19 different winners. A brand new car. New race tracks. Ends of eras. The Hail Melon.
These things, all of which have been covered the last few weeks by the Frontstretch team, have made the 2022 season a NASCAR season unlike any other. With so much excitement with parity and new beginnings, who could possibly predict the champion amongst all the different winners on the season?
It was Joey Logano, the 32-year-old from Middletown, Connecticut, who rose to the challenge and captured his second championship, just four years after winning his first. He joins Kyle Busch as the only active driver to have two or more championships (ironically, Busch won his two championships four years apart too, in 2015 and 2019, respectively).
Logano won his first championship in convincing fashion in 2018, outdueling Martin Truex Jr. at Martinsville Speedway to punch his ticket to the Championship 4 in the first race of the round of 8. He then proceeded to “win the damn war” against Truex three weeks later at Homestead-Miami Speedway to take home his first championship. Logano had won three races that season (the other being Talladega Superspeedway in April) en route to the championship in his 10th full-time season.
2022 was more of the same for the Team Penske driver. Despite having a quiet season compared to others, he still kept himself in contention. He started off by winning the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (the first race with the Next Gen car) before going quiet for the first part of the season. It wasn’t until Darlington Raceway where he won his first points-paying race of the season, doing so by moving William Byron out of the way (and into the wall) with two laps to go.
Three races later, Logano won the inaugural Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway, however his victory was overshadowed by the Chase Elliott/Denny Hamlin vs. Ross Chastain feud that took place throughout the entire race. After that win, Logano went quiet for the rest of the rest of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs until the round of 8.
Much like his first championship in 2018, Logano won the first race of the round, this time at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, to make the Championship 4. However, reminiscent of Gateway, his win was overshadowed by another feud: This time, it was Bubba Wallace intentionally wrecking Kyle Larson, resulting in a one-race suspension for Wallace.
Entering Phoenix Raceway, Logano was not the favorite for the championship. He wasn’t even a storyline heading into the finale. That belonged to Chastain.
Chastain made national headlines the previous week at Martinsville Speedway, pulling a once-in-a-lifetime move by riding the outside wall in turns 3 and 4 on the final lap to surge past Denny Hamlin in points to make the Championship 4. He passed six cars on the final lap, including Logano, and bested race winner Christopher Bell’s last lap time by two seconds.
Bell’s Game 7 win (which he also managed to accomplish in the round of 12 to even make it to the round of 8) at Martinsville propelled him into the championship hunt, as he was an early favorite to win the championship in the playoffs, as his consistency in the first round allowed him to gain momentum and confidence heading into the later stages of the playoffs.
But then a couple derailments set Bell behind in both the round of 12 and the round of 8. 34th-place finishes at both opening round races, at Texas Motor Speedway (round of 12) and Las Vegas (round of 8), put Bell in a must-win position almost immediately, and somehow he was able to do that twice to put himself in the mix for the championship.
Meanwhile, despite the “Hail Melon” taking the media by storm, the favorite of the Championship 4 to win it all was the No. 9 team of Chase Elliott. Elliott had the most wins of anybody on the year, taking home five checkered flags, respectively. In a season full of parity amongst winners, if anyone was to pick a favorite based on stats, it would have been the Dawsonville, Georgia native.
As the weekend unfolded, surprisingly, it was Logano who seemed to be not just the Championship 4 driver to beat, but the driver for everybody to beat. He won the pole for the race and just needed to keep his car in front of the other three to win.
Bell could not find the speed in his car the whole day. Chastain and Elliott… well, they collided again.
On the restart to begin stage three, as the field ducked down onto the famed Phoenix dogleg, Chastain and Elliott made contact, resulting in the latter spinning down the frontstretch before lightly making contact with the inside wall. Despite little damage on the No. 9, it was enough to take him out of contention for the championship, and Elliott would finish the race 28th, two laps down.
Chastain, meanwhile, was able to continue the race and found himself second in the race (and the championship) late. However, Logano was lights out dominant, leading 188 laps on the day and winning stage one. There was no catching the No. 22.
— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) November 7, 2022
Thus, it was #22in22, as Logano won his second championship four years removed from his first one, and did so in a season where he was never the favorite – hell, no one was. Aside from four wins, two of them at inaugural tracks (LA Coliseum and Gateway), he didn’t really have a truly memorable season – no Game 7 moments like Bell, no rivalries like Chastain (well, he might have to check with Byron first), and no outstanding stats like Elliott.
His quiet season allowed him to fly under the radar, and no one noticed until the green flag flew at Phoenix. Then everyone realized that it was his championship to lose.
Logano now enters the 2023 Clash, not only as the defending winner of the race, but also the defending champion. He finished fifth in 2019, the season following his first championship, but I’m sure Logano would like to do something in 2023 that has never been done in NASCAR history: Bring home back-to-back championships for Captain Roger Penske.
But if there are 20+ drivers capable of winning just like this season (including Logano’s teammates, Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric), Logano will have to earn his third title just like he did this season with his second one.
About the author
Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the site's primary Truck Series reporter and writer, and contributes to SRX coverage, too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing his master of journalism at Temple University. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training outside of Frontstretch. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.
You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.
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