By Ethan Miller ‘23
Once heralded as “Sliced Bread” by media and competitors due to his age, Joey Logano captured his second career NASCAR Cup Series Championship on Sunday afternoon with a veteran drive at Phoenix Raceway. Logano remained the highest-running Championship 4 driver for all but one of the 312 laps to win his fourth race of the season, leading a race-high 187 laps. The driver for the no. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Mustang for Team Penske last won the title in 2018, also for Team Penske. Logano held off teammate Ryan Blaney for the race win, and a hard-charging Ross Chastain for the championship win.
Entering Sunday’s race, no clear favorite emerged among the Championship 4 drivers eligible for the title. Logano, now the mature veteran of the group, was the oldest of the four at age 32 and held the most accolades of any of the 4 (3o wins, the 2018 championship). Joining Logano was 2020 champion Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, who won last week on the brink of elimination, and Ross Chastain, who went viral with his “Hail Melon” wall ride to make the championship race last week. Both Bell and Chastain are young, talented drivers who had not made the final round previously; both Logano and Elliott have multiple appearances in the past.
Logano won the pole for Sunday’s race, with Elliott starting 5th, Bell in 17th, and Chastain towards the tail of the field in 25th. He won the first stage easily, leading every lap, and remained in contention for stage 2, though Blaney was able to capture the second stage win. Logano maintained control of the championship throughout the entire afternoon and never seemed frustrated or concerned.
On a restart early in the final stage, Chase Elliott attempted to block Chastain’s line entering turn 1. Chastain didn’t lift, and Elliott was sent spinning into the interior wall, bringing out a caution and damaging Elliott’s NAPA Chevrolet. The 9 team was able to repair the car enough to continue the race, but Elliott was unable to remain competitive and finished in 28th place, multiple laps down.
A crash with about 40 laps remaining brought out the final caution, and the field filed down pit road for their last stop of the day. Logano was the first of the championship 4 off pit road, with Chastain following. Bell’s tire changer’s finger stuck in the wheel on the left rear tire, causing a long stop and ending Bell’s title hopes.
The race restarted with 33 laps to go, led by Chase Briscoe and Ryan Blaney. Logano worked his way back to the front, dispatching first Blaney and then Briscoe with 30 laps to go. Chastain drove into third and began running down the leaders, but ran out of time to complete the pass. Logano held on with his teammate in tow to clinch the title.
Logano entered the Cup Series at the age of 18 as a highly-touted prospect in 2008 (hence the “Sliced Bread” moniker) and made his full-time debut in 2009 for Joe Gibbs Racing when he was 19. Despite his hyped projections, he only scored 2 wins with JGR in four seasons, with a best points finish of 16th in that span. He made the switch to Team Penske in 2013, and immediately found success. He’s made 5 championship races since joining the team (2014, 2016, 2018, 2020) and won 29 races in 10 years racing for them, including the 2018 title (and now, this year’s).
Logano ended the season with 4 wins, second only to Elliott in the series. At age 32, he’s got at least a decade of high-level racing ahead of him, and with 31 career wins and 2 championships already, he’s got a bright future ahead. As the older generation of NASCAR drivers, such as Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Kurt Busch wrap up their careers, Logano will take the mantle as the veteran presence in the field alongside the likes of Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola. It’s not unreasonable to think that he could achieve multiple more championships before retirement, and 60-70 wins isn’t out of the question either. Logano is well on his way to becoming a top 10 driver at the pace he’s currently at, and with his 2022 championship, he’s only building his legacy.