NASCAR Cup Series

Ryan Blaney completes 2023 Ford NASCAR title sweep with maiden Cup Series crown

5 Mins read
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Ryan Blaney only led two laps and finished second in Sunday’s finale at Phoenix Raceway, but winner Ross Chastain not being a contender meant Blaney did all he needed to do to win his maiden NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Blaney restarted sixth with thirty-one laps remaining behind his championship rivals Kyle Larson and William Byron. The two Hendrick Motorsports cars followed Chastain with Larson ahead before Blaney found his run past Byron. Larson, the 2021 champion, was unable to keep him at bay any longer with twenty to go.

“When I saw him get to third as quickly as he did, I knew I was going to be in trouble,” recalled Larson, who settled for third. “I felt like I could maybe hold off William for the length of that run. Holding off Ryan was going to be tough. He 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.

“I felt really committed to the bottom. Even when I would move around and make my car feel better, it was slower on lap time. I knew I was in a little bit of trouble and was going to try to put up a fight. I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to hold him off. He did a really good job. His team continued to improve on the race car throughout the last few months. They deserved to win.”

Byron finished directly behind Blaney and Larson for third in the championship. While short of a title, it is still Byron’s best season by far with a series-high six wins and his first Championship Round appearance.

“He’s always aggressive,” Byron quipped concerning Blaney’s driving style in Phoenix. “He’s always quick and aggressive. I don’t think it was anything new. I mean, I think maybe just the situations that we were all in and the way the track is here. I thought it was pretty similar. It’s a bit of a letdown based on how we started the race. As soon as we got into stage two, trying to figure out how do we manage what we have, maybe make it a little bit better if we can, but we just need more on the short tracks. We just struggled as a team on the short tracks.

“We had a great season, a lot to be proud of, a lot of really solid races, communicating well as a team. I feel like all that stuff can just go up a notch hopefully, just have a bit more speed at certain tracks that we know are important. Definitely down the stretch here it was tough. We didn’t have really what we needed, but that’s okay.”

While Larson and Byron combined for ten wins in 2023 to help Chevrolet win the manufacturer’s championship, Blaney ruined the party by taking the driver’s title in a Ford. Chevrolet won all three national series manufacturer’s crowns, whereas Ford claimed the three for drivers with Ben Rhodes in the Craftsman Truck Series and Cole Custer in the Xfinity Series. It is the sixth time that a marque swept the three drivers’ titles, with Chevrolet doing so from 1995 to 1998 and again in 2001.

By winning his first NASCAR title, Blaney adds to a family legacy that includes his grandfather Lou and father Dave being among the top dirt track racers in America. Dave Blaney, a longtime Cup Series veteran, joined his son at Phoenix.

“For me to kind of add some asphalt into there is pretty good because that’s what I grew up doing,” said Blaney. “Just special. Growing up around the race track, watching Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon), Tony (Stewart), Mark Martin, I love those guys. I saw them win championships. I wanted to be that way. For it to come full circle is special. I couldn’t think of a better spot of my family being there and them being able to witness it.

“They are just as much a part of it as I am. Not only my dad, my mom sacrificed more than you could imagine to make sure I could get to every race and do what I needed to do to get going. I have two awesome sisters that support me. It’s pretty special to have them here.”

While Chastain was the first non-championship driver to win the season finale since the playoff format’s introduction in 2014, Christopher Bell had the dubious honour of being the first Championship Round qualifier to finish last in the deciding event. He suffered a brake rotor failure and crashed on lap 108.

“That was my first time I’ve ever exploded a rotor in my career so 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,” recounted Bell. “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 Four is something we’re really proud of.

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“I’m very proud of the effort put forth by our team to get to the Championship Four, but I do feel like we left a lot on the table at various races throughout the year. I’m excited about the future. We haven’t reached our potential yet.”

Kevin Harvick closed out his legendary career with his twenty-first consecutive top ten at his best track. His Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Aric Almirola was thirteenth in his final start as a full-time driver.

Legacy Motor Club‘s Carson Hocevar and Erik Jones finished together in nineteenth and twentieth, respectively, in the last race before the team switches to Toyota for 2024. Hocevar, a 2023 Truck Series Championship Round driver, will compete for Cup Rookie of the Year honours in 2024, an award claimed by Ty Gibbs for 2023 as the lone full-time rookie.

Blaney’s best friend Bubba Wallace also had reason to celebrate, finishing tenth in a special Star Wars X-Wing themed livery. 23XI Racing partner Tyler Reddick placed twenty-second in his TIE Fighter scheme, meaning the Rebel Alliance scored yet another victory over the Galactic Empire. For Blaney, a lifelong Star Wars fan and self-proclaimed “aspiring Jedi”, it truly was a day to remember.

Race results

181Ross ChastainTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet312Running
21512Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord312Running
345Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet312Running
4124William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet312Running
5917Chris BuescherRFK RacingFord312Running
6219Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota312Running
734Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord312Running
8611Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota312Running
91934Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord312Running
10523Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota312Running
111699Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet312Running
12213Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet312Running
132810Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord312Running
141241Ryan PreeceStewart-Haas RacingFord312Running
15316Brad KeselowskiRFK RacingFord312Running
16209Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet312Running
172348Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet312Running
181722Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord312Running
192242Carson Hocevar*Legacy Motor ClubChevrolet312Running
20743Erik JonesLegacy Motor ClubChevrolet312Running
211154Ty GibbsJoe Gibbs RacingToyota312Running
221045Tyler Reddick23XI RacingToyota312Running
232447Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet312Running
242614Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord312Running
25188Kyle BuschRichard Childress RacingChevrolet311Running
262521Harrison BurtonWood Brothers RacingFord311Running
273415J.J. Yeley*Rick Ware RacingFord311Running
283377Ty DillonSpire MotorsportsChevrolet310Running
293531Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevrolet310Running
301438Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord309Running
31297Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet308Running
323216A.J. AllmendingerKaulig RacingChevrolet308Running
333678B.J. McLeod*Live Fast MotorsportsChevrolet306Running
343051Ryan Newman*Rick Ware RacingFord305Running
35272Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord301Running
361320Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota108Accident
Bold – Champion
Underline – Championship Round
Italics – Rookie of the Year
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Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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