Hindsight provides perspective that is impossible to grasp in a given moment. And the clues that helped foretell the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series champion appear a lot more obvious now that Joey Logano has won his second career title.
Logano entered Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway with a 23.3% chance of winning the championship, tied with Ross Chastain for the lowest odds among the Championship 4 drivers.
Chase Elliott was the betting favorite before the race with a 33.3% chance, but, as is often the case, the actual race told a different story.
Joey Logano controlled the championship race nearly all day at one of his best tracks
Logano dominated the event with a race-high 187 laps led to capture the race and the championship, while Elliott did not lead a single lap and finished 28th after a crash with Chastain on Lap 201 of 312.
Elliott had made his way to the top five by that point in the race, but Logano and his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney had control of the race from the start. Logano won the pole award, and he and Blaney combined to lead all but 167 laps of the race.
Logano’s win should not be considered an upset, necessarily. He was by far the most experienced driver of the four in contention to win the title, with 14 full-time Cup Series seasons on his resume.
Elliott, the 2022 regular season champ, is the next closest in that statistic, with only seven full-time seasons completed.
Logano also has a 5.6 average finishing position in the last eight races at Phoenix since 2019, which is the best among all active drivers. He has scored a top-10 finish in seven of those races and has had top-10 runs in 13 of his last 19 starts at the flat 1.0-mile track dating back to 2013, even though the track underwent a massive reconfiguration during that time.
His 908 career laps led at Phoenix are only second to his 1,098 laps as the leader at Martinsville Speedway.
Logano’s history at Phoenix could have made a solid case for him to be considered more of a frontrunner coming into the race, but a look solely at his 2022 season could have also done so.
Logano also ran well in first Next Gen races at tracks similar to Phoenix
He opened the year by putting the No. 22 Ford in Victory Lane immediately with a win in the season-opening exhibition Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He survived several heat races and outlasted Kyle Busch by leading the final 35 laps on the temporary quarter-mile track NASCAR built inside the stadium to host the first event with its new Next Gen car model.
The Next Gen car proved to be one of the most significant variables in one of the most unpredictable seasons in the sport’s history. A record-tying 19 different drivers won at least one of the 36 points-paying events this year, but Logano captured four of those victories, second-most in the series behind Elliott’s five, and he tied for the series lead with four poles.
Logano and the No. 22 team were one of the early adaptors of the Next Gen car. He led the points standings after the first four races of the season following an eighth-place finish in the March race at Phoenix.
He earned his first pole and first win in May at Darlington Raceway, although his victory was controversial after he punted William Byron into the wall late in the race to make the pass for the win.
His next victory came on the first weekend of June in the inaugural Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. That win proved to be notable, given the similarities between the layout of WWT Raceway and Phoenix.
WWT Raceway is a flat, 1.25-mile track with differently shaped corners, much like Phoenix. Logano led a fitting 22 laps and again beat Busch after a spirited battle in the closing laps.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the other track on the NASCAR schedule most closely related to Phoenix. Logano was again in contention to win in the series’ lone visit to the flat, 1.058-mile track in July.
Logano led 25 circuits early in the 301-lap event and was running second with 60 laps remaining when Elliott came out of Turn 4 and hit the No. 22 car in the left-rear tire. That incident caused suspension damage in that corner of the car and dropped Logano to 24th, on lap down at the finish.
Logano said after qualifying at Phoenix that he’s viewed himself and his team as the championship favorites since the beginning of the season. His confidence, experience, and ability to quickly learn the Next Gen car suggest maybe everybody else should have also viewed him that way all along.
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