AVONDALE, AZ — Joey Logano was the only one budding with confidence heading into this weeks final round of the NASCAR Cup Series season. Logano boasted that he was the favorite on Thursday. He backed it up by singing a familiar tune on Saturday. On Sunday, he called his shot with a walk off win in the Season Finale 500 at the Phoenix Raceway.
“Yeah, I feel like for sure 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,” his crew chief Paul 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.
“I think as a company, there was a lot of challenges starting the season with this new car and what all that meant. It was definitely an up-and-down year and a lot of growing pains, but I feel like we continued to learn and get better every week.
“And I don’t know if that’s what gave him the confidence to believe in the team that, when we got to the playoffs, we were going to be as good as anyone and capable of giving him the cars he needed to go out there and contend.
“Guys have done a great job. Like I said, throughout the playoffs I feel like we had the speed. I feel like the Homestead test was a good turning point for us as we needed to find a little bit to — I felt like to the Chevrolets for sure and the Toyotas.
“I think he was pretty motivated after that test there, and we went on to run really strong and then win Vegas, and that kind of gave him that last bit of confidence, I guess, to know that we were going to be able to come here to Phoenix and get the job done.”
Logano never wavered in his approach either. Chase Elliott said that he felt like past experience didn’t lend a helping hand this weekend. Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain were making their first career final round appearances and otherwise hopeful Elliott was right. Logano however, disagreed and made a statement with his pole run on Saturday afternoon. A day later, the 32-year-old led 187 of 312 laps and never was passed by any of the other three Championship 4 drivers on race day en route to the dominant Final Four weekend.
“Yeah, we had a good car, and I told the guys, after we put it on the pit the other day: We got them down; now we put our foot on them,” Logano said while showing off his new championship ring on Sunday night.
“That’s the attitude you’ve got to have. 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.
“When you get this far, I said it all week, we weren’t satisfied with being in the Championship 4. 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.
“It’s great to be able to accomplish it. I said that this was revenge for 2020. It certainly was. Something that’s going to stick with me for a while.”
He said on Thursday that experience pays a lot in these moments.
“I’m in a different position than I’ve been here in the past. I like this position a lot more. It’s a lot more comfortable, I can promise you that. Just being here over and over again, right?” he said on Thursday.
“I was saying earlier, you just know what’s coming around the corner next. You know how today goes. You know how the week before this is, then the weekend itself, race day. Race day is just chaotic the whole time.
“It’s not just another race. It’s not that. Everyone likes to say that. Everyone comes to championship Media Day, says it’s just another race, just act like it’s another race. That’s a bunch of BS. It’s not just another race. It’s bigger than any race you’ve ever been in, and it changes the way you approach it, for sure.”
After he won the pole on Saturday, he says that it put pressure on the other three and made his point.
“Yeah, it keeps the pressure on ’em. That’s the goal when you get here, is keep the pressure on the competition,” he noted.
“This team does amazing under the pressure. That’s why we thrive in Playoffs and Championship 4 type moments. I love it. I love it. It makes me better. I think it makes my whole race team better, as well.
“I’ve been saying, we’ve been preparing. We’ve had a lot of time to go over a lot of things here. Went over a lot last night and this morning with Paul and the team. Made, seems like, some good adjustment. At least for qualifying it showed up.
“We’ve been the favorite to win since the beginning of the year, if you ask me. That’s my mindset. That’s the way I go to the racetrack.
“If I don’t go to a racetrack like that, I shouldn’t show up. I’ve always said it doesn’t matter what everyone thinks about favorites and odds, all that garbage that everyone posts. I don’t care. I know what my odds should be. I know what I feel like they are.
“I feel great about our position. Like I say, we got a great team, and we’ve proven today we’ve got a good horse. We’re ready to rock’n roll.”
Did he truly feel this way or is this about playing mind games with the competition?
“I don’t need to play mind games,” he said. “Just do my job, right? I don’t need to go out there and do that.
