NASCAR Barometer: Logano Races Into Championship Four

NASCAR Barometer: Logano Races Into Championship Four

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Joey Logano claimed the first of the four spots to race for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship by winning Sunday at Las Vegas. The Team Penske Fords had competitive pace early in the weekend with all three drivers qualifying in the top five, but it was Logano who avoided problems and put himself in position to fight for the win. The former champion grabbed stage points in both segments before stalking Ross Chastain in the closing miles, making the pass for the lead and driving away for the final three laps to claim the all-important victory. It was his third win of the season and gives him two weeks to prepare for the season finale.

While Logano came out of last week's race in the perfect position, not all the playoff contenders fared as well. Christopher Bell suffered what was the heaviest blow with an early crash. Ryan Blaney also suffered due to contact, and Chase Elliott dealt with an afternoon of frustration. With two races left to fill the final three spots alongside Logano at Phoenix, there is still everything to play for among the championship contenders. The annual trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway is on tap this week in the final 1.5-mile oval visit of the season. 

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano became the first playoff driver to claim a spot among the final four championship contenders with a victory Sunday at Las Vegas. The former champion had a fast car throughout the weekend, starting fifth, finishing second

Joey Logano claimed the first of the four spots to race for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship by winning Sunday at Las Vegas. The Team Penske Fords had competitive pace early in the weekend with all three drivers qualifying in the top five, but it was Logano who avoided problems and put himself in position to fight for the win. The former champion grabbed stage points in both segments before stalking Ross Chastain in the closing miles, making the pass for the lead and driving away for the final three laps to claim the all-important victory. It was his third win of the season and gives him two weeks to prepare for the season finale.

While Logano came out of last week's race in the perfect position, not all the playoff contenders fared as well. Christopher Bell suffered what was the heaviest blow with an early crash. Ryan Blaney also suffered due to contact, and Chase Elliott dealt with an afternoon of frustration. With two races left to fill the final three spots alongside Logano at Phoenix, there is still everything to play for among the championship contenders. The annual trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway is on tap this week in the final 1.5-mile oval visit of the season. 

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano became the first playoff driver to claim a spot among the final four championship contenders with a victory Sunday at Las Vegas. The former champion had a fast car throughout the weekend, starting fifth, finishing second in both stages and going on to lead 32 total laps. Logano saved the best for late when he used his superior speed to chase down and pass Chastain in the final laps and pull away in the last miles to land the all-important win. It was Logano's third win of the season and it earned him his fifth appearance in the final four races. The team's championship preparations commence this week at Homestead where Logano secured his championship with a win in 2018. He led 12 or more laps in three of his last four races at the track, too.

Ross Chastain – Sunday's trip to Las Vegas was an encouraging but frustrating one for Chastain. With two wins so far this season, Chastain had a final four appearance in his sights as he led late in the race. Frustratingly, he was unable to hold off Logano and watched the No. 12 lock himself into that championship spot instead. Still, Chastain has been consistently fast all season, and his runner-up finish Sunday propelled him to second in the championship standings with an 18-point cushion to the cutoff zone. Chastain and the No. 1 team have been highly proficient scoring points on 1.5-mile ovals, and they'll get another chance at one this week at Homestead. Chastain has three prior starts at the track with a best finish of 17th, but fantasy players should expect him to be in contention for the victory again this week.

Chase Briscoe – At the start of the season not many people would have put Briscoe among the final eight in the playoffs. His race at Las Vegas made it apparent he could make his first appearance among the final four, however. His lone victory this season came at Phoenix in the spring, which could make him an upset championship threat if he can advance to the season finale. Briscoe finished fourth on Sunday and moved to sixth in the playoff standings. He is just nine points behind Denny Hamlin in fourth position with a very real chance of advancement. Briscoe has been racing well on 1.5-mile ovals, and fantasy players should expect him to outperform his only prior finish at the track this week as he seeks his first final four appearance.

