Team: #22 (Team Penske)
Top 5s: 16
Top 10s: 26
Best finish: 1st (Michigan, Talladega, Phoenix)
Points finish: 2nd
Joey Logano has had a similar season to that of Kyle Busch, who we looked at yesterday. This year has been a supremely consistent year for the #22 Penske Ford driver. Logano and Busch’s stats are quite similar too. The pair had the exact same amount of top 5 finishes, with 16 each, but Logano edged out Kyle by getting one more top 10 finish, equalling a staggering 26 races inside the top 10; with just 10 races of the year ending outside that margin.
Once again, Joey Logano was in a position to compete for a championship this year, but 2016 got off to a shaky start for the #22 driver. Whereas last year Logano was able to get seal his spot in the chase right at the start by winning the Daytona 500, he had to wait until just after the halfway point of the regular season to pick up win number one at Michigan.
Once the chase began, Logano was able to make it all the way to the final round. A win in not too favourable circumstances at Talladega saved him from elimination in the second round, with a third and final win of the season coming in the penultimate race at Phoenix after having avoided the incident involving former race leader Matt Kenseth.
Logano may have even had the chance to take the title thanks to his competitor’s woes at Homestead had his strategy call gone just a little better. After taking minor damage due to his contact with Carl Edwards on the late-race restart, Todd Gordon called a blinder of a strategy to pit for four tyres. He’d start further down the order and work his way up towards the front in the closing laps, but a lacklustre final restart would leave him out of reach of race winner and champion Jimmie Johnson. He’d have to settle for 4th place in the race and 2nd in the standings.
Winning at Phoenix to secure a place in the championship four. Logano entered the 2016 Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in an edgy position. A decent finish in the top 10 would put him right on the borderline of making it through on points to the championship finale. A win would guarantee him a spot.
The final segment was a tense time for all the chasers, with Logano, Kyle Busch and Harvick all within a few cars of each other as all three battled for a spot in the championship four. None of them could catch race leader Matt Kenseth, who was seemingly uncatchable with a handful of laps remaining.
However, Michael McDowell would suffer a tyre blow-out which would force the race into overtime, with at least one restart now on its way. On the start, Kyle Busch would try to get up the inside of Alex Bowman, with Busch tapping Bowman forward. Kenseth, not expecting the gain in momentum from Bowman, would move down to take the racing line, only to be fired into the wall as a result of the contact.
Logano would weave his way through the melee to take the lead, a lead he would hold onto during the ensuing final restart; meaning he would not only win the race, but he’d also claim a spot in the championship deciding race:
“I’ve never felt this good about a win before. There was so much on the line and everyone brings their A-game when it comes to winning championships and this team did it,” Said Logano post-race, “Man, this feels so good. I had a good restart there at the end and holding off Kyle to try to get this thing into Miami. We’re racing for a championship now. We did exactly what we had to do. We’ve got to go to Homestead and do the same thing.”
Losing the Pennsylvania 400 after leading the most laps. Despite having already claimed a spot in the playoffs by this point, any time a racing driver loses the race after leading the most laps is heartbreaking. Logano led 38 of the eventual 138 race distance (shortened from 160 due to rain), but his chance of winning was taken away whilst battling Chase Elliott.
Logano had just pitted after battling for the lead with Larson when he came across Elliot at the tunnel turn. The pair would go side-by-side with Elliot sliding up the racetrack and into Logano. This put the #22 Penske Ford into the wall with heavy right-front tyre damage and subsequently out of the race.
“We all had to pit because we tried to win the race when it rained and we lost our track position and then the 24 [Elliott] got loose under me,” Logano said. “It is just part of racing. It stinks to be on this end of it. It is just part of it.”
Logano continues to be a threat for a championship year in, year out. The last few years, bad luck has prevented him from taking a championship. From his car falling off the jack during the finale at Homestead in 2014, to being taken out by Matt Kenseth at Martinsville last year as well as sustaining damage during his incident with Carl Edwards during the finale this time around; several incidents have cost him titles.
It’s almost certain that Logano and the #22 Team Penske crew will make it into the chase next year. From there, however, it’s all about staying out of trouble and maintaining the consistency that they display all through the regular season. If they can do this, expect them to once again be in contention when we get back to Homestead-Miami Speedway next November.
Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com: http://static.nascar.com/content/dam/nascar/articles/2016/11/15/main/logano-win-title.jpg/jcr:content/renditions/original