AVONDALE, AZ — Joey Logano thought he was the favorite to win the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship heading into the Championship 4. He felt like his win at Phoenix in the spring as well as winning the opening race of the Round of 8 was a big enough advantage to give him his second career title.
Instead, he finished third among the four drivers vying for the championship at the Phoenix Raceway on Sunday.
Logano, started off great. He led the first 119 laps with the exception of pit stops, but a vibration really ended his shot of a win/championship. That’s when he lost the clean air up front and he never rebounded.
“Yeah, we had good track position,” Logano said of his early race speed. “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.
“They did that the whole race. They did it even the last stop under green. Was able to get ourselves out in front of the 9 by a pretty good distance. And like I said, the 9 just kind of fired off a lot faster and kept going.
“Then we had another tire vibration there towards the end, last 25 laps, 30 laps of the run. Yeah, I thought we were in a good spot. We were right with the 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.”
The Team Penske driver did finish second in Stage 2, but was the third best car from then on. His crew got him the lead after the final pit stop, but Elliott chased him down for the lead with 44 to go.
“Didn’t have the speed at the right time,” Logano said.
He was passed by Brad Keselowski for second with 10 laps-to-go and had to settle for third in the Season Finale 500. It was his fourth top three finish over the final five races of 2020 and 13th top 10 in his last 15 starts overall.
“We executed and did our job,” Logano continued. “Lot to be proud of. We are stronger because of what we went though.”
Logano, started off the year great. Despite a crew chief swap on all three Penske cars this offseason, Logano came out of the gates hot. He had three wins in his first six races run, including the Clash and Duels in Daytona. Then, the bottom dropped out.
That’s when Logano started struggling. The pandemic set in and changes happened to NASCAR. We’d qualify for one of the final 32 races. We’d not practice at any of them either. For a team with no history together anymore, it hurt.
Logano said to me this summer that it wasn’t like he and crew chief Paul Wolfe hadn’t seen these tracks before, it’s just that they haven’t seen them together. With practice, they were fine. Without it, they were guessing. They were guessing wrong at that.
In the first 13 races run during the pandemic, Logano had one top five and five top 10’s. Then, that third place finish at Texas happened in late July and altered everything. Nine top fives and 13 top 10’s happened over the final 15 races.
That bodes well for 2021.
“Well, obviously when you don’t win it, it hurts,” Logano closed. “It definitely stings. Yeah, 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.
“But I think 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.
“I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job through the Playoffs to really come into our own. 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.
“Yeah, 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.”