NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR Championship Sunday Notebook
Nov 7, 2022
"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."
And with that, Joey Logano, Paul Wolfe and the Team Penske No. 22 team stood on everyone’s throats to the tune of leading 187 laps out of 312 and sweeping all three stages to claim the NASCAR Cup Series championship on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.
"That's the attitude you've got to have," Logano said. "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."
This is the fifth time in eight seasons that Logano has raced for the championship under this format, winning the title in 2018, so simply getting to this point is no longer a moral victory. There is only one acceptable outcome for the 32-year-old.
"When you get this far, and I said it all week, we weren't satisfied with being in the Championship 4," Logano said. "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."
Logano called this weekend a revenge tour for the 2020 championship race, where this group led the most laps at Phoenix, but lost the lead and the Bill France Cup on a late caution, pit stop and restart to Chase Elliott.
"It certainly was," Logano said. "Something that's going to stick with me for a while."
This championship very well might have been won a month ago when the No. 22 team won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to advance to this position three weeks early while seven other teams battled just to have the chance to join them.
During that span, Wolfe largely wrote off the races at Homestead and Martinsville, because nothing else mattered.
"Not that we wanted to throw away those races, but I started focusing on Phoenix right after that win that next Monday and making sure we didn't miss anything," Wolfe said.
"How much of an advantage is that? I don't know. I don't know that you can quantify it. But I'd like to feel like I was prepared as I could be coming into this weekend. And with a lot of great support from our teammates and stuff coming here this weekend, we were able to unload very fast and then go through a lot of things we wanted to try to find a little bit more."
Logano remarkably bookended the season with a victory at the exhibition Clash at the Coliseum and Sunday at Phoenix, proclaiming his team the favorites every step of the way.
Logano told the media in early February that he thought himself and the No. 22 as the most capable team to learn the Next Gen car and advance all the way to the championship race. With regular season victories at Darlington and Gateway, the swagger intensified, all the way to Playoff Media Day where Logano continued the bold proclamations.
"I told my team we’re the favorites," he said. "I gave reasons for it. So, I don’t feel like it’s something made up in our mind. You have to race with confidence. I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t right now."
Talk about validation.
Logano says so much of his success over the past decade and a half is willing results into existence. He says so much in NASCAR can make you question yourself, your will or your resolve and that the only way to believe something is to shout it to the masses and back it up.
"A bit of it is preaching to yourself," he said. "A bit of it is using these moments when you're talking to the media that you're kind of preaching to yourself about it a little bit.
"I always feel like media day is a day that mentally I click, like I'm in. That's kind of my motivational moment.
"So, I learned to love media days for that reason, because you really believe the things you're saying, and you're actually thinking about that stuff outside of just the race car details."
That includes going to the shop and Logano working hand-in-hand with Wolfe and his engineers. Wolfe, who previously won the championship with Brad Keselowski in 2012 says he's learned to love the swagger Logano provides to their engineers and over-the-wall crew.
"When these playoffs started this season, he was on his A game, and he was focused and determined that we were going to win this championship," Wolfe said.
"And that's the way he would talk as he would come into the shop and when he was around the guys and the time we would spend together. There was no doubt in his mind that we were the favorite and we were going to get it done."
Roger Penske signed Logano a decade ago once he split from Joe Gibbs Racing, a move that some questioned at the time, but always saw this kind of potential from the start.
"I see another part of Joey you don't see when he puts his helmet on," Penske said. "Once he puts that helmet on, you want to be sure he's on your team."
Remember that a younger Logano was anointed Sliced Bread by Mark Martin in the early 2000s, you know, as in the greatest thing since. Logano received some slack from his peers when he brought that swagger into the garage for the first time, some thinking the confidence was unwarranted, but it wasn’t like he anointed himself Sliced Bread.
At that point, Logano had two choices:
Logano learned a long time ago to love the pressure and its fueled his rise to the top of the sport.
"I always felt like minimizing (pressure) just helps you sleep better at night, but that's not the real way to do it, and I felt like it was just fake," Logano said.
"I love making situations bigger than what they are, because that pressure makes me better. Is it uncomfortable? Yeah. Is it easier for me to think in the way that -- to minimize the situation, to feel better about it? Yeah, it definitely makes me more uncomfortable. Let me tell you, I felt like I had a 10,000-pound gorilla on my shoulders.
"It's tough. Like, I felt the pressure. Don't get me wrong. But you've got to learn to love it because (pressure) is right around the corner from having a moment like this."
And now this is the second such moment in five years in addition to 31 wins in 507 career starts at the highest level of the discipline. Quietly, Logano has become one of the best and at his age, stands an opportunity to become one of the best ever.
"I guess the greed in me feels like I should have four or five at the moment, so I guess the feeling is it's about time," Logano said of this second championship. "But that's just how I am and how I work, I guess."
Logano says this one is especially rewarding in how the entire team embraced that pressure that he admittedly boasted upon them. As soon as they won Vegas, the entire team hit the film to study pit stops, restarts and everything within the margins in advance of this weekend.
He knew the car would be capable, but at the end of the day, confidence is only as valuable as backing it up.
"We were in there this morning at 7:00 going over stuff to make sure we were prepared for today," Logano said. "We made sure that there was no stone unturned when it came to preparing for this race. When you saw how confident I was and my team was, it's because we were truly ready.
"You can't fake confidence. You can maybe show it a little bit, but truly deep down inside, you have to believe that if you're going to be ready for this battle ahead of you.
"I never felt more ready, and a lot of credit goes to Paul, for taking the time and the effort and forcing us to do it together as a team. There's plenty of crew chiefs that are up that early. I get it. But they're not doing it together with their whole team, and I think that's the difference maker for us."