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Ryan Blaney Collects NASCAR Cup Series Championship With Runner-Up Effort at Phoenix

Ross Chastain took the race win in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Championship race, but it was second-place finisher Ryan Blaney, who took home the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship.


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While Ryan Blaney was carrying all of the momentum heading into Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway, there were some who worried if the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang could pull it off from the 15th starting spot.

Worry not, Blaney pulled through and collected his first NASCAR Cup Series title with a clutch runner-up finish in Sunday's event. The championship marks the second-consecutive NASCAR Cup Series title for Team Penske, a feat the team had never achieved in its storied history.

RELATED: NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race Results

After securing the championship, Blaney credited his team for digging deep during a trying season to unlock the keys to a championship in the months leading into the Playoffs.

"Just super proud of the effort by everybody at Team Penske who put tons and tons of hours into hard work," Blaney said. "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.

"So cool to have all their hard work pay off, so they should be proud."

While the end result was a championship, there were points in the day when it didn't look like it was Blaney's day for the largest triumph of his young career.

In the opening Stage of the race, William Byron, a Championship 4 contender who had won six races in 2023, dominated from the pole as he led all of Stage 1. As Byron was stomping the field, Blaney and Christopher Bell were finding it tough sledding deep in the field.

By the end of the Opening Stage, Blaney had moved to the 10th position.

As Blaney continued to march through the field, the driver's level of aggression began to rise. In a very short 312-mile championship race, Blaney didn't have time to fool around, and with how long it took to climb from 15th to 10th, I'm sure it felt like an urgent situation for him and his team.

Near the end of Stage 2, Christopher Bell, one of the Championship 4 contenders, fell by the wayside when a brake rotor on his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota exploded. This sent Bell into the outside wall, and his championship hopes were over.

"Well, that was my first time I've ever exploded a rotor in my career, so, yeah, I was surprised," said Bell after a trip to the infield care center. "Early on in the race I had a little bit of brake fade in the first run. In the second run, it just kept getting worse and worse."

With Bell out of contention, Blaney continued to set sail on the front of the field as he finished sixth in Stage 2.

As the race began to draw to a close, Blaney emerged as the Championship 4 driver with the best car, however, he didn't have the best car in the field. Well, he may have had the best car, but he simply could not get around a hungry Ross Chastain, who was in control of the race lead.

Blaney grew more and more frustrated on his team radio as he attempted to get by Chastain for the race lead, even using the front bumper at one point, but his team continually reminded him that the ultimate prize was the NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Following the race, when asked if he hit Chastain on purpose, Blaney fired back by saying, "(Expletive) right I hit him on purpose. I mean, yeah, I hit him on purpose. He blocked me on purpose 10 times. So, yeah, I hit him on purpose.

"What do you expect me to do? He's backing me up to the other championship guy, and I got to go. We were just racing hard. But do I think he was over-excessive on the blocks? Yes, very much so. Did I hit him? Yes, I did. That's just part of it."

Blaney eventually relented on Chastain, and it appeared at that point that he would cruise to a Championship.

Then, a late-race caution for a spin by Kyle Busch on Lap 275 put the Championship back up for grabs.

However, after a fierce battle for position with Kyle Larson, Blaney took control of the Championship race and he wouldn't look back on his path to the Championship as he finished runner-up to Chastain.

Following the race, winner Chastain spoke about his late-race battle with Blaney, and he said that while he wasn't going to crash Blaney, he was going to do everything in his power to win the race.

"I was not going to crash him. I was not going to use my front bumper, side fenders, anything. Dirty air? Different story," Chastain explained. "Yeah, I'm going to. I'm going to keep the lead because that's everything."

Love it or hate it, Chastain's approach ended with him in victory lane for the second time in 2023, and he now has momentum heading into the 2024 season.

Larson would finish third, roughly two seconds behind Blaney, and Byron would come home in fourth.

They fought tooth-and-nail with Blaney all race long, but in the end, the Hendrick Motorsports drivers just didn't have enough in the closing laps to contend with Blaney.

Larson actually held the top spot in the Championship battle heading into the final restart of the race due to an incredible final pit stop. But he knew his championship hopes were a longshot when Blaney quickly shot up from the sixth spot on the restart.

"Yeah, I mean, when I saw him get to third as quickly as he did, I knew I was going to be in trouble," Larson said said. "I felt like I could maybe hold off William for the length of that run. Holding off Ryan was going to be tough.

"[Blaney] could just move around a lot better than me, kind of be more comfortable on the edge. He definitely looked loose, but he could still push the car. I couldn't push the car really further than what I was."

Byron started the race off with such promise as he rolled from the pole position, won Stage 1 and led the opening 92 laps of the event. But once he lost track position, he just couldn't quite get his car back to the dominant state that it had in the opening laps.

"Before the track rubbered in, I thought we were probably the best, but we had clean air, too," Byron explained. "I thought when we had clean air, like, we were trying to perfect our balance out front. Once we got back second to fifth really, we just didn't have the turn. We couldn't keep up with him. Especially running up the racetrack. We could run lower and kind of get out of the leftover resin up there, but we couldn't rotate up there.

"Kind of all we had. Before the caution, I thought we had something. There was a lot of lanes. The pace was pretty slow. As soon as we got back going on the restart, that was all we had."

Chris Buescher, who won Stage 2, would close out a solid 2023 campaign with a fifth-place finish.

Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, and Bubba Wallace rounded out the top-10 finishers in the race.

For Harvick, who led 23 laps on the day, and was the first driver not named William Byron to lead the race, this was the final race of his NASCAR Cup Series career. After he climbed from the car for the final time, he was greeted by his son Keelan, and shared a warm embrace with his long-time crew chief Rodney Childers.

It was a solid final race for Harvick in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Harvick will join the FOX Sports broadcast team in 2024.

Sunday's race was a solid one as it featured 18 lead changes, the most lead changes at the track since the Next Gen car entered the sport in 2022.

The Championship battle was a fun, and spirited one between four of the genuinely talented young drivers in the sport, and while one of the four was unable to make it to the finish of the race, it was a truly incredible championship fight, which was ultimately won by Blaney.

Photo Credit: Michael L. Levitt, LAT Images, Courtesy of Ford Performance

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