Joey Logano had the swagger. Now he has the trophy.
For the second time in five years, NASCAR crowned Logano and the No. 22 team its Cup Series champions on Sunday night at Phoenix Raceway. It capped off Logano’s ‘revenge tour’, as he’d described the weekend in the days prior, referring to his still-raw defeat in the championship finale in 2020.
There was no driver and team better at Phoenix. Logano won the pole and led the most laps (187 of 312). He won the first stage and controlled the championship fight for all but a few minutes under caution midway through the race.
“I told the guys after we put it on the pole the other day: we got them down, now we put our foot on them,” said Logano. “That’s the attitude you’ve got to have. It’s just what it is when it comes to this level. Your feelings are checked at the door, and it’s all about winning and nothing less than that.
“When you get this far… I said it all week; we weren’t satisfied with being in the Championship 4. There was nothing to celebrate for us. We’ve been here before. We know what it feels like to lose. It’s the worst feeling in the world if I’m being honest, and winning is the best feeling in the world.”
Since winning at Las Vegas to earn his championship spot, Logano walked, talked, and acted like a champion. Logano was ready for battle and spent the two weeks leading into the finale focusing on nothing else but the Phoenix race. The events at Homestead and Martinsville were a formality, a chance for Logano and his team to keep their momentum up and the board clear of enemies.
Paul Wolfe, Logano’s crew chief, loved the attitude, and was confident enough to predict on Friday after practice that Logano was going to be hard to beat. For Wolfe, it was simply a matter of not screwing it up for his driver.
Past championship experience drove Logano to Phoenix, his fifth title race appearance in nine seasons. From the beginning, Logano was adamant that the finale is not just another race, and those who prepare as if it is are doing so to lower the pressure and help themselves sleep better at night.
Being happy to be there like Logano saw from some others? Never. Logano embraces having to be mentally strong in high-pressure situations.
“It wasn’t meant to be mind games,” Logano said of his attitude. “You just asked me how I felt, and I was honest, and I really felt like we were in a spot to win this thing. I truly believe that attitudes are contagious, good or bad. When you’re able to bring that attitude to your race team in a moment like this, as a driver there, that just carries through it.
“I believe confident people win. If you don’t believe in yourself, who else is ever going to believe in you? How are you ever going to win? But I also think you can’t fake that. I think of my first Championship 4 appearance – was I confident? No, I was a nervous wreck. Are the nerves still there? Yeah, the nerves are still there. You don’t want to screw it up, because you got this far. But I truly felt ready as a driver, and I felt like, as a race team, we went through everything we can possibly go through.
“At that point, the confidence is real. We’ve been here before. We knew how to do things. We knew how to prepare. We went out and just did our job. We put it on the pole and then we won the race. That was the job at hand, and we nailed it.”
It’s hard enough to beat someone with a fast race car. It’s even harder to beat that car coupled with a driver who is full of confidence and determination. Logano won before the weekend started, but it wasn’t until the weekend ended that he had the trophy to prove it.