Ryan Blaney Tops Championship 4 At Phoenix To Win First NASCAR Cup Titleby Hunter Thomas November 5, 2023 0 comments
AVONDALE, Ariz. – From grassroots racing to becoming a NASCAR Cup Series champion, Ryan Blaney finally earned a series title after a hard-fought battle with Hendrick Motorsports at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday.
Blaney earned his first-ever Late Model victory at Dillon (S.C.) Motor Speedway in 2010 in a Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Model race, and since then, he has continued his family’s legacy by becoming a NASCAR driver and now, a NASCAR Cup Series champion.
“It’s been amazing,” Blaney said. “It’s been over 10 years when I walked through the doors of that place (Team Penske). It’s hard to believe. Just gone by so fast.”
Throughout this season, Blaney amassed three wins (Charlotte, Talladega and Martinsville), and he finished inside of the top-10 for 50% of the events. The opening round of the NASCAR Playoffs was rough for Blaney and the Team Penske No. 12 Ford team as he finished ninth at Darlington, 12th at Kansas and 22nd at Bristol; however, in the Round of 12, Blaney won at Talladega, and he was clutch in the Round of 8, finishing sixth at Las Vegas, second at Homestead-Miami and winning at Martinsville.
“Yeah, I mean, I think we did an amazing job of that,” said Blaney about overcoming adversity. “I mean, it’s somewhat of an up-and-down year, but you’re going to have those moments. Through the summer we just worked really hard to try to get back where we needed to be. Kind of said a deadline for the Playoffs. We met that deadline.
“Just super proud of the effort by everybody at Team Penske who put tons and tons of hours into hard work. No one really got down. They just put their heads down and they decided to really put in a lot of work, and it showed up, especially these Playoffs, especially the last five weeks.”
On Sunday, Blaney started 15th, but by the end of Stage 1, he has worked his way up to 10th. In Stage 2, he continued to climb as he finished out the stage in sixth. When it came time for the final pit stops, Blaney lost four positions, and Championship 4 competitor, Kyle Larson jumped in front of him.
“I want to shout-out also Kyle and William (Byron), that was fun racing those guys all day, and the 20 (Christopher) Bell, unfortunately he broke. Racing those two guys at the end, racing clean, that’s what racing is all about. It was a lot of fun.”
With only 20 laps to go, Blaney took advantage of a bobble Larson had on the frontstretch and made the eventual championship-winning move as he surpassed the driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet. The laps ticked away, and Blaney held on for a runner-up finish, which solidified his first title.
“Just so proud of this team,” Blaney said. “Unbelievable year, unbelievable Playoffs for us. To win back-to-back Cup titles for Mr. Penske, that’s so special. Having my family here, winning my first Cup title, I got emotional in the car. I’m not a very emotional guy.”
Although Blaney pieced together an impressive season that resulted in a title, believe it or not, it’s not his best-ever, statistically. That would be the 2021 season when he also won three races and finished inside of the top-10 in 55.6% of the races, but that season, he didn’t make it to the Championship 4 and finished seventh in the standings.
Blaney’s NASCAR Cup Series career kicked off in 2014, when he ran a part-time schedule for Penske, and then a part-time schedule for the Wood Brothers in 2015. For the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Blaney raced full-time for Wood Brothers Racing before joining Team Penske full-time in 2018.
Larson finished behind Blaney in third, earning him second-place in the standings after amassing four wins, 15 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes. Larson just didn’t have the fastest car on Sunday to win, but following the race, he certainly acknowledged his pit crew for keeping him in championship contention.
“Our pit crew and pit road really kept us in the game,” Larsons said. “We weren’t the greatest on the track, but I was just hoping for pit stops ’cause I knew the way our team executed our lights, the way our pit crew can execute a fast pit stop, I knew that was going to be our only shot really to win. They did everything in their power to give us the winning job done there. Huge thank you to them.”
Byron finished somewhat of a disappointing third. The performance was great, but he led 95 laps and came up short on winning the title. The driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet had one of the fastest cars at the beginning of the race, but as the track collected more rubber, Bryon fought tight conditions.
“Once the track rubbered in, we got really tight,” Byron said. “Especially when we lost the lead on track, we just had a big balance shift and got tight back in second through fifth, just couldn’t gain a lot of speed through one and two, just kind of having to really over-slow the car, get it to the bottom. That’s all we had there.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell was the final championship contender. He blew out a brake rotor on Lap 108 and finished last. Bell was competing in only his fourth season in the NASCAR Cup Series. Throughout the season, he won two races (Bristol Dirt and Homestead-Miami) and accumulated 10 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes.
“Well, I mean that was my first time I’ve ever exploded a rotor in my career,” Bell said. “So, yeah, I was surprised but early on in the race I had a little bit of brake fade and the second run it just kept getting worse and worse. I don’t know. Just obviously a disappointing way to end. I’m super, super proud of this 20 team and all of our partners at DEWALT and Rheem. To be in the Final 4 is something we’re really proud of.”
Outside of the Championship 4, Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain earned his second win of the season on Sunday. Chastain led a race high of 157 laps as he held the championship contenders at bay. His win marked the first time in the current playoff format when the series champion didn’t win the race.
“I am beside myself that we were able to do that,” Chastain said. “That last caution we were really tight. It saved us. Phil Surgen (crew chief) and this group at Trackhouse, all of our GM support staff, sim staff, everybody came up with a way to make this thing turn, and we drove off into the sunset.”
Finishing behind Chastain, Blaney, Larson and Byron was Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., and Kevin Harvick who compete in his final NASCAR Cup Series race after 20 years of full-time competition.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster, for sure,” Harvick said. “I think as you look at this last week, this really means a lot to me just because I love driving the race car, I love being around the people more. I love our sport. It’s given our family so much through the years to be thankful for and proud of.”
Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell and Bubba Wallace rounded out the top-10.
Bryon won Stage 1, and Buescher won Stage 2.
There were only two accidents throughout the 312-laps race. The caution flew for Bell crashing on Lap 108 and then for Kyle Busch who spun on Lap 276.
In 2024, NASCAR Cup Series will return to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum for the Clash on Sunday February 4, and then it’s off to Daytona International Speedway for the Duels on February 15 and then the DAYTONA 500 on February 18.
Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images