AVONDALE, Ariz. — Joey Logano can now call himself a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.
The 32-year old outdueled fellow title contenders Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell and Chase Elliott Sunday at Phoenix Raceway in the final race of the 2022 season.
Logano, who started on the pole, took his final lead with 29 laps remaining and held off his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney for the race win and his second championship in four years. Though Logano did not have to win the race to win the championship — he only needed to finish ahead of the other Championship 4 contenders — just like with his 2018 championship, Logano was able to enjoy a double celebration.
Fellow championship contender Ross Chastain finished third as he furiously tried to chase Logano and Blaney down. Christopher Bell finished 10th and Chase Elliott finished two laps down in 28th after disaster struck the 2020 champion.
Disaster struck for Elliott and the No. 9 team early in Stage 3 in the first incident involving one of the Championship 4 drivers.
Coming off a restart on Lap 200, Elliott was in front of Chastain and to the inside of Logano. As Elliott and Logano ducked to the inside of the track to shortcut the one-mile track’s dogleg, the No. 9 car appeared to brush the nose of the No. 1, and Chastain seemingly didn’t budge for Elliott.
The two made contact, and Elliott spun before smacking the inside track wall. Forced to pit, Elliott’s car suffered some damage in the incident, and he returned to the track one lap down.
Logano started out front and that’s exactly how he finished — in the first stage, at least.
The opening 60 laps were largely smooth and uneventful without a single caution flag.
Logano in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford led the entire first stage, but that didn’t mean much for his title hopes — aside from the speed of his car — because the Championship 4 drivers don’t earn stage points in the season finale.
Fellow title contenders Elliott, Bell and Chastain finished the opening stage running sixth, 11th and 13th, respectively.
Most notably, Chastain started the race 25th — by far the lowest starting position among the championship contenders. But after his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet was the fastest car in practice Friday, he was able to make some big moves in the opening stage. At Lap 28, he already had gained 11 spots to get to 14th before grabbing one more by the end of the stage.
Like the opening stage, Logano largely dominated the second stage, which was 125 laps compared with the opener’s 60. But on Lap 159, his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney, in the No. 12 Ford, passed him for the lead and held on to win the second stage.
Among the Championship 4 drivers: Logano was second, while Bell was sixth, Chastain was 11th and Elliott 12th.
Throughout the second stage — with only one caution for a crash between Landon Cassill and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., — fuel concerns played a huge role for the Championship 4.
With a fuel window of approximately 96 laps, Elliott sacrificed his eighth-place position to pit on Lap 154, dropping to 28th and one lap down. It was a huge gamble for the team opting to pit instead of saving fuel, but it worked out.
Elliott and the No. 9 team got lucky that another caution didn’t come out, and by Lap 169, he passed Blaney and to unlap himself.
Story Credit: usatoday.com