In 2018, Joey Logano entered the season finale flying under the radar, and he flew undetected all the way to his first NASCAR Cup Series championship. Four years later, Logano flew under the radar again -- this time, to absolute perfection.
After dominating all day from the pole, Logano took the lead for the final time with 29 laps to go and held off Ryan Blaney in the closing laps to win the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, giving him his fourth win of the 2022 season and his second NASCAR Cup Series championship. Logano led 188 of 312 laps and was the top Championship 4 driver for all but one green flag lap during the day.
Ross Chastain came up just short of making another late rally, coming across the finish line third to cap off a career-year second in the final standings. Christopher Bell finished 10th after a botched final pit stop, while a crash mid-race cost Chase Elliott a shot at his second title as he limped home in 28th.
Season Finale 500 unofficial results
- #22 - Joey Logano
- #12 - Ryan Blaney
- #1 - Ross Chastain
- #14 - Chase Briscoe
- #4 - Kevin Harvick
- #24 - William Byron
- #18 - Kyle Busch
- #11 - Denny Hamlin
- #5 - Kyle Larson
- #20 - Christopher Bell
Compared to the other title contenders -- cumulatively, the average age of the Championship 4 made it the youngest group in the history of the format -- Logano was the oldest and most experienced in his fifth Championship 4 appearance.
The stage that Logano has reached in his life at 32 was reflected in the lead-up to Sunday's race: He promised son Hudson that he'd win the pole, and then took that a step further once he delivered on that promise.
"I said, 'Dad's not a liar,' so I said, 'Dad's gonna win the championship too,'" Logano told NBC Sports in pre-race. "So we've got to make sure I'm not a liar to my son here today."
Logano was able to keep that promise, becoming -- among other things -- the 17th multi-time Cup Series champion, the first multi-time champion for Ford since NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson won the title in 1968 and 1969, and a true family man.
"I knew going into this thing that we were gonna win the championship," Logano told NBC Sports. "I told the guys we were the favorite from Daytona, and we truly believed it, and that's the difference. It's like I said, I had a good team with a bunch of confidence, and we had all the reason in the world to be confident.
"I said I've never been truly this ready for a championship race, and we did it, man. I can't believe it. ... My dream was to win Cup championships, and here we are with two of them. It just means so much. It's so special."
Chase and Chastain
As Logano quickly took off and set the pace through the first two stages of Sunday's race, regular-season champion Chase Elliott was able to make up little ground from the fifth starting spot, plateauing in the top 10 before crew chief Alan Gustafson opted to run an alternate strategy. With the rest of the field opting to run long and try to make it to the end of Stage 2 on the tank of fuel they had, Gustafson elected to call Elliott to pit road under green, giving him fresher tires and a full tank of fuel.
The strategy ended up playing to perfection. Elliott was able to race back up to 12th by the end of the stage then gained six full spots on pit road as he only had to top off on fuel while the rest of the leaders had to wait to get their tanks full. After taking the top Championship 4 spot from Logano on a restart, it looked as though Elliott had set himself up to complete his dominant season with a second title.
Then, disaster struck: On the next restart on Lap 200, Elliott attempted to cut through the frontstretch dog leg, but did so without being clear of Ross Chastain to his inside. Elliott spun off of Chastain's front bumper, pounding the inside wall and causing damage to Elliott's car that he would never recover from.
"I had a really good run. It looked like (Chase) didn't get going quite as well as he wanted to. I got to the left of him, and saw an erratic move that he made to turn left to cover it, and I was already there," Chastain told NBC Sports. "It's not how I want to race him or those guys ... It's not what I want to do. But I feel like I had position on him and he tried to cover it late."
While Elliott was on the receiving end of another incident off Chastain's bumper, the 2020 Cup Series champion elected to take the high road in spite of his title hopes sliding away. Elliott let Chastain go without issue as Chastain put him another lap down, and Elliott gave few soundbites on the incident in post-race.
"I felt like we had got our car a lot better throughout the race, and for that I think we should be very proud," Elliott told NBC Sports. "It was nice to make the (championship) round. That's a very difficult thing to do. Obviously not content with that, but certainly nice to come out here and have a shot. And hopefully we can come back stronger next year and then give ourselves another chance and make it go our way next time."
The Tint of Tragedy
Sadly, there was a considerable pall over Sunday's championship race. Coy Gibbs, the COO of Joe Gibbs Racing and a former driver in the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series, died unexpectedly in his sleep at the age of 49 only hours after watching his son Ty Gibbs win the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. Ty Gibbs did not compete in Sunday's race, with Daniel Hemric filling in as Gibbs attended to the sudden loss of his father.
With Christopher Bell in the Championship 4, the grief-stricken Joe Gibbs Racing had to press on. And after crew chief Adam Stevens elected to bring Bell to pit road first of any Championship 4 driver on the final round of green flag stops, a flawless pit stop and slightly fresher tires brought Bell right to the bumper of Logano before the sixth and final caution of the race came out.
Then, on the final round of stops under caution, disaster struck when Bell's rear tire changer had his finger get stuck between the nut and spindle of Bell's left rear tire. The misshap led to a 19.8 second stop and dropped Bell all the way back to 15th, creating a deficit he would not recover from.
A 10th-place finish still gave Bell a third-place finish in the final standings on a day that, ultimately, was defined by something much more difficult than losing a championship.
"You wake up this morning and you're racing for a championship, you're happy, you're elated -- and then your world comes crashing down," Bell told NBC Sports. "Whenever you get news like that, it definitely puts it in perspective that there's more to this outside of racing. The whole Gibbs family is in all of our prayers, and thinking of them.
"... We fought hard. At the end of the race, the last pit stop -- what we thought was gonna be the last pit stop -- we were right there battling for it. Just proud to be in this position, proud to be at Joe Gibbs Racing driving this No. 20 car."
Race Results Rundown
- Despite leading 109 laps and running down Joey Logano in the final laps, Ryan Blaney ended up playing good teammate and finishing second, sealing a winless 2022 season for the Team Penske driver. Blaney was among the notable drivers to go winless this season, a group that also includes Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski -- who fell out after 270 laps due to a right front fire -- and 2021 winners Michael McDowell and Aric Almirola.
- Kyle Busch finished seventh in his final race for Joe Gibbs Racing, leading all drivers who are leaving their current rides at season's end. Tyler Reddick finished 23rd after a mid-race spin in his last race with Richard Childress Racing, while Ty Dillon finished 26th in his last race with Petty GMS.
- Austin Cindric just missed out on a top-10 finish, capping off his first year as a Cup Series driver in 11th. The yellow stripes will now come off Cindric's bumper, but his rookie season will now go into the record books: Cindric has been named the 2022 Sunoco Rookie of the Year.
- Amid horrible circumstances, Daniel Hemric did an admirable job filling in for Ty Gibbs. Despite being hurriedly tabbed as the driver of the No. 23 and confirmed just an hour before the green flag, Hemric drove Gibbs' car from the back of the field to a 17th-place finish.
- Chris Buescher finished his season a disappointing 21st, a result that was the least of the No. 17 team's concerns: During a pit stop, one of Buescher's tire carriers was struck by another car and injured, and he was later transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.