Unlike last season, Ross Chastain didn’t come to Phoenix Raceway with a shot at winning the NASCAR Cup Series championship. But, that didn’t stop the Trackhouse Racing driver from visiting victory lane one more time in 2023.
Leading a race-high 157 of 312 laps, Chastain played spoiler to the Championship 4 drivers on Sunday, ending the nine-year streak of drivers having to secure the victory in the final race of the season to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Chastain, who took the lead for the first time during the race’s second stage, had to endure an intense late-race battle with Ryan Blaney, in which the two drivers went shot-for-shot for numerous laps, before the final caution of Sunday’s 312-lap contest.
That final caution, which set up a restart with under 35 laps to go, allowed Chastain to scurry away from the field, as Championship 4 drivers Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson battled it out for the runner-up spot, and what would end up being the championship.
Ryan Blaney, driving the No. 12 Ford Mustang for Team Penske, would come home in the runner-up position, clinching himself the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship, beating fellow title rival Kyle Larson to the start-finish line by more than two seconds.
In doing so, Blaney brought Team Penske home its fourth championship in the NASCAR Cup Series, just one year after teammate Joey Logano captured his second championship at NASCAR’s top level.
“Just so proud of this team. Unbelievable year, unbelievable Playoffs for us,” said Blaney after the race. “To win back-to-back Cup titles for Mr. Penske, that’s so special. Having my family here, and winning my first Cup title, I got emotional in the car. I’m not a very emotional guy.”
For Blaney, a third-generation racer, the NASCAR Cup Series championship was earned throughout the 10-race post-season, where the North Carolina-native clicked off some incredible results, despite what had been a fairly difficult off-season.
“You never want to count yourself out. I mean, I think in the summer we were struggling a little bit,” added Blaney. “But we never gave up. We just went to work. I’ve said that all week, like, this group goes to work and they figure out problems. That’s why they’re such an amazing group to be with, with the Team Penske folks because they just put their head down and do the work, and accept the challenge.”
After struggling with the No. 5 Chevrolet throughout most of the afternoon, Kyle Larson came up one spot short of the championship, finishing in third place. William Byron finished fourth, after leading 95 laps, second only to the race’s eventual winner, Chastain.
Chris Buescher and Martin Truex, Jr. finished in fifth and sixth place in Sunday’s 312-lap contest from Phoenix Raceway. Kevin Harvick, making his final start in the NASCAR Cup Series, finished seventh after leading 23 laps.
Denny Hamlin finished in eighth place, securing a top-five points finish for his Joe Gibbs Racing team. Michael McDowell and Bubba Wallace rounded out the top-10 in the final NASCAR Cup Series event of 2023.
Climbing through the pack early in the race, Christopher Bell saw his NASCAR Cup Series title hopes go up in smoke after 108 laps, after the brake rotor exploded on the No. 20 Toyota Camry TRD, sending him hard into the outside wall.
Outside of the Championship 4, an amazing battle played out in the final race of the season with positions inside the top-10 in point standings. Tyler Reddick maintained sixth, while Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski got to seventh and eighth place in final points. Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace maintained their positions in ninth and 10th.
Now, the NASCAR Cup Series – and NASCAR as a whole – will go on hiatus until early February 2024, when the best of the best will return to the LA Memorial Coliseum for the 2024 Busch Light Clash.