“Yeah, it wasn’t meant to be mind games. You just asked me how I felt and I was honest, and I really felt like we were in a spot to win this thing.
“I truly believe that attitudes are contagious, good or bad. And when you’re able to bring that attitude to your race team in a moment like this, as a driver there, that just carries through it.
“I believe confident people win. If you don’t believe in yourself, who else is ever going to believe in you? How are you ever going to win?
“But I also think you can’t fake that. I think of my first Championship 4 appearance, was I confident? No, I was a nervous wreck.
“Are the nerves still there? Yeah, the nerves are still there. You don’t want to screw it up because you got this far. But I truly felt ready as a driver, and I felt like as a race team we went through everything we can possibly go through.
“At that point the confidence is real. We’ve been here before. We knew how to do things. We knew how to prepare. We went out and just did our job. We put it on the pin and then we won the race. Like that was the job at hand, and we nailed it.
“Like I said, I couldn’t be more proud of everybody doing that together, but we knew we were going to do it. Like that was where we were at. We had the time to think about it and go through things, and we felt truly ready. That’s a great feeling going into a battle like this.”
This is he and Wolfe’s second championship but first together. Wolfe’s first came with Brad Keselowski as that tandem put up 29 wins, 110 top fives and 175 top 10’s together. In 2020, he was shifted over to Logano’s car. Sunday was their 107th race together. They’ve now amassed eight wins, 32 top fives and 52 top 10’s on their way to a playoff appearance in all three seasons working together and 2 Championship 4’s in that three-year span.
Wolfe is the fifth different crew chief to win championships with multiple drivers joining Bud moore (Buck Baker 1957, Joe Weatherly 1962, 1963), Carl Kiekhaefer (Tim Flock 1955 and Buck Baker 1956), Dale Inman (Richard Petty 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979 and Terry Labonte 1984) and Tim Brewer (Cale Yarborough 1978, Darrell Waltrip 1981).
“Yeah, a lot has happened in those 10 years for sure,” said Wolfe. “A lot has changed. Different driver, totally different car. The racing is totally different in my eyes from what it was back then.
“It’s almost like that happened in my second year in Cup racing; it’s almost like I didn’t know better, didn’t understand how difficult it really was to compete for a championship in this series with the best teams and drivers.
“A lot has happened. I don’t know that it still hasn’t totally sank in yet what we’ve been able to do. I just go out there every week and try to do the best. Continued to try to build a team with the best people we can.
“I’ve said this before, I’m not going to say I’m the smartest guy in the garage, but I like to put a lot of good people around me and make me good look, and we’ve definitely got that on this team and within our company. Just try to go out there and do the best I can and not make any mistakes.”
This is also Penske’s third championship of their storied career with Logano giving them 2 of the three.
“This one is special for a lot of reasons, and one thing that I think probably stands out most to me is just the way Paul did it and we all did it together all the way through,” Logano said.
“I feel like that’s probably one of the most special things. When we won in Vegas, we sat down Monday and started coming up with a meeting agenda, a bunch of meeting agendas that we can go over and reviewing film together as a team, going through pit stops, reviewing, rolling times on pit road, all these little subcategories that happened and making sure the details are all in the right place.
“That was the difference maker. We knew we would have a fast race car, and we knew we’d make those decisions and we’d be close because we had plenty of time to really go through all that, and we weren’t bad here in the spring.
“But we knew details were going to be the difference of winning and losing. We had the advantage this two and a half weeks to really work together and do that.
“It’s a grind. I’m telling you right now it’s a grind the last two and a half weeks. This is all we thought about. You put everything else — any other distraction gets put to the side. And it’s tough for everybody. It’s tough for everyone’s families. But you have to. You can’t waste the opportunity that’s here in front of us.
“All the way through the weekend, when it came to practice and waiting for qualifying, we were in Paul’s bus at 6:00 in the morning going through things. That’s what we all did as a group together.
“We were in there this morning at 7:00 going over stuff to make sure we were prepared for today. 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.”