Joey Logano adds to legacy of firsts with Cup title in Next Gen era
AVONDALE, Ariz. — When Joey Logano won the inaugural Cup race at Gateway earlier this year, he was asked why he seemed so good at winning races at new venues.
"Beats me," he said. "I don’t know."
Logano should just watch some film of his various "firsts." If he watched the 2021 Bristol dirt race, the 2022 Clash on the temporary circuit inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum or that race on the Gateway oval, he would probably see some similarities.
If he really wanted to take the time, he would rewind and watch the 2022 Cup playoffs. Those tell the story, too.
Logano earned another "first" Sunday as he won the first Cup title of the Next Gen car era.
The key? His ability to adapt and figure out how to combine his strengths to the new elements needed to beat the competition.
In the Next Gen car, it’s track position and not making mistakes. He did all that in a dominating performance at Phoenix Raceway on his way to the win that propelled him to the second Cup championship of his career.
"He was flawless," team owner Roger Penske said. "He’s just a great driver, a great guy. He’s earned the respect (of) the fans, our team, our sponsors and everybody here."
Logano always seems to have a smile on his face even when talking about difficult times. So it’s not a surprise that he could take a good attitude when entering a race or a season with an unknown.
"I feel our team does a good job preparing with not even a whole bunch of information," Logano said. "This was our second time here [at Phoenix], so I can’t say it was that.
"But overall if you look at our season, our execution was really well when our speed wasn’t. And once we got the speed, it was game time."
The team found that speed at a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway in early October.
"That was a difference maker for our whole season," Logano said.
Logano is the first driver to win his second (or more) championship with a crew chief who also had previously won a Cup title.
Over the last three years, Logano has adapted to the way Paul Wolfe operates a race team. They seem to have thrived and help each other to look at situations in a variety of ways and then determining the best course.
"It’s just experience and being very talented," Wolfe said. "You have to be able to adapt. And that’s what it takes in this sport.
"And it’s what everyone had to do this year — from the process of how we went racing every week from our preparation in the shop to pit road to the drivers."
The Next Gen car required drivers to adjust the feel to be fast. It was more twitchy than the previous car, being prone to single-car spins, especially at the start of the year before some changes in the tires. The bigger brakes required different braking points. On road courses, the car handled much different as it was more agile.
"This car took different techniques to be fast and be successful," Wolfe said. "He’s determined to figure it out and make it work.
"And by the end of the season, there’s nobody better than him. That just shows his drive and focus and what he gives this team every weekend."
What this car took is a driver to learn — quickly — from mistakes. And Logano wasn’t afraid to make them.
"There's times that I'm so mad at myself from a mistake, and I make them, but you also got to look at mistakes as an opportunity to learn," Logano said. "Without taking risks to make mistakes, you don't grow.
"That to me has always been kind of, ‘OK, I made a mistake, I'm stronger now, I'm smarter now, I learned from it, it's over, I'm the best. Now I have another reason to be better.’"
In addition to learning, there’s one more thing a driver needs, especially when going to a new venue. It’s that competitive, refuse-to-lose attitude that comes with having the confidence to hit curveballs as they come.
"I truly believe that attitudes are contagious, good or bad," Logano said. "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."
That all led to the race that Penske called "flawless." Logano’s competition couldn’t argue.
"Mr. Penske's group had us covered all day, and Joey was the best car until the final run, then we had a real shot to race with him," said Ross Chastain, who finished third, two spots behind Logano and was his biggest threat to his title run late at Phoenix.
"But we didn't have the balance in our car and the grip in our car all day to be that way."
Chase Elliott was a threat before contact with Chastain resulted in him spinning and hitting the wall.
"Congratulations to Joey and their team," Elliott said. "They did a really good job all weekend.
"He’s a very deserving champion so that’s a positive at least. If you’re going to lose to one, lose to a deserving one."
Thinking Out Loud
The dominant thought Sunday was with the family of Coy Gibbs, co-owner of Joe Gibbs Racing and father of Xfinity Series champion Ty Gibbs.
Coy Gibbs, 49, died in his sleep Saturday night, hours after celebrating his son’s title.
Gibbs was the more introverted of the two boys of Joe Gibbs. His older brother, J.D., ran day-to-day operations for several years before suffering from a neurological condition that forced him from his role in 2015. J.D. died in 2019.
Coy Gibbs took over much of J.D.’s role but liked to be more behind the scenes. Not as polished and often more blunt, Coy Gibbs didn’t say much but still helped lead JGR.
"He was a lot like me," said Kyle Busch, who was driving in his final race for JGR. "He didn’t take any bull**** and told everybody the way it was and straight to their face.
"I loved Coy for that and his tenacity."
Stat of the day
This was the first time that Team Penske won the IndyCar (Will Power) and NASCAR Cup Series (Joey Logano) championships in the same year.
They said it
"I knew going into this thing that we're going to win the championship. I told the guys we were the favorite from Daytona, and we truly believed it, and that's the difference." — Joey Logano
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.