Ross Chastain had the dominant car at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday (Nov. 5) and he capped off his season strong with a dominant win.
Blaney rode the momentum he gained from his win at Martinsville Speedway last weekend to a runner-up finish behind Chastain. He then outran Kyle Larson in the final 30 laps to clinch his first career championship.
“I’m so proud of this team, what an unbelievable playoffs for us. To win back-to-back championships for Mr. Penske, that’s so special and to have my family here winning my first Cup title … I got emotional in the car and I’m not a very emotional guy,” a proud and smiling Blaney told NBC Sports.
“This group goes to work and that’s why they’re such an amazing group to be with,” Blaney said of his No. 12 team.
It’s team owner Roger Penske’s second straight championship and fourth overall. Blaney battled not only his competitors, but his emotions as well all day, as tough battles with Chastain and Larson nearly pushed him to his brink.
Larson looked for a repeat of his 2021 triumph when his pit crew got him out ahead of his competitors with 30 laps to go following a Kyle Busch spin. Eventually, driver No. 5 couldn’t hold off the charging Blaney any longer. From there he had to watch as his chance at a second championship drove away.
“His car was really fast, really the last few months and especially here today,” a content but disappointed Larson told NBC Sports. “Our pit crew and pit road really kept us in the game, we weren’t the greatest on the track but I was just hoping for pit stops, because I know the way our team can execute a fast pit stop.”
“They did everything in their power to give us the winning job done there, so a huge thank you to them, but I needed to come out the leader on that restart, and Ross got a really good start from the second row … I don’t know if it would’ve made a difference really … we had an up and down and we finally put together two solid weeks in a row, so I don’t know if we’ve done that all year.”
“We’ll come back next year and be stronger,” Larson concluded.
William Byron controlled much of the race among the Championship 4, as the polesitter set the pace by winning stage one, but the handling on his No. 24 progressively faded, and he wound up behind Blaney and Larson in fourth.
“Once the track rubbered in, we got really tight, especially when we lost the lead on track. We had a big balance shift,” Byron told NBC Sports.
“It stinks to come up short, but I’d like to think we’re gonna be back in this position and we’re gonna have more shots at it, just gonna have to keep working.”
Byron cited his team’s difficulty with the short track package this season as well.
Christopher Bell‘s fight for the title ended rather quickly.
Around lap 109, Bell’s right-front brake rotor detonated and the No. 20 car would never see the track again after hitting the wall, meaning the Norman, Okla. driver will have to wait another year to try and run down a title.
Chris Buescher rounded out the top five with a strong fifth-place finish. He also won stage two.
Martin Truex, Jr. finished sixth, followed by Kevin Harvick finishing seventh in his final race. Harvick had some great moments throughout the day, as he ran in the top three for most of the first two stages and even grabbed the lead at one point. Although, like Byron, Harvick’s car seemed to progressively fall off as the race ran.
Though he didn’t win in his final season, Harvick’s effort will always be remembered.
Unfortunately overshadowed by all the championship festivities is how dominant Chastain was. He led 157 of the 312 laps and though he didn’t win a stage, finished top three in both. The race was relatively clean caution-wise, as there were only two for cause other than the stage breaks. The first of course, was for Bell’s incident and the last for Busch’s spin.
“I am beside myself that we were able to do that. That last caution we were really tight and it saved us, and [crew chief] Phil Surgen and this group at Trackhouse and our GM support staff and sim staff somehow came up with a way to make this thing turn,” Chastain told NBC Sports.
“In the end we drove off into the sunset.”
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to the L.A. Coliseum for the annual preseason Clash at the Coliseum on Feb. 4, 2024.
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