You typically can’t take much from the first two races of this Round of 8 and apply them to the final two races of the season anymore. Both are different aero packages with the next 2 weeks being on 1.5-mile tracks now and the final two on short tracks.
However, for the Joey Logano, his Las Vegas win could go a long way towards his championship chances at Phoenix though. Last weekend’s opener in the Nevada desert was key in the sense that you don’t want to lose your momentum for a championship push either, but it also helps for your preparation for Phoenix in the sense that you have extra time to massage your car.
If you wait until Martinsville to know that you’re into the final round, you have less than one week to get your car ready to go. You’d have a car already built for Phoenix, but you didn’t have the extra week or two than the winners before you did to just focus on that car and that car only.
How can you pay extra attention to your Phoenix car for a championship run if you don’t even know if you’re going to be there or not with a chance for a title? You need to prepare your current cars the best that you can.
The winners from Las Vegas and Homestead can use this time to work on their Phoenix car and even use Martinsville as a full blown 500 lap test session for Phoenix.
Just look at what Joey Logano said recently in the same situation when he won the Round of 8 opener at Kansas back in 2020.
“The weight lifted off your shoulders is only part of it,” Logano said. “The ability to start working on your Phoenix car, not worry about your Texas and Martinsville car. We do. I don’t want to say that, but you’re 100% focused on one more race. We know we can’t finish worse than fourth in points, you know what I mean? We know we’re in it.
“Just got to stay healthy, get there, go for the big trophy when we get out there again and try to win another Phoenix race.”
Logano said that having a win out of the way already allows you to take your time in your Phoenix prep and you’re not just rushing a championship car together at the last minute.
“Doesn’t hurt,” Logano continued. “I think it means a lot, if I’m being honest. I think it does. I’ve lived this story once where you really just kind of — you’re not last minute trying to throw together a championship car for Phoenix because you’re trying to build so many other ones. It just gives the team time to really start focusing on a car that can put us in the position to win.
“If you only have so much time in the day, you got to prioritize, you’re going to prioritize to get yourself in the Championship 4 first. Now that we did that, we’re going to have 100% of our time to Phoenix.”
On how he approached the final two races?
“We approach them to win, just like we always do,” Logano said on his approach over the next two weeks. “Same meetings and prep like we always do. I just assume that we’ll probably focus a little bit more on Phoenix at this point.”
That was 2020. Here’s what he said two years later after a similar set of circumstances.
“We’ve got a few weeks to think about it, which is nice,” he said on Sunday. “We will be able to focus in. I’ve lived this story before winning at Martinsville and being able to give yourself a bit of an advantage when you get to Phoenix when that’s all you think about for the next couple weeks where everybody else is fighting tooth and nail to get in. We’re able to really focus in on the one race that counts for us now.”
This will be Logano’s 5th career Championship 4 appearance. All have come in even years. For the 2nd time though, it comes at Phoenix and not Homestead.
“We’ve done a good job getting there, now it’s just down to one race, and Phoenix is one of our best racetracks, it’s one of Paul’s (Wolfe, Logano’s crew chief) best racetracks by history, and we’ll hopefully bring a really fast Shell-Pennzoil Mustang out there,” he continued.
Another advantage is that Logano can bring the perfect car to Phoenix and use not only practice that weekend, but his spring notes too to make it even better.
“A little bit of both,” he acknowledged. “We’ve got some time to think about it here and think about things we want to try in practice and things that we were able to do in the spring, and to be honest with you, I haven’t looked at Phoenix yet. I hasn’t even been on my radar yet. It will be tomorrow morning, but not at the moment.
“I was so focused in on these three races in this round. Now that we can take our focus off of those next two and really focus in for the one that really matters, it’s a great place to be.”
Logano is hoping that next month’s race in Phoenix is redemption for how the last time went when they went there with championship aspirations (2020). Last Sunday was the 3rd time he won the Round of 8 opener to stamp his name into the final round. He is 1-for-2 in turning it into a title.
“All I care about is winning a championship,” he said. “That’s the number one goal. When you go through these Playoffs, you have to change the way you race; you have to do different things to give yourself a chance to win the big goal. The mission is to win the championship.
“Yeah, it’s everything. This is what we work for. There’s only one, and it means a lot to have that. We’ve been in position — I think of the one we won, but I think of the four or three we lost. Even as much or more, how close we were. Even the last one in 2020 in Phoenix, coming off pit road as the leader and getting a tire vibration in the last run and falling back to third or fourth. That’s going to hurt for a while. I still get mad about that.
“I’m hoping that this is redemption for 2020.”
The winner of the Round of 8 opener has won the title 3 times since 2016 (Jimmie Johnson 2016, Logano 2018, Kyle Larson 2021).
Penske has had a driver represented in the Championship 4 in 6 of the 9 years under this format.