Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

Joey Logano’s title defense ends with Phoenix fade

Joey Logano’s bid for a second straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series crown ended with a slide to a ninth-place finish Sunday at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

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Logano entered Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 with a 20-point edge over Denny Hamlin in the battle for the final spot in the Championship 4 field. But Hamlin’s drive to victory clinched an automatic title berth and sealed Logano’s elimination by seven points at the end of the postseason’s Round of 8.

“No clue,” Logano told NBC Sports post-race. “I went from a car that could lead and win a stage and run really well, and from what they told me, it was an air pressure adjustment made it go from a winning car to can’t stay on the lead lap, and one of the tightest things I’ve ever driven. I don’t really understand it. It doesn’t make any sense. You change tires and change a half pint of air, that sounds ridiculous. It is what it is. Just wasn’t our year to make it, I guess. But we’ll fight for fifth, I guess, in points for this year, and we’ll move on.”

Logano led twice for 93 laps, second only to Hamlin’s race-topping 143. He also won Stage 2 over Hamlin, but his Team Penske No. 22 Ford faded over the final stretch, falling off the lead lap on the 238th lap.

Logano missed the playoffs altogether in 2017, then orchestrated a race-winning march in last season’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim his first series title. He’ll be on the outside of the title-eligible foursome in next Sunday’s season-ender in South Florida.

“It stinks. It hurts a little bit, but we’ll live,” Logano said. “Everything is going to be OK. Life is a lot worse in other ways for some. We’re still fortunate to be here and get to do what we love. It’s a bummer for sure. It doesn’t take anything away from that, but it’s just part of the game sometimes.”