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Ryan Blaney Scores Martinsville Win; Locks into Championship 4

The Championship 4 field is set as Ryan Blaney took the win in Sunday's Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway to secure his spot. William Byron also advanced to the championship race along with Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell.


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Ryan Blaney simply would not be denied Sunday at Martinsville Speedway as the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang scored a career-defining win in the Xfinity 500. Throughout the duration of the event, Blaney passed drivers low, he passed drivers high, and in the early portion of the race, he also gave them the front bumper.

In the end, the driver showed calculated aggression, and he did what he had to do to win the race.

RELATED: NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 Race Results

With the win, the 29-year-old racer who was 10 points above the cutline heading into the day, secured his place in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 field for next weekend's season-finale at Phoenix Raceway. This is Blaney's first-ever Championship 4 berth.

"That's all you can ask for. All you want is a shot at a championship," Blaney said. "You get your shot when the Playoffs start if you make them. Okay we've got a shot. Then, a real shot is if you get to Phoenix. It's just nice to have an opportunity to actually race for a championship. Hopefully we can maximize the weekend. We'll see. I'm excited. It's going to be fun."

The win marks the third triumph of the year for Blaney, and it's the 10th victory of his career. But without a doubt, Sunday's win at Martinsville was the biggest win of Blaney's young career. Not only was the win big due to the championship implications attached to it, but Martinsville is also a near-home game for Blaney.

"Yeah, it's awesome," Blaney said in his victory interview on NBC. "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."

Sunday's win at Martinsville can only be topped by a win in next weekend's race at Phoenix, and with the momentum he is carrying into Phoenix, it's looking like a very real possibility.

Blaney started the Xfinity 500 from the 11th position, and he spent the entire first Stage climbing his way toward the front of the field.

By the time the green and white checkered flag was waving to signify the end of the opening Stage of the event, Blaney had worked his way to the runner-up spot behind Denny Hamlin.

The No. 12 Discount Tire Ford Mustang continued to show incredible speed in Stage 2, as Blaney took the lead for the first of four times on Lap 194.

After an incredible and fevered back-and-forth battle with Hamlin for the lead, Blaney finally asserted himself as the leader of the race and he would go on to score the Stage 2 win.

In the final Stage, Blaney, Hamlin, and all of the front runners throughout the race were mired deep in the field due to strategy plays by several drivers and teams including Corey LaJoie, Chase Elliott, and Aric Almirola.

While LaJoie and Elliott would lead the majority of the middle portion of the final Stage, the two drivers did not have enough fuel to make it to the end of the race. They also didn't have the speed to hold off Almirola, who had pitted at Lap 325 with Blaney and Hamlin, but had gained track position by taking only two tires.

Almirola, who announced on Saturday that he would no longer run full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2024, would snag the lead from Elliott on Lap 412, and it appeared that he would have his chance at a storybook ending to his full-time NASCAR Cup Series career. There was only one problem -- Ryan Blaney would not be denied.

The driver of the No. 12 machine methodically reeled in Almirola for the lead, and he executed a pass for the lead, and the win, on the high side on Lap 478.

Blaney would run the final 22 laps uncontested as he scored the all-important win over Almirola.

Hamlin would come home in third, and he was followed by Chase Briscoe, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher, Austin Cindric, and Todd Gilliland inside the top-10.

The Championship 4 field is set. Four drivers have advanced from the Round of 8.

William Byron, who has scored a series-high six wins this season, endured a frustrating day on the track on Sunday as his car was ill-handling and his helmet fan wore out which made his day extremely uncomfortable behind the wheel.

Still, he was able to salvage a 13th-place finish in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports PODS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The finish would be just enough to move Byron into the Championship 4.

"Obviously we were not very good," Byron admitted while holding a chat with the media on the pit road wall after the race. "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. Congrats to Ryan. I was really happy for him, brother-in-law. He was really fast. But, man, we just had to hang on. Just had to dig a little bit deeper."

In addition to Blaney and Byron, Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson will also be in the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway by way of their wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Unfortunately, for Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Tyler Reddick, and Chris Buescher Sunday marked the end of their championship hopes.

Hamlin came home a solid third, but with Blaney's win, and Byron's top-15 finish, Hamlin ended the day eight points shy of advancement to the Championship 4. Hamlin chalks up his failure to advance to his mechanical failure at Homestead a week ago.

"The mechanical failure last week with the power steering, that sealed our fate," Hamlin explained. "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."

While he didn't advance, Hamlin had nothing but praise for Ryan Blaney and the other three drivers that will battle for the title next weekend.

"The 12 car was the best car today, so congrats to them," Hamlin said. "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."

Hamlin continued by saying, "Just in the Round of 8 you can't have one bad week. Unfortunately mechanical failure takes us from running really well to in the 30s. That's it."

Truex started from the pole and led the opening 47 laps of the race, but a speeding penalty ruined what was a promising run for the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. Now, Truex will have to spend the offseason thinking about what might have been.

"We gave it a hell of an effort. I felt like we had a really strong car," Truex stated. "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. Obviously, we have something to look at there. It's devastating. That's racing."

Buescher struggled mightily for the majority of the weekend, but he was able to rally in the closing laps to record a respectable eighth-place finish. It was another great run, but Buescher entered the day in a must-win situation.

Tyler Reddick was the lowest-finishing Playoff driver in Sunday's race as he came home a disappointing 25th.

Photo Credit: Matthew T. Thacker, NKP, Courtesy of Ford Performance

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