Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of four stories examining why each driver could win the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
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Joey Logano will win the 2020 championship because …
Any path to the trophy likely goes through him, and there’s a strong chance he’s blocking the way.
While Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin were unquestionably in a league of their own for much of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, Logano is the driver most of his peers would likely to say they enjoyed racing against the least this year. Not only is he exceptionally talented on the race track, he has a certain way of making said real estate seem *that* much smaller for his competitors, feverishly working his rearview mirror to make them work just a little harder to get past him.
This wouldn’t be as much of an issue for them if he also wasn’t doing this at the front of the field, and often.
Now remember, at the beginning of the season the first four races looked strongly suggested it was going to be Logano’s year with a pair of quick wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix before the sport was shut down for two-plus months due to the pandemic. By his own admission, the No. 22 driver and his crew lost their way a bit once the competition resumed. Whether it was from a strict lack of performance or the tough adjustment to no practice time to tinker, it all settled with an average finish of 16.33 over the first 15 races back that culminated in a crash at Kansas that netted a 35th-place result.
Despite that mediocre average finish, though, Logano was still an extremely consistent presence among the leaders, pacing the field for double-digit laps in 11 of those contests, including a fourth-place run with 234 laps led at Martinsville — a venue that deploys the same short-track package that’ll be used in Sunday’s Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway (3 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio).
Even still, that Kansas crash appeared to be somewhat of a turning point for Logano, as he then reeled off six straight top-nine finishes in the march to the regular-season cutoff at Daytona where a crash, unfortunately, spoiled his streak. Take an even closer look, and the stats might even suggest he’s been the best driver since the calendar turned to August.
Removing a crash at the Daytona cutoff (in which he also happened to lead 36 laps, despite being locked in already) and another one at Talladega in the Round of 12 (where, hey, he also led 45 laps) and in the remaining 14 races between the Kansas crash and last weekend at Martinsville, the 2018 champ owns a sterling 6.2 average finish.
Combine all of that with a handful of other facts …
- Won the most recent race at Phoenix in the spring.
- Has won the fall race at Phoenix before (2016).
- Is the only Championship 4 driver to win a title in this format.
- Has the only title-winning crew chief in the Championship 4 calling the shots (Paul Wolfe).
- Has had more time than the others to prepare for the title race by virtue of Kansas win in Round of 8 opener.
… and there’s a lot to like for the Logano camp about their potential for a second championship in three years.
You still have to race the race and in no way does any of this guarantee the No. 22 a title, but it feels certain that he’s going to have a significant impact on whoever’s holding the trophy at the end — whether it’s him, or because another driver specifically beat him.
And there might not be a harder driver to beat on Sunday.