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The last memory NASCAR fans have of the 2022 season is of Joey Logano winning the Championship 4 in Phoenix. With three months between races, he’ll remain top-of-mind until the Busch Light Clash in Los Angeles and perhaps beyond.

But does becoming a two-time Cup Series champion make the man behind the wheel of the No. 22 Ford the most valuable driver? NBC racing analyst Jeff Burton thinks so.

Joey Logano carries the defending champion title into 2023

Joey Logano poses with the Bill France NASCAR Cup Series Championship trophy and his NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum trophy at LA Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 8, 2022. | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images
Joey Logano poses with the Bill France NASCAR Cup Series Championship trophy and his NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum trophy at LA Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 8, 2022. | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

The temptation to call the champion the most valuable driver is understandable. Hardcore fans and casual viewers alike saw him win the final race of the season, making Joey Logano an enduring memory during the down months. There’ll be plenty of race winners throughout next season, but Logano carries the title of defending champ until he’s dethroned in another Championship 4.

Every champion gets a comparable bump in notoriety, and it’s hardly exclusive to NASCAR. Sports fans and media gravitate toward winners.

It’s worth noting Logano isn’t exactly the flavor of the week. Aside from his 2018 Cup Series championship, he’s won 31 races in the top series. The victories include the 2015 Daytona 500. Tack on 30 Xfinity Series wins, and Logano is destined for induction into the Hall of Fame.

Defining what makes a driver the most valuable in NASCAR

What makes Joey Logano NASCAR’s most valuable driver in the eyes of NBC analyst and Hall of Fame candidate Jeff Burton? It helps to start by distinguishing between “most valuable driver” and “driver of the year.”

An MLB hitter who finishes with a .310 batting average, 45 home runs, and 120 runs batted in merits consideration for the Player of the Year Award even if his team finishes last in the division. Calling him worthy of the Most Valuable Player Award is a more difficult case to make since his team would have finished last even if he didn’t produce monster numbers.

There isn’t a comparable distinction to be made in NASCAR, where the driver is the team for all practical purposes. As such, there’s an easy case for calling Joey Logano the driver of the year. He’s the one holding the series trophy, and it’s not as though regular-season champion Chase Elliott overwhelmed with a substantially better body of work before falling short on Phoenix.

But doesn’t Ross Chastain’s season count for something when we’re discussing most valuable? Scoring his first Cup Series win at Circuit of the Americas, followed by smashing a watermelon, made for a lot of attention. And when he made his wild dash at Martinsville to clinch a Championship 4 berth, Chastain brought phenomenal attention to racing.

Jeff Burton makes his case for Joey Logano


Start Inscribing Joey Logano’s NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaque

Appearing on the Mark, Mamba & The Mayor podcast, former driver Jeff Burton cited a conversation with fellow NBC announcer Steve Letard in suggesting performance on and off the track is the distinction that matters in NASCAR. Burton likes Joey Logano in that regard.

“(He) does all the things on and off the track right. … It’s very difficult to be the nice guy off the track, understand all the things you’re supposed to do, embrace them and go do your sponsor commitments. Go try to make the sport better than it was when you got here. Do it with excitement. Do it with enthusiasm. Put the helmet on. I want to be the (expletive) that you have to be to win races.”

Jeff Burton

Logano did his share of winning by making four trips to Victory Lane, including at the Championship 4. And, of course, he has a reputation for skirmishes with more drivers than you can count over tactics when a race is on the line. With those as his criteria, Burton makes a reasonable case for Logano.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected].