Ryan Blaney Wins At Martinsville And Advances To Championship 4by Hunter Thomas October 29, 2023 1 comment
RIDGEWAY, Va. – Ryan Blaney held off Aric Almirola in the Xfinity 500 on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway to earn his third win of the season and a berth in the Championship 4 next weekend at Phoenix Raceway.
Blaney started the 500-lap race in 11th, but he was noted as a race favorite by many prior to the green flag. The Team Penske driver finished second to Denny Hamlin in Stage 1 and then topped him in Stage 2. The race went 168 laps caution free to the end, and with a championship round berth on the line, tension intensified as the laps ticked away. Blaney took over the lead for the final time with 23 laps to go and held on to capture his first grandfather clock at Martinsville.
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Blaney said. “I grew up in High Point, not too far from here. Closer to High Point honestly, Martinsville than Charlotte. Really cool. Wanting to win here for a long time. Been super close for many years. Awesome to close it out.”
Blaney pieced together a competitive Round of 8, which placed him just 10 points ahead of the cutline heading into Sunday’s race. At the Charlotte ROVAL, Blaney finished 12th, and then he followed the performance up with a sixth-place effort at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Looking ahead to Phoenix Raceway next weekend, the track is by far one of Blaney’s best tracks. In the past four races, he has earned two fourth-place finishes and two runner-up efforts.
“Well, I mean, felt like we put together really strong Playoffs,” Blaney said. “Especially the Round of 8, we had a good run in the whole Round of 8. Yeah, just overall really proud of the whole effort. Awesome to have Discount Tire on the car, Menards, Ford, Advance Auto Parts, BODYARMOR, DEX Imaging, WURTH, Wabash, everything they do. It wouldn’t be possible. RP (Roger Penske, Team Owner) couldn’t be here, unfortunately, but I know he’s watching. This is awesome. Can’t wait to get to Phoenix next week.”
Prior to Sunday’s race, Almirola announced that he wasn’t returning to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2024, so the second-place finish was certainly a highlight in the final events of the season.
Denny Hamlin, who is still searching for his first NASCAR Cup Series championship finished third; however, the effort wasn’t enough to advance to the Championship 4. Hamlin missed the cutline by a mere 8 points to William Byron.
“The mechanical failure last week with the power steering, that sealed our fate,” Hamlin said. “Really proud of this whole FedEx Toyota team for showing up today when we really needed to, having probably a mid 50-point day. They did great. They did absolutely great. The 12 car (Blaney) was the best car today, so congrats to them. All the Final 4 that made it. It’s going to be great. Hate we’re not in it with our FedEx Camry. Definitely I was happy with the performance we had today. Really all around.”
Despite the huge disappointment, especially at a track that’s one of his best, Hamlin was very positive about the No. 11 FedEx team’s future efforts at competing for another championship.
“It’s not over by any means,” Hamlin said. “We got a long way to go. Really happy about the year in general. I thought substantially faster this year at all racetracks than what we were last year. It’s racing, right? This is the Playoffs. You got a three-race season. The 12 car showed up this round, right? He deserves to be in that Final 4. The performance they had today was phenomenal. I’m just happy for those guys. One more week.”
Chase Briscoe and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell finished sixth and seven respectively, and they will both compete for a championship next weekend.
Chris Buescher finished eighth, which was a stout performance for the RFK Racing No. 17 Nexletol Ford team, but it wasn’t good enough to advance. Buescher entered the day needing a win in order to compete for the championship.
Austin Cindric and Todd Gilliland completed the top-10 by finishing ninth and 10th.
Martin Truex Jr. sat on the pole and finished 12th after trying to rebound from a pit road speeding penalty. Unfortunately for the Regular Season champion, he was eliminated by 28 points.
“We gave it a hell of an effort,” Truex said. “I felt like we had a really strong car. I don’t think we could have beat the 12. He was really, really strong. We were definitely close. Something to work on for next time. Really disappointed. I mean, I thought I was well under speed leaving that box. Clearly we were speeding, so… Obviously we have something to look at there. It’s devastating. That’s racing.”
William Byron didn’t have the best of days, but a 13th-place finish advances him to the Championship 4. This will be Byron’s first-ever opportunity to compete for a NASCAR Cup Series title.
“Obviously we were not very good,” Byron said. “Our worst race of the year. These guys deserve it so much. They work so hard. Honestly, probably with 50 to go I felt really, really bad. I just had did drive the hell out of it. The guys stuck with me, they kept motivating me through little bits and pieces, just kind of keeping my mind straight. I’m just really thankful for them. It was just, yeah, a slugfest. Everyone raced me there good at the end.”
During the race, there were 12 leaders, with Denny Hamlin leading a race high 156 laps.
The caution flew on seven occasions for 61 laps.
Come next Sunday, a NASCAR Cup Series champion will be crowned based on which Championship 4 driver finishes ahead of the other three competitors. They won’t necessarily have to win the race either, it’s all about the finishing order of Bell, Larson, Byron and Blaney.
Live coverage of the NASCAR Cup Series Championship will broadcast on NBC at 3 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Hunter Thomas/TheFourthTurn.com