Ryan Blaney Makes it a Ford Sweep of the NASCAR Championship Weekend

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Phoenix Raceway, Avondale, AