Race Weekend Central

Ryan Blaney Collects Walk-Off Win at Martinsville

Ryan Blaney won Sunday’s (Oct. 29) race at Martinsville Speedway, locking himself into the Championship 4 for the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career after he passed Aric Almirola for the lead in the late stages of the race.

Blaney earned the 10th victory of his career and his third victory of the 2023 season.

“We’ve put together a really strong playoffs, especially the Round of 8,” Blaney said. “We had a good run in the whole Round of 8. Overall, really proud of the whole effort. RP [Roger Penske] couldn’t be here, unfortunately, but I know he’s watching, and this is awesome. Can’t wait to get to Phoenix next week.”

See also
Aric Almirola Departing SHR After 2023

Almirola, who announced yesterday that he would part ways with Stewart-Haas Racing after the season, played the strategy game and had enough fuel after staying out on the final caution to earn the best finish of his season.

“I’m still on my game,” Almirola said. “I can still compete at this level, and I can still get the job done. I wanted that one. I wanted to celebrate with my family and my team, just came up a little bit short. Frustrated, disappointed to not win that one. It’s how it goes sometimes.”

Denny Hamlin finished third with seemingly the second-fastest car of the race. Still, he failed to advance to the Championship 4 for the second consecutive year after William Byron, who struggled all day with an ill-handling car, finished 13th, eight points to the good.

“Hate we’re not in it for sure, but I was happy with the performance we had today and really, all around.” Hamlin said. “In the Round of 8, you can’t have one bad week, and, unfortunately, mechanical failure takes us from running really well to in the 30s, and that’s it.”

Byron makes his first career Championship 4 appearance.

“These guys deserve it so much,” Byron said. “They work so hard. Honestly, with probably 50 to go, I felt really, really bad. I just had to drive the hell out of it. The guys stuck with me, and they just kept motivating me through little bits and pieces and just keeping my mind straight. I’m just really thankful for them.”

Fellow SHR driver Chase Briscoe finished fourth and Joey Logano completed the top five.

Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher, Austin Cindric and Todd Gilliland rounded out the top 10, respectively.

Polesitter Martin Truex Jr. led the opening 47 laps when teammate Hamlin took the lead. Joe Gibbs Racing dominated the top three between Hamlin, Truex and Ty Gibbs.

Hamlin kept the lead en route to a stage one win. The end of stage one featured the race’s first caution on lap 104 for a three-car pileup involving Harrison Burton, Alex Bowman and Corey LaJoie. The wreck allowed Blaney to move up and finish second in the stage after pit stops and the restart.

Hamlin held the lead ahead of Blaney while at the back of the field, playoff contenders Byron and Tyler Reddick slid down the running order, both drivers falling outside the top 20.

On lap 195, Blaney took the lead on the outside of Hamlin using the lapped car of Ty Dillon as a pick. Blaney pulled away from Hamlin until Bell spun the No. 51 of Ryan Newman for the third caution of the day on lap 216.

After pit stops, Hamlin’s crew put him back in the lead in front of Blaney while Truex was tagged with too fast exiting pit road despite having the first pit box. Truex would not recover from the penalty and would finish 12th, eliminating the regular-season champion from playoff contention.

“We gave it a good effort today,” Truex said. “You just can’t speed on pit road, go to the back here and make it up. Feel like we did good for where we got to. Our car was really fast. We always got to the next guy, just could never pass. That one’s on me. I didn’t think we were speeding, but obviously, we were. First time we ever had that pit stall, and they told me four reds, I’d be safe leaving my box. I went to two, and we were speeding, so a little confusion there.

“Just one of those years,” he continued. “It wasn’t our year. We gave it a hell of an effort. The car was really good today. I think we were good enough to run second or third, but I think Blaney was class of the field. They earned that one.”

On the restart, Blaney and Hamlin exchanged the lead multiple times, ending with Blaney retaking the top spot and holding it through the end of the stage over the No. 11.

Byron finished the stage 20th, failing to score playoff points in the race and putting him in a points battle between himself and Hamlin behind Hamlin’s 19 playoff points

On the stage three restart, Hamlin bumped Blaney nearly sending Blaney around, but Blaney held to his car and maintained the lead.

Shortly after the save by Blaney, Logano sent Gibbs spinning in turn three, collecting Daniel Suarez, Brad Keselowski and others. Gibbs later brought out another caution after being spun by Carson Hocevar.

Blaney handily kept the lead on the subsequent restarts, but after Michael McDowell’s spin on lap 323 and after pit stop strategy, Chase Elliott and LaJoie fought for the lead, ending with the No. 9 out in front. However, the two and others who stayed out could not make it on fuel, whereas the others felt like they were close on fuel.

On lap 412, Almirola took the lead from the No. 9 while Hamlin and Blaney fought Hamlin for position and ultimately passed the No. 11.

Blaney made his way through the rest of the field, and with 23 laps to go, Blaney returned to the lead and held on and locked himself into his first Championship 4 race.

Martinsville Fall Cup Race Results

Larson, Bell, Byron and Blaney will fight for the title at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBC.

About the author

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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Hamlin tried to take Blaney out, look at that turn down the Hack did on purpose. Rerun it a few times. Dirty Hack for sure. Pretty bitter tonight aren’t you hack.

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