Can Logano win Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) a look at his situation and if he can string together 2 straight wins now to end the season, pros and cons of where he’s at now

For Joey Logano’s sake, he’s got the advantage of being the only driver right now that’s had his team be able to massage his Phoenix car for multiple weeks now. With Martinsville being the same short track package of Phoenix, one could say in theory Logano is going to use this Sunday as a 500 lap test session.

However, that in turn could create him to finding victory lane too.

Seven times the winner of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Martinsville Speedway has gone on to win the title that same season – the most of any track on the Playoff schedule. In fact, it occurred in just 2020 for the 2nd time in a three-year span as well as three times in the last six years. 

Granted, the 2020 was the first year that this race was moved to the Round of 8 elimination race. In that scenario, five times has the winner of the ninth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs has gone on to win the title that same season.

Prior to that, in this playoff era that began in 2004, only five times in 17 years did a playoff driver win the final two races of a season and only twice in the seven years of this new format did someone win both the penultimate race as well as the final race to take a championship. 

Translation?

It’s not as likely as it sounds.

Is this a factor of putting all of your eggs in one basket for the current race and not focusing too much ahead to the final race? I mean, you have to look at this in the sole fact of why focus on Homestead in the past or Phoenix this year, early if you aren’t guaranteed to be competing for a championship there? You have to make it to the Championship 4 first. Why spend too much time making race cars and dialing in off the truck setups for the season finale if you’re not going to be racing for a championship there? Why not spend all of your waking hours focusing on how to make your race car good for the upcoming race that weekend in order to just win and guarantee your spot into the final round?

By not knowing that you’ll be a part of the final round until the final race of the round before, you’re really behind the eight ball in catching up to Joey Logano that already stamped his way in via a win in the first race of the round.

Just look at what Joey Logano said a couple of years ago following his win in the Round of 8 opener at Texas.

“Doesn’t hurt,” Logano said of this very exact subject. “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.”

He won again this year in Vegas in a similar spot.

“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.”

Cliff Daniels, Kyle Larson’s crew chief said the same thing last year following their Texas win to kick off the Round of 8. He also said a twist to the schedule this year with having practice now too, actually helps them in the sense the winner on Sunday in Martinsville as well as the wildcard driver won’t have a lot of time to turn their cars around for Phoenix.

“I think part of what helps the Phoenix focus is just the timing of the schedule,” said his crew chief Cliff Daniels. “Since it’s a Friday, Saturday, Sunday show, the truck is going to leave like Tuesday of that week, and the way these race formats go, our hauler didn’t leave until Friday morning this week, so you’re just going to have two less days that week.

“So now we are very fortunate that we have a little bit more time just to really plan out the way the next three weeks can go with emphasis on Phoenix where if you’re not locked in right away, you’re kind of giving everything you can for that week, and to not be talking out of both sides of my mouth, we have really good cars in the system already coming for Kansas, already coming for Martinsville. I looked at them with a lot of our guys last week. Both cars look great, so we’re going to finish those out like they are already in process to be, and then when our Phoenix cars get in the system, make sure that they’re top-notch and ready to go.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – OCTOBER 16: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

All those Martinsville winners to win the title from above? Well the Martinsville race used to kickoff the Round of 8 or in some years, be in the second spot.

The winner of the first race of the Round of 8 has won the championship in three times in the last six years. They’ve finished second twice and third in the other years in that span.

The winner of the second race, has finished either second or third in 3 of the last 4 years and won the title in the other.

The winner of the third race has finished last for two of the last four years.

Elliott changed that in 2020.

“That’s a really good point,” Elliott told me. “I certainly think that the team that wins that very first race in the Round of 8 and gets locked in, you have more time to think about what car you want to take to the final race, more time to massage on it, so I definitely think that can be a slight advantage. I think that’s a great point. I do think that can be a slight advantage in car selection and time to tweak on those really, really small fine tuning items that can add up to make a difference.

“I can see that being a help.”

With the one spot likely going to a cast of five driver vying for it, I can honestly see one of them winning on Sunday. The question is, who and can they use this to propel them to a championship run next Sunday in Phoenix too? For those five drivers, they race for a championship this week and next. Is that any sort of an advantage?

There’s the role in this of the drivers not already locked in being in championship mode still this week while the few that aren’t are onto the Championship 4 have been relaxed the last few weeks. Can they flip that switch back on that easily or does being in a do-or-die mindset at Martinsville keep those drivers’ minds more focused a week later?

The wildcards that haven’t won in the Round of 8 though, have actually fared better than the guys that have won the final race itself. 3 of the 4 last year were wildcards. Kyle Busch won the championship in 2019 as one. Brad Keselowski was in 2020. So was Martin Truex Jr. in 2018 as a wildcard but won the championship in 2017 as one too. Kevin Harvick was also second in 2016 as a wildcard while Kyle Busch won the championship as one in 2015. Ryan Newman was a wildcard and finished second in 2014 too.

That’s a wildcard driver with a top two finish in all 8 years thus far. We will have one wildcard next weekend.

The reason behind that is, the wildcard drivers have shown speed throughout the entire season and didn’t necessarily need to win in the Round of 8 to get by.

Busch, won the regular season championship in 2019 and had well enough playoff points to get himself by. In 2018, Busch and Harvick were the top two in playoff points accumulated, but both won in the Round of 8. Truex Jr. had the next best with 38 scored, 13 more than anyone else. He had four wins that season and took the wildcard spot.

Truex, had 69 playoff points in 2017 and seven wins before the Round of 8. That’s why he didn’t need to win and as the top seed got into the Championship 4 by virtue of that.

But, in saying all of this, the last 3 years is also different in the sense that we’re using a similar racing package in the final two races of the season in general. Martinsville and Phoenix are the short track package.

From 2014 though 2019, the drivers went through two disciplines of tracks over the final two races in Phoenix (short track) to Homestead (1.5-mile track).

How much of a role does that play in this too?

“I can see momentum playing a role,” Elliott said of winning the last race of the Round of 8 and winning again a week later for a championship. “I can see winning Martinsville being a big momentum booster for that team to propel them to doing a really good job the following week. I think it’s really about how you ride the wave if you’re that team that can win that last race of the Round of 8.

“I definitely think that it’s great that we’re ending the season on two (similar package) tracks. I’m a bigger fan of that in deciding our champion on the final two races. That has my vote. Not that I get one. But I’m really looking forward to seeing that too.

“Could you potentially take your Martinsville car to Phoenix? You might. That might be a good thing performance wise as well.”

Elliott did in 2020 and he won the title.

It will be interesting this weekend to see if this weeks winner can win again next Sunday and take home a championship trophy as well.

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