Kyle Busch – Sunday's visit to Las Vegas was not looking like a good one for Busch, but his late rally through the field saw him squeak a top-five finish out of a potential disaster. His afternoon started with a spin, and proceeded to get worse with a lost wheel in the final stage. The misstep left Busch with an extra trip to pit road, and the team now faces penalties that will hamper the organization as the season draws to a close. However, Busch's resiliency to drive to a third-place finish despite those incidents was impressive. Looking ahead, Busch has two Homestead victories. The most recent of those was in 2019 when he led 120 laps to win. He finished 10th in last year's race despite starting 24th. 

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin's fifth-place finish Sunday was an important result that could make the difference in the championship fight. The weekend started with a horrible qualifying effort that left him starting 31st. Hamlin clawed his way into the top 10 by the second stage and left the afternoon with enough points to remain fourth in the championship standings. The team missed the mark Saturday and will need to focus on qualifying better, but they got things corrected in the race. Having tested at Homestead, Hamlin will feel more confident that he can claim a spot among the final four. He also has three wins at the track, and he isn't bad at Martinsville either. With a few tweaks to fix last week's problems, Hamlin should still be a favorite to land his first series title at Phoenix.

DOWNGRADE

William Byron – Before Sunday's race, Byron was full of confidence and felt he would end the day with a chance at the win. Instead, the No. 24 battled his setup throughout the day. Byron's car visibly bounced off of the track multiple times, which is not a comfortable feeling for the driver to extract maximum speed. As the team worked to make adjustments, Byron did everything possible to capture a few stage points, which helped to minimize the impact of an otherwise off day. A late-race call for fresh tires dropped him a few more positions in the final miles and left Byron with a 13th-place finish for the day. All told, he now holds down fifth in the playoff standings in a tight battle to be among the top four. Byron may feel confident of a quick turnaround this week as the defending Homestead winner, though.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney's speed propelled him to the front of the field in the second stage, where he won the segment of Sunday's race. Unfortunately, later in the final stage he lost control and made heavy contact with the inside wall. What was shaping up to be a good start in this most recent round of elimination races quickly turned into a step backward in his championship bid. The incident left Blaney with a 28th-place finish, dropping him two places in the playoff standings to seventh. Still winless in 2022, Blaney scored his first top finish at Homestead two seasons ago when he finished third in his best outing at the track. Last season he started 14th and finished 29th after contact in that race, too. The No. 12 team needs a victory now more than ever.

Christopher Bell – Bell wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time Sunday. The championship contender was hit in the melee between Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson, bearing the full impact of a situation for which he was not a part. Bell's car suffered heavy damage from the contact with the rear axle completely out of alignment as he drove to the team for repairs. Unfortunately, the damage was too heavy for the team to overcome, and Bell was eliminated from the race through the damaged vehicle policy. It was a big blow to his championship hopes, too. Bell entered the race fourth in the playoff standings and will now have to overcome a 23-point deficit to make it into the top four in points. He will need a top result this week at Homestead to get back into the mix, but in all likelihood he will need a win to advance.

Chase Elliott – Sunday's race was another bad start to a playoff round for Elliott. The former champion was hard on himself following the race. He said he wasn't driving well, nor was he giving the team the feedback they needed to make adjustments. He lost his points advantage with his 21st-place result and now stands just 17 points clear of teammate William Byron in fifth. Elliott and the team must do their homework this week to improve at Homestead. The track is another 1.5-mile oval with the same tire specification that was run at Las Vegas. The team has two more chances to turn things around but did not do enough to help their case for a spot among the final four last week. Elliott's average Homestead finish is 9.0 after six series starts. A top-10 would be a welcome turn this week, but a top-five might be the requirement for the playoffs.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Bubba Wallace – Wallace was quick from the outset at Las Vegas, dominating the opening stage and winning the opening segment. It was impressive start, but it ended in disaster in the second stage when he collided with Larson. Wallace was squeezed into the wall by an aggressive move from Larson, but the ultimate result was that both cars were eliminated after what appeared to be a retaliatory move from Wallace. Crashing out was a very disappointing end to a day in which Wallace likely felt he could win. With more chances at the front of races coming Wallace's direction he and the team will have to make the most of them. He has a victory under his belt this season, but he will view Sunday as a missed opportunity to add another.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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