AVONDALE, Ariz. – If the 2018 championship was like “A Hard Day’s Night,” then Joey Logano’s 2022 season was equal to The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour.”
While the 32-year-old Middletown, Connecticut native entered this season as a championship contender, the year started off with a bang in more ways than one.
Indeed, Logano won the Busch Light Clash held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a unique race held around a custom built, temporary 0.25-mile track.
A few weeks later, Logano and his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang team wished they had Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. In this case, Logano was collected in a late race incident that relegated the 2015 Daytona 500 champion to a 21st place result.
Early on, Logano had feast or famine weekends from Fontana to Dover. It was top 10 or bust for the Paul Wolfe-led team.
On Mother’s Day at Darlington, Logano gave a memorable gift for his mother, Deborah, when he netted an “excuse me, pardon me” win.
By all means, Logano, essentially taking on the de facto lead driver role for Team Penske this year, was going to grab life by the horns.
The no holds barred nature of NASCAR Cup Series racing typically suits Logano’s tenacious but cunning driving style.
More than ever, tenacity and guile proved important for Logano. In his 15th season, he added victories at Gateway and Las Vegas’ Playoff weekend, turning up the wick when it counted.
Still, Logano was a bit of a quiet championship contender heading into Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway.
After all, most eyes were on Ross Chastain and his video game move at Martinsville. Perhaps that played into Logano’s favor as he focused on the task at hand at the 1-mile track in Avondale, Arizona.
Similarly, Logano considered his place as the leader of the team alongside Wolfe after years of working with Todd Gordon.
“It took me a little bit to just kind of understand where I place, as the leader of the team, how can I help Paul do his job, how can he help me do my job,” Logano said. “Then how that is handled all the way through the whole team, right?
“Where is my strength, where is his strength? But more importantly where is his weakness and my weakness? How can we help each other?”
Notably, Logano tallied a solid practice session in which he netted the seventh quickest time and fifth fastest average speed in a 10-lap run.
Prior to race day, Logano helped Wolfe and his No. 22 team by winning the pole, netting the first pit stall and extra confidence.
From the moment that the flagman waved the green flag, Logano was unstoppable.
Leading the opening 87 laps, Logano won Stage 1 before slipping to a second place result in Stage 2.
On Lap 283, Logano showed no mercy, applying the spurs to his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang past Chase Briscoe.
There was very little that the competition could do to slow Logano on Sunday afternoon at Phoenix. Like The Bee Gees sang in 1977, Logano was like a dancing man who could not lose.
Logano bested Ryan Blaney by 0.301 seconds to capture his fourth win of the 2022 season. More importantly, he won his second NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Celebrating as jubilantly and enthusiastically as ever, Logano enjoyed his latest feat, particularly once he stood atop his car’s roof and realized his incredible accomplishment.
Following the post-race celebrations, Logano considered how unique and difficult this year was for his team.
“I think everyone can probably agree it’s the most challenging year and unexpected year from a lot of ways. So many different winners, for one. I didn’t see that one coming,” he shared. “The lack of consistency throughout the field, hard to really click off a bunch of top fives and a bunch of wins.”
Beyond the closer competition, Logano made a point about momentum and how grueling the season and new car were on his competition.
“The teams that were strong weren’t strong for super long before someone else would figure something out, and just the unexpected pieces that come along with it, whether it’s the pit stops, the strategy, the way the races play out,” he remarked.
Moreover, Logano noted how much this season was an uphill battle that trended toward the better, particularly with managing the Next Gen car.
“Boy, this year was an adventure, to say the least,” he said. “To think about how many things have changed from Phoenix in the spring to now, boy, we’re so much smarter with this race car now. It’s just kind of crazy to think about it all.
“Yeah, it was a tough grind of a year, and a lot of times you just felt lost. A lot of times. The only thing that helped me is I realized that everyone else was lost with me. That’s one way to stay confident is when you know everyone else is lost, too.”
Longtime NASCAR team owner, Roger Penske, considered Logano’s journey and evolution from 2013 to the present. Suffice to say, he is proud of his driver, on and off the track.
“Well, I think he came with us, what, 10 years ago,” Penske recalled. “It’s hard to believe that. There was a lot of discussion was that the right move. I have to thank Brad who talked to me about Joey and really made the opportunity for me to meet with him.
“He’s come on. You’ve seen his success. The number of races he’s won for us has been amazing. He really — I said to him at the beginning of the year, with Brad leaving and he being the senior guy, to really put his arms around the whole team. And I think we’re a lot more transparent as a group. They certainly worked together coming here this weekend.”
Furthermore, Penske observed how hard Logano’s team and the entire Cup program worked in unison to be the best. This work ethic was matched by the Logano family’s off track efforts.
“You could see all the cars were very competitive, and that’s because they all went on the same step, and they had a practice to see what was best, and we loaded that on the cars,” he said. “I think he’s been a big advocate for that. And then not just what he’s doing on the track; our relationship with Shell-Pennzoil couldn’t be better, and it’s because of the job that he’s done and what he does off the track.
“And then he and Brittany, from a philanthropy standpoint, I see another part of Joey you don’t see when he puts his helmet on. But once he puts that helmet on, you want to be sure he’s on your team.”
Fortunately, for Penske, Logano is a part of the Cup effort that has won 29 races since 2013.
Equally so, Logano counts his blessing when he considers his origins as a young man in Middletown, Connecticut, who chased his dreams to be a championship stock car racer.
“Yeah, it’s neat to think about where I came from,” Logano said. “At Silver City Quarter Midget Club in Meriden, Connecticut, getting to go up there earlier this year, they have the Grands there, and to see all the kids there and just the memories come rushing back of everything that was there and the fun that it was. Racing with your — I was out there with my dad and just having a good time.
“There’s just nothing like it. You probably don’t appreciate it enough when you’re a kid.”
Despite Logano acknowledging how his dream has become a job, there is still a youthful side to him, especially when he reflects on his adventures along with his latest victory and championship.
“I always try to tell the kids that you should never take for granted the moment that you get to drive a car at its absolute limit because you don’t know how long you get to do that, and it’s special,” he remarked. “I always tell the parents that make sure it’s fun at that level because that’s what it’s about. It’s about having fun and competing as a kid. You don’t have to add all the pressure and make it a job.
“That’s one thing I always think about kids racing these days, if you take it too serious, you’re going to have your whole life to make it serious. At this level it’s a job, and the only thing that’s fun is when you win, and that’s what it is.”
As a father of three children, perhaps parenthood has served Logano well with appreciating his job even more.
“So there’s nothing like those moments and the dreams that you have, right? This was my dream,” he stated with his trademark grin. “I’m sitting here living my dream. How awesome is that?
“You think about it, I wanted to be a Cup champion, and sounded kind of funny when I went to school in Connecticut and no one else raced in class, and it was just me. And I brought trophies to show-and-tell, and they’re like, What the heck are you doing? Quarter Midget, what the heck does that even mean? I had that dream.”
What would Logano tell his younger self and kids in his shoes who are pursuing their dreams?
“Maybe I was the odd one in the class, but this was it. I loved cars. I loved racing and I loved winning,” he said. “I just kept chasing my dream with all the great people around me, teaching me and learning lessons and a lot of commitment from my family, and look at us now. Kinda neat.”
Stage 1 Top 10 Finishers
Stage 2 Top 10 Finishers
NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race Top 10 Finishers
Luis Torres contributed to this feature story on-site from Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Arizona.