Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After Joey Logano Dominates Phoenix For 2nd NASCAR Title

Who… should you be talking about after the race?

Entering the championship race and 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway, Kyle Busch was the only driver in the field with multiple titles to his name. By the end of the day, there was another driver on that short list: Joey Logano. He beat teammate Ryan Blaney for the race win and Ross Chastain for the title and celebrated with his son Hudson, who was an infant when he won the 2018 crown.

Logano came loaded for bear, winning the pole and leading 187 of 312 laps on the way to his second championship. The oldest driver in the title race at 32, Logano used his experience to run his race, not worrying about his competitors. He didn’t get in a position where his aggressive style could get him in trouble, and his pit crew executed each stop precisely as they needed to.

It was, perhaps, not the most exciting championship race, but Logano ran a mature, smart race from the start. He’s been quietly consistent this year, a season in which consistency was hard to come by. He may not have pulled a last-minute, must-win victory out of his pocket, but that’s because he didn’t put himself in position to need to. He didn’t make the highlight reels with a desperation thriller, because he never needed to.

Logano’s title run might not be much of a storybook, but the ending sure was.

And don’t forget Chastain. The now-infamous “Hail Melon” pass at Martinsville Speedway aside, Chastain put together a season that is the stuff of storybooks. Nearly out of NASCAR after a full-time deal fell through, Chastain raced for underfunded Spire Motorsports and a year for Chip Ganassi Racing before landing his seat in the Trackhouse Racing Team No. 1 this season.

If nobody expected much from Trackhouse or Chastain before the season started, you can’t really blame them; the team had not won a race and neither of its drivers had won at the Cup level. By summer, that had all changed with both Chastain and Daniel Suarez recording their first wins.

Chastain was a threat everywhere, though he had to learn to control his aggression after tangling with a few of his rivals. His first playoff berth led to the second, third and then championship rounds, with his desperation play to make the final cut the stuff of legend.

On Sunday, Chastain started deep in the field in 25th but methodically worked his way forward. He got as high as third on the final run and was closing on Blaney and Logano when he ran out of laps to make a race of it.

Chastain had never raced for a Cup title before, but now he has that experience under his belt. Next time, he’ll know.

What… is the buzz about?

By Sunday morning, NASCAR had already crowned a pair of champions. Zane Smith snagged the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title after finishing runner-up the two years prior, and Ty Gibbs scored a dominant win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The mood at the track was celebratory as those series closed their seasons.

But on Sunday morning came the worst possible news: Coy Gibbs, co-owner of Joe Gibbs Racing with his father Joe, passed in his sleep overnight. He was just 49 years old.

For 19-year-old Ty, the loss of his father came just hours after he celebrated his first national series title. Daniel Hemric replaced him in the No. 23 23Xi Racing Cup car on Sunday. Hemric led three laps and finished 17th.

Sunday morning showed the best of NASCAR under the worst of circumstances. Drivers and team members from across the sport showed their support. Kaulig Racing stepped in to help 23XI prepare the No. 23 before Hemric was even named as the driver. Social media lit up with messages from competitors and fans expressing their sympathy and sorrow.

See also
NASCAR Community Reacts to Coy Gibbs' Death

Some of those fans were among those who had roundly booed Ty Gibbs after his win Saturday night.

On Sunday they proved that liking someone isn’t required to give them empathy. No father should have to bury two sons. No driver deserves to have the best day of his life turn into the worst. No team should have to race with the added burden of loss. But NASCAR is a community, a family. The Gibbs family and their race teams have that extended family behind them.

Where… did the other key players wind up?

2020 champ Chase Elliott entered the day hoping for a second title of his own and even briefly passed Logano for the top position among the contenders. But a stack-up on a restart with just over 100 laps to go ended his title hopes. Teammate William Byron struggled to get going in front of Elliott, who had to bail to the left, into a space already occupied by Chastain. Elliott ran out of track and spun. He got back on track, but the damage was done. Elliott finished two laps down in 28th.

First-time title contender Christopher Bell made a decent finish out of a difficult day. After learning of Coy Gibbs’ death, Bell started 17th but raced his way into the top 10. He rebounded after a slow pit stop when a crew member got his hand caught in the wheel well to finish 10th. Like Chastain, Bell hasn’t raced for a Cup title before, but the experience he gained prepares him for a run down the road. After the race, Bell congratulated Logano, the grief evident in his words.

