Joey Logano won his second career NASCAR Cup Series Championship with a win in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway Sunday (Nov. 6). Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney finished second, followed by championship rival Ross Chastain in third. Chase Briscoe and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
The victory marks Logano’s third career victory at the Arizona circuit and Roger Penske’s third Cup Series title as a team owner.
How did it happen?
There was very little doubt.
From the green flag, Logano seemed to be the fastest car on the one-mile circuit. Heck, from the end of qualifying, the Connecticut native seemed to be the favorite. He started on the pole, won stage one and finished second in stage two.
Even for most of the final stage, however, Logano and his teammate Blaney dominated. The duo swapped the lead and led a combined 296 out of 312 laps of the event. For you non-mathematicians out there, that’s nearly 95% of the race the Penske cars dominated the event.
However, Briscoe inherited the lead under caution on lap 272 and led for a few laps after the green flag waved. Alas, the facade was broken after Logano sped by the Stewart-Haas Racing driver to take back the lead in the final 30 laps.
'@JoeyLogano to the lead!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) November 6, 2022
From then on, Blaney and points rival Chastain attempted to put up a fight but were unable to get around the No. 22 for the lead. Logano continued on to earn his second career championship nearly unopposed.
Who stood out?
However, one would expect at least a little competition, but that simply didn’t come to be. While he didn’t lead every lap, the No. 22 Penske Ford went on to lead a race-high 187 out of 312 laps, which is nearly 60% of the season finale.
That made Logano public enemy No. 1 among the remaining playoff drivers. Alas, none of them were able to show enough speed to get around the Shell/Pennzoil Ford. Logano demonstrated the same amount of domination his championship-winning cohorts had displayed for the rest of the weekend in leading for most of the finale race.
To make matters worse for Penske’s rivals, Blaney joined the dominating fray as well in his mission to finally earn at least one victory before the end of the year for the No. 12 crew. Instead, he fell short behind the No. 22 in second, playing rear-gunner for the organization.
You gotta hand it to @Team_Penske. Race has been a snoozer but Logano and company used extra weeks of prep time well.
— Tom Bowles (@NASCARBowles) November 6, 2022
While Blaney managed to stay within arm’s reach of his teammate, Logano simply had the speed to outrun everyone who dared challenge him. There was no doubt that after Logano’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Penske crew used their two weeks of freedom to assess their short track package in preparation for Phoenix.
Who fell flat?
The same cannot be said for everyone else.
We’ll start with Elliott, who appeared to be the only driver for most of the race that could possibly challenge the No. 22 for the championship lead.
It wasn’t too surprising, as both drivers have been Cup champions before. However, after earning five wins in 2022, Elliott appeared to be the favorite for the title. After all, the Georgian had won his only Cup title at the track in 2020, so he knew how to perform at the mile-long circuit if he needed to.
That didn’t happen, and, well, maybe it wasn’t his fault.
The thing about racing for a championship is that you know your rivals are going to do whatever it takes, and if one of them is that crazy watermelon farmer Chastain, your chances of playoff shenanigans are going to be multiplied.
In this case, it came to a head on lap 269, right after one of the event’s final restarts.
A look at the contact between Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain from Ross’ view.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) November 6, 2022
Was it Chastain? Was it Elliott? Or was it simply one of those racing deals?
No matter how you look at it, both drivers had chances to dethrone Logano, with Elliott even pulling ahead of the No. 22 at one point during the 312-lap event. Had it not been for this one incident during the final stage, one wonders what could’ve been for the two drivers.
But maybe it means something more as well. Maybe something seen in the background when it comes to team preparation.
It was obvious Penske prepared for the finale more than Hendrick Motorsports or Trackhouse Racing Team had, so perhaps too much focus was put on those final two races in the Round of 8 in the playoffs.
Or maybe they had some help.
"We have a pretty good relationship and try to help each other when we can."#NASCAR
— Tom Bowles (@NASCARBowles) November 7, 2022
No matter how you see it, Logano was ready for Phoenix whereas the other three Championship 4 drivers were not. It’s a pattern we saw for the other two series’ finales.
What did this race prove?
With all of that said, perhaps it’s time to say Phoenix has done its time as the series finale. Let’s move on.
No, really. Please move on.
Why are we still using Phoenix as the venue for the title finale? Sure, it is an interesting oblong circuit with some fascinating fan amenities, but is it really a venue that screams season finale?
Let’s remember the fact that this race was dominated by both Blaney and Logano, with Logano being the leader of the Championship 4 drivers for an overwhelming majority of the event. Sure, maybe it’s because of Logano’s preparation or Chastain, Elliott or Bell’s lack thereof, but there is one massive fact that stands above everything else.
This race was anticlimactic.
Isn’t the Championship 4 race supposed to be a thrilling battle between the best of NASCAR for that respective year? Aren’t we supposed to be seeing a thrilling battle between the sport’s best right down to the very end of each race at this venue?
But that’s not what we got. In fact, we haven’t gotten that since we began racing at Phoenix for the finale race in 2020.
Every championship winner since 2019 has been the result of a dominating driver in the final race. All three winners at the fall race at Phoenix have been the race-high lap leader for the championship. In honesty, we really could be making a case for the idea that maybe the season’s championship shouldn’t be decided by a single race. Maybe it should be decided by two or three races. You know, kind of like the other rounds in the playoffs?
But let’s forget that and try to find a more appropriate venue for the championship. What’s the first track that comes to mind when you try to think of a fair and balanced track to sort out the Cup title?
It wasn’t Phoenix, was it?
Better than last time?
In championship fashion, one driver appeared to reign supreme over the other playoff drivers, and as such, competition dwindled.
There were six leaders in 15 lead changes in March, and similarly, there were six different leaders on Sunday. However, they only exchanged the top spot 11 times in the 312-lap event.
It’s no secret the Next Gen car has fallen flat when it comes to the short track packages. So, when everyone knew the final race would take place at a flat short-like track, it wasn’t expected to be a barnburner.
But with all of the hype surrounding it, one would at least hope.
Like at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, passing seemed to be a difficult process for many. At some points, that actually seemed to be somewhat interesting as drivers were forced to alter their driving lines.
At other points, it was frustrating, especially if there is a championship on the line.
Paint scheme of the race
It’s a proper sendoff for sure, but it’s still tragic that it had to happen in the first place.
There’s no other brand in the sport of NASCAR that has arguably put out a better collage of livery designs than that of M&M’s, and now it’s over. For now, at least.
It’s always sad to see such a beloved brand leave the sport after being involved for so long, but at least the candy brand had one more special design for the Candyman. Even better, it’s one that pays homage to those fans that have supported him all this time.
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) November 5, 2022
The No. 18 Toyota driven by Kyle Busch may have looked similar to its normal yellow scheme, but closer inspection reveals a mosaic of photos submitted by fans in a campaign run by Mars to pay one last token of respect and gratitude for a sport and its fanbase. It’s a similar-looking livery to the one run by Logano when Team Penske celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016.
— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) May 19, 2016
Alas, it’s a scheme that brings out bittersweet emotions. It marks the end of an era not only for the No. 18’s sponsor but for its driver as well.
That’s also not including the terrible tragedy for the Gibbs family that occurred before Sunday’s race in the form of the death of Coy Gibbs, which made the final race for Busch’s No. 18 all the more somber in tone.
A well-deserved break.
It’s been one heck of a year for the sport. The 2022 season will be looked back upon with, hopefully, a majority amount of fondness mixed in with some controversy.
But hey, what NASCAR season hasn’t seen its fair number of mixed feelings?
Regardless, it’s time to take that yearly hibernation until February, when the 2023 season begins with the new (and improved?) Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Feb. 5.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after a staff writing position with IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.