By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Following the opening stage of Sunday’s Season Finale 500 from Phoenix Raceway, it looked as though Joey Logano would soon be sewing up his second title in the NASCAR Cup Series.
However, just like Zane Smith and Chase Briscoe did in the weekend’s Gander RV & Outdoors Trucks and Xfinity Series finales, the Stage 1 dominator did not hold the crown at night’s end.
Leading 117 of the race’s opening 119 laps, Logano was the man to beat in the Championship 4. With Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski running close behind, Chase Elliott was fighting his way through the field from last place.
With the strong track position, Logano knew he had something… if he stayed out front.
“We had good track position,” Logano said. “Our pit crew was on it just like they’ve been through this whole Playoffs. Like I said it before, they’re a pressure team. They love the pressure and they truly rise to the occasion.
“The No. 9 [Elliott] just fired off a lot faster and kept going. Yeah, I thought we were in a good spot. We were right with the No. 9 right before the green flag cycle and was able to come out in front of him. And then, like I said, he just had a lot of speed that last run. They really found something.”
Losing the lead on lap 119 from Elliott, Logano only managed to lead eight laps late in the race following a quick pit stop from his Team Penske crew, pushing him ahead of Elliott. However, Elliott would pass the No. 22 for the race’s final lead change, holding onto to win the title.
Logano finished third in the race and in the championship for 2020.
“Well, obviously when you don’t win it, it hurts. It definitely stings,” he said. “I told the guys before the race started, I said in these races when you get to the Championship 4, you can’t lose. You either win or you become stronger. Unfortunately, we got stronger today.
“We learned a lot about ourselves and learned that we are capable. We’re capable of executing when we needed to. We just need to go faster. That was one thing.
“Overall, there’s a lot to be proud of throughout the season, where we’ve come from, how much we’ve grown as a team, especially with the crew chief swap in the beginning of the season this year and without practice. That was a pretty big hurdle we had to jump.”
The third-place finish Sunday made for 12 top-five finishes in 2020, including four podium results in the season’s final five races. The No. 22 team was aligned well for championship contention.
“I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job through the playoffs to really come into our own,” he said. “That makes me really excited about 2021 because we’re starting way further ahead than where we did this year with the schedule being somewhat similar with limited practice sessions. I feel a lot better going into next year than what we did this year.
“A lot to be proud of. You need to look at the silver linings, you need to look at your mistakes and where you can be better. It still doesn’t take the pain away, but that’s how you get by at least.”