All-time Phoenix win leader Kevin Harvick posted his 19th straight top-10 finish at Phoenix. His nine wins are more than double the next driver on the all-time list (Jimmie Johnson if you’re into that sort of thing). On Sunday, Harvick was competitive. He didn’t have a car to contend for the win, but he was a solid fixture in the top 10 and finished fifth. Harvick wasn’t afraid to take on the title contenders, but he didn’t get in their way, either.

In his final race in the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch, like Bell and his other JGR teammates, was racing with a heavy heart. The race also ended his tenure with the team he’s won more than 50 races and two championships with. He’ll move to Richard Childress Racing next year. He finished seventh in a special car thanking his and his sponsor’s fans.

Alex Bowman, making his first Cup start since suffering a concussion at Texas Motor Speedway, had a decent run going. Bowman kept his nose clean for most of the day and was running a respectable 15th until he tangled with Michael McDowell on lap 269 and came out on the losing end. McDowell got into Bowman’s side and sent him spinning into the inside wall. Bowman finished eight laps down in 34th.

When… was the moment of truth?

This year’s finale was perhaps the most overall competitive we’ve ever seen under this title format, at least at the beginning. In most years, the championship contenders have been alone at the front of the field with nobody willing or able to challenge them.

While Logano had a dominant car and led the most laps, the top four weren’t alone at the front like it’s come down to in recent years. A number of drivers raced inside the top 10 and top five throughout the day, often ahead of some of the contenders.

Blaney led 109 laps and appeared to have a faster car than Logano on the final run. He did not have a win in 2022 and looked hungry right up until that last run, where he appeared content to let Logano have the lead and the win. Had Blaney passed Logano, it would not have changed the championship outcome, so why not at least make a move and see if it sticks? Blaney didn’t have to race overly aggressively to try for a win if he didn’t want to risk crashing Logano, and Chastain was far enough back that it’s unlikely he could have passed Logano.

It was a disappointing ending to the day because the race could have had a memorable finish. Other drivers need to stop being afraid to race with the contenders.

Why… should you be paying attention this week?

After 36 weeks that saw 19 different drivers go to victory lane, the engines are quiet. For now.

They’ll roar back to life in February for the Clash in Los Angeles before the grind begins in earnest at Daytona International Speedway a couple of weeks later, a new season rife with possibility and optimism. Anything might happen, and any dream might come true.

Most of the questions have been answered as to who will be racing where and who will be sponsoring.

2023 will feature the return of a champion in Johnson, who comes back as a team owner with Petty GMS Racing and to run a handful of races. It will quite possibly be the first race in his career not in a No. 48 car, and he’ll have to qualify on speed, at least at Daytona, for the first time ever.

Kyle Busch moves to a new team and will have to elevate that team another step to run weekly the way he’s accustomed to. For the first time, he won’t have to face his older brother every week. And he’s just one of the drivers with something to prove entering next year.

But for now, take in the silence and then dream of when it ends again.

How… much have the playoffs changed the final race?

If NASCAR’s main objective is to create drama, it’s succeeded. The elimination races have produced some of the best storylines of the postseason for years.

But NASCAR said it wanted “game seven moments,” and in order for that to happen, those moments have to take place in the seventh game, or in this case, the final race.

What made the title race look tame was that the most exciting playoff moments happened a week ago at Martinsville. Between Bell’s clutch performance when only a win would save his title hopes and Chastain’s Hail Mary on the last lap to make the cut, a move that would have made you question any other driver’s sanity, not much could have happened Sunday to beat that.

There’s nothing wrong with a dominant performance; it’s as much a part of the game as any other winning strategy. Logano’s a deserving champion. But it wouldn’t be the truth to say the finale wasn’t anti-climactic. The point reset on the eve of the last race makes the title race tight. There is, of course, plenty to talk about as they race. But was there a game seven moment? Not this year… and not usually.

If the playoff format wasn’t set up to force drama, the finale would be fine. The race would speak for itself whether the championship came down to the wire or was decided already. Instead, it’s set up to fail if it doesn’t end with a four-wide photo finish among the contenders. That’s not really what a championship is about, though, not when that’s set up to happen.

2022 gave NASCAR fans plenty of things to talk about. The last race just wasn’t one of them.

About the author

Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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kb

Logano had 78 laps on Blaney, no small amount for sure. The right guy won the race. MAYBE if there was more race left, but we will never know.

Racer919

Good article. Well analyzed. The best car at this race won.

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