By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Since the implementation of the Championship 4 in 2014, Joey Logano is one of four drivers that’ve made the title-deciding race five times (2014, 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2022). As much experience as he has with 2018 being the pinnacle of his NASCAR Cup Series career, simply making it to the big dance isn’t enough.
Advancing into the Championship 4 following his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway doesn’t satisfy him. Hoisting the Bill France Trophy satisfies the 32-year-old Team Penske driver.
Heading into Phoenix Raceway, Logano feels the entire No. 22 squad is in a great spot. It does indeed help that he was he first man to punch his ticket into the Championship 4 as preparation is paramount.
“We’re not happy to be here. We’re not just happy to be in the Championship 4. This isn’t enough for us,” said Logano.
“I feel like that’s a number one driver of the 22 team, to win this thing. I think with that mentality and the three weeks we’ve had since Vegas, to really focus in here, it’s going to give us a huge advantage to not only have a good practice plan and set our car up, but also execute this race correctly on top of the experience that we got.
“I’ve never felt more solid in this position than I do right now. With that said, I’m ready to go racing, ready to get out there. I know that. We feel prepared. We’re ready to go to battle.”
Since his only Cup title to date, Logano has had a new man calling the shots in Paul Wolfe, who was Brad Keselowski’s championship-winning crew chief in 2012.
Logano mentioned that Wolfe and Todd Gordon (Logano’s former crew chief) are completely different. All in large part of how a crew chief runs the joint.
“Paul and the whole team is different. It’s not just Todd and Paul. It’s Todd’s team and Paul’s team. They do things completely different. They’re not very alike really in any way. Not in a good or bad way either. They just lead their team in a different way. They make decisions in a different way,” Logano explained.
“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. 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?
“It’s the same as any marriage that you’re part of, right? You have to have two people that are willing to be better all the time. Same with a crew chief and driver, you have to be willing to call each other out when things aren’t right and be willing to change together. That’s what it is.”
No truer example of Wolfe’s decision making than at Martinsville Speedway when he made changes to his No. 22 pit crew. This was a result of needing to step up their a-game as Penske are notorious of having one of the fastest pit crews in motorsports.
After last Sunday, Wolfe commented that it worked out well.
“I think we were ranked one of the best pit crews on pit road for Martinsville. It’s a very tough, obviously, pit road to pit on. Was encouraged by what we saw there,” said Wolfe.
“We’ve continued to work with that group since then, obviously, leading up to this weekend to make sure we’ve done everything we can. There’s no guarantees. Like I said, it’s very competitive on pit road. We’re all humans, and guys are going to make mistakes. We just hope when it counts, we’re where we need to be.”
Due to having so much Championship 4 experience, Logano made one thing clear. It’s not just any other race. In his eyes, it’s a bunch of BS because there’s no telling how the title will be decided due to the fact it all comes down to Phoenix.
Compared to other years, Logano did admitted that he’s in a much different position than he was in the four previous times he was in the Championship 4.
“I’m in a different position than I’ve been here in the past. I like this position a lot more. It’s a lot more comfortable, I can promise you that. Just being here over and over again,” Logano commented.
“You just know what’s coming around the corner next. You know how today goes. You know how the week before this is, then the weekend itself, race day. Race day is just chaotic the whole time.
“It’s not just another race. It’s not that. Everyone likes to say that. Everyone comes to championship Media Day, says it’s just another race, just act like it’s another race. That’s a bunch of BS. It’s not just another race. It’s bigger than any race you’ve ever been in, and it changes the way you approach it, for sure.”
Wolfe added the challenge of being back in the title fight, more so for the No. 22 team, showcases the overall strength of the team. They are in fact the first team to bring home the trophy in the current car in Los Angeles and have been able to win at different venues throughout the season (Darlington, Gateway, and Las Vegas). Each of them having different characteristics with Phoenix being no different.
“I think it just shows obviously the strength of our team. Any time we’ve had new challenges like this, I feel like we’ve been able to rise up,” said Wolfe. “I said earlier in the week to someone, we started the season off with a win at the Coliseum, the first time this car was in competition, and there’s no better way than to finish it out with a win at the end of the season here and a championship.
“A lot of work, challenging, but also a lot of fun. That’s the exciting part for me going into the year is we had something new to work on, see who could figure it out the quickest.
“I think even at this point in the season we’re all still learning a lot. That will continue in the off-season as we get ready for Daytona.”
Live coverage of the Cup Series Championship Race begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC. In 27 previous Phoenix starts, Logano has won twice (Fall 2016 and Spring 2020). Most importantly, he’ll lead the field to the green flag after besting fellow Championship 4 contender Chase Elliott by four spots.