote its champion, especially one who will return next year to defend his title (albeit with Richard Childress Racing and not JR Motorsports).
“There’s been a lot of big fan reaction,” Reddick said. “There’s a lot of fans back in my dirt [late model] days who have followed me from almost the very start that have still been following along that are still ecstatic. … They have stuck out what seemed to be a pretty hard year, but we’ve rewarded them with a championship.”