Joey Logano wins pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Championship race
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Joey Logano took the first step toward a second NASCAR Cup Series championship on Saturday afternoon by winning the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Logano navigated the one-mile Phoenix Raceway in 26.788 seconds (134.389 mph) in the final round of time trials to edge Team Penske teammate and non-Playoff driver Ryan Blaney (134.373 mph) by .003 seconds for the top starting spot in the event that will crown the 2022 series champion.
“That’s the goal,” Logano said. “It keeps the pressure on the competition.”
But Logano didn’t think he had a pole-winning lap when he ran it.
“No, because it went slower than the run before (in the opening round),” he said. “It seemed like tire falloff was a real thing. I kind of got done with my lap and was like, ‘Eh.’ I thought it was going to be like third or fourth probably, just not as good as what it was the first run.
“I overcompensated some of the adjustments I wanted to make as a driver and probably didn’t adjust the car enough as much as we needed to for some other things, but I guess everybody’s tires fell off, and that was a better lap than I thought it was.”
With Ford drivers sweeping the top three positions on the grid, Chase Briscoe qualified third at 134.203 mph, followed by Kyle Larson (133.844 mph), whose No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is eligible for the owners’ championship but not the drivers’ title.
Championship 4 driver Chase Elliott (133.437 mph) will start fifth. Like Logano, Elliott is seeking a second Cup Series title.
“The narrative is there for the writing, and it’s our job to make sure it goes our way,” said Elliott, who hasn’t been at his best in the Playoffs so far.
Non-Playoff drivers Harrison Burton, Kevin Harvick, William Byron, Cole Custer and Ty Gibbs will start from positions six through 10, respectively.
The two drivers who advanced to the Championship 4 with eleventh-hour heroics last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway—race winner Christopher Bell and rim rider Ross Chastain—will start at a disadvantage on Sunday after failing to make the final round.
Bell will start 17th and Chastain 25th in Sunday’s title race.
“I was too loose on the throttle,” said Chastain, who was fastest in Friday’s practice but out of balance in qualifying trim. “It’s a great thing for (Sunday) but not good right now.”
Alex Bowman returns to action in season finale
Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman is back behind the wheel of the No. 48 Chevrolet this week after missing five NASCAR Cup Series races while recovering from concussion-type symptoms.
Bowman, a native of nearby Tucson, Arizona was adamant that he wanted to return to competition this year rather than wait until the start of the 2023 season. He was injured in an accident during the Texas Motor Speedway race on Sept. 25 – and following doctors’ orders, sat out the next five races.
Bowman had been ranked 10th heading into Texas – qualifying for the Playoffs with a victory at Las Vegas in March. Noah Gragson filled in for Bowman with a best showing of 11th at Las Vegas in October.
“There’s a lot of really smart people at HMS that evaluated everything and tried to make everything the best it can be," said Bowman, who qualified 24th for Sunday’s race.
“I think having a goal to come back this year kept me working really hard and really accountable for what I was doing. I think if we would had said, ‘We’re going to take the rest of the year off,’ it would have been way easier to just sit back on my butt and not work as hard.”
And while Sunday represents a true “homecoming” of sorts – both in his native Arizona and in the car – it is a farewell to his crew chief Greg Ives, who will step away from the demanding travel schedule at the end of the season and instead work for Hendrick Motorsports based out of the shop.
“Obviously, a lot of motivation to come back with Greg," Bowman said. “Definitely a lot of different emotions. We’re obviously caught up trying to run the best we can. Just trying to enjoy it. I’m really happy for him and the next step in his career. Just happy to be back with him (this weekend).”
Crew chiefs bring calm, straightforward mind-sets to title race
The four championship-eligible NASCAR Cup Series crew chiefs spoke with the media on Friday: for the most part presenting a very calm decisive air.
Of the four, Phil Surgen, crew chief on the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet driven by Ross Chastain, will be making his crew chief debut in the Championship 4, although he has worked as an engineer on a championship-eligible car before.
“It’s exciting, obviously we work our whole lives, careers to be here," said Surgen, whose No. 1 Chevrolet was quickest in Friday’s one and only NASCAR Cup Series practice but qualified 25th for the race – slowest among the Championship 4.
“Try to treat it as any other race weekend. For us, all the goals are the same, we want to show up, be the fastest, win the race. In that regard, it’s very similar to every other week."
The other three crew chiefs – Paul Wolfe (Joey Logano), Alan Gustafson (Chase Elliott) and Adam Stevens (Christopher Bell) – have not only competed in the Championship 4 Round previously but have all won NASCAR Cup Series championships.
Wolfe, who won a championship trophy in 2012 with then-Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski, comes in with the most opportunity to prepare for Phoenix since Logano was the first Championship 4 qualifier. And it was rewarded. Logano won the pole position for the race on Friday and will lead the field to green.
“Obviously, we have had a lot of time," Wolfe said. “We’ve tried to make the most of that. As you know, seems like there’s never enough time in the day when you’re preparing for any race. The extra couple weeks was nice.
“We had a good plan. I think Team Penske as a whole and I was very pleased with how our teammates stepped up and were able to help us and work together."