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November 5, 2023

Ryan Blaney gets hot at right time to win 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship

Ryan Blaney spent the 2023 NASCAR Playoffs delivering clutch performances when it mattered most. And in the biggest race of his life, the 29-year-old gave his most memorable showing yet. Now, he is a Cup Series champion.

Blaney claimed his first career Cup Series championship on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway in his first Championship 4 appearance. He outlasted fellow title hopefuls Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson and William Byron for the most prestigious prize in NASCAR.

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Blaney had the lead among Championship 4 drivers when the caution flag flew for a Kyle Busch spin with 37 laps remaining. After losing that advantage on pit road, Blaney battled back on the ensuing restart to get past Byron and Larson, getting in front of them with 20 laps to go. Blaney held that position and finished second to race-winner Ross Chastain but first among the Championship 4 competitors.

It’s the second consecutive season Team Penske took home NASCAR’s top prize, with Blaney following Joey Logano’s 2022 title conquest. It also gives Ford a sweep of championships following titles by Cole Custer and Ben Rhodes earlier this weekend.

“Just so proud of this team,” Blaney said. “Unbelievable year, unbelievable playoffs for us. To win back-to-back Cup titles for Mr. Penske, that’s so special. Having my family here, winning my first Cup title, I got emotional in the car. I’m not a very emotional guy.

“Thank you, guys, for coming. Hope it was an awesome show.”

RELATED: Race results | Ryan Blaney driver page

It took Blaney eight full seasons, but he joins Brad Keselowski and Logano as the three drivers to win Cup titles for Roger Penske.

In four previous trips to the Round of 8, Blaney came up empty-handed. This year, the No. 12 team stepped up at the right time, scoring a pair of playoff victories at Talladega and Martinsville en route to the championship.

Unlike previous seasons when Blaney made mistakes in the Round of 8, he rose to the occasion in 2023. Across the three races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville Speedway in the Round of 8, the No. 12 team posted an average finish of 3.0. He had an incredible run at Homestead by leading 53 laps and finishing second, then stamped his name into the Championship 4 in a dominant second-half performance at Martinsville, tallying his third victory of the season.

“You never want to count yourself out,” Blaney said. “I mean, I think in the summer we were struggling a little bit. 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, ’cause they just put their head down and do the work, accept the challenge.

“That’s what we did. It’s not happenstance we started running good through the playoffs. It was a lot of hard work by a lot of amazing men and women at the shop. I can’t thank them enough for that.”

Blaney entered the championship race with consecutive runner-up results in the desert, including to his teammate Logano last season when the driver of the No. 22 Ford won his second championship. But the No. 12 team had the fewest top fives and laps led of the four eligible drivers. He was tied with Larson for the fewest number of top 10s. Three of Blaney’s seven top fives in the opening 35 races of the season came over a five-race run in the playoffs.

All it took was one race of perfection, though, from Blaney for him to capture the crown. He is the first driver from his illustrious racing family to win a NASCAR championship.

It was also a shining moment for crew chief Jonathan Hassler, who just completed his second full season as a crew chief. Together, they went from a goose egg in the win column in their first season to sitting at the champion’s table in Nashville later this month during Champion’s Week.