NASCAR Cup Series
Ryan Blaney Collects NASCAR Cup Series Championship With Runner-Up Effort at Phoenix
Nov 5, 2023
On Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway, Team Penske joined a very exclusive list of teams that have scored back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series Championships. In the 75-year history of the sport, Penske becomes just the eighth team to pull off the feat.
As Ryan Blaney crossed the finish line in the runner-up position in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway, he joined the illustrious list of drivers, who have scored a championship in NASCAR's premiere series. That list now features 36 names.
But in the process, Blaney also checked off a significant milestone for Team Penske.
The triumph for Blaney and the No. 12 Team Penske organization marked the fourth NASCAR Cup Series title overall for Team Penske, and it is the organization's second consecutive NASCAR Cup Series championship.
It's the first time the organization has ever pulled off a back-to-back title run.
"Back-to-back shows the strength of our organization," team owner Roger Penske stated with pride after the race. "We really weren't that strong in the middle part of the season. As Jonathan [Hassler] and the engineering team, along with Ford, helped us get better and better, you could see how well the Fords ran even here today, I think it was a combination of many things.
"For me, personally, that is what we're here for. We love the competition, we love the stress, but also we like a day to sit down here like this and say we're champions."
Penske mentioned the stress, and at points in the event, there certainly was stress for Blaney and the No. 12 Team Penske group.
Blaney was mired in the 15th starting position, and when the green flag was displayed, passing proved to be quite difficult in the early going. But once Blaney was able to secure solid track position in the late portion of Stage 2, it became quite obvious that he was going to be the guy to beat for the Championship.
But as Blaney looked to be cruising to a championship, he found a roadblock in the form of Ross Chastain. Blaney felt he was being held up by Chastain, and mentally he felt Kyle Larson was closing in to scoop the championship away.
Blaney grew more, and more frustrated on the radio with Chastain, and even utilized the chrome horn in an effort to get by the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro. That's when The Captain sprung into action to calm the situation.
"Other than the spotter, I have the right to give him a couple of shots one way or the other," Penske stated. "He was running fine. He was concerned that he was being backed up by [Chastain] obviously to [Larson], which he really wasn't. Calming him down. He was doing a great job. The guys, Jonathan, the team, good pit stops, good strategy on getting their car right.
"It was more to say, Hey, you're doing a good job. I told him before the race, Win, lose or draw, you're a champion."
In the end, Penske was right as Blaney did in fact become a champion.
By going back-to-back, the Team Penske organization moves into rarified air with the achievement.
Prior to Sunday's race at the 1-mile oval in Avondale, Arizona, only seven race teams had ever scored back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series titles. Now, there are eight.
Team Penske joins Hendrick Motorsports, RFK Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Junior Johnson & Associates, Petty Enterprises, Holman-Moody, and Bud Moore Engineering as the only teams in the 75-year history of NASCAR to go back-to-back in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Let that soak in.
What Team Penske has accomplished over the last two seasons is absolutely incredible, and the excellence displayed in the winner-take-all championship format by the team deserves to be applauded. It's not every day that Roger Penske accomplishes something in motorsports that he has never accomplished before.
When the chips are on the table, Team Penske has proven over the last two seasons that they can gain momentum, and find hot streaks at the right time, and they are proving to be very, very dangerous in this current Playoff championship format.
While it was a historic weekend for Team Penske, it was a massive weekend for the manufacturer that Penske runs for -- Ford -- as well.
Ford secured its first back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series championship in nearly two decades. The last time Ford went back-to-back was with RFK Racing as drivers Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch scored the NASCAR Cup Series titles in 2003 and 2004.
Ford's Global Director Mark Rushbrook says that the championship charge for Ford is due in large part to the manufacturer putting in the time and resources to continually improve its racing product the last few years.
"Well, we have increased the emphasis on our program every single year," Rushbrook explained. "Certainly with the relevance we were really big at pushing for the Next Gen car back in the early days when it was first being talked about, the relevance and everything, which made it even more important for us to be successful with it.
"We were working hard obviously on the Next Gen car before we were ever racing it, not just on the body but making sure we understood what the common chassis was, running it in our simulator. Really understanding it I think is what it takes to be successful."
The glory days have returned for Ford, and it wasn't just a big weekend for the manufacturer in the NASCAR Cup Series ranks. The blue ovals swept all three NASCAR National Series championships at Phoenix Raceway this weekend as Ben Rhodes took home the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship driving the No. 99 ThorSport Racing Ford F-150, and Cole Custer snagged the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang.
Ford became the first Manufacturer to sweep all three NASCAR National Series championships since Chevrolet pulled it off in 2001.
The dominance shown by Ford this weekend had many joking that the old Ford Championship Weekend sponsorship, from the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale days, should return.
"I've heard a few people saying that. We had a lot of pride in Miami-Homestead for a long run. Unofficially I guess we could call this weekend Ford Championship Weekend," Rushbrook laughed.
Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, NKP, Courtesy of Ford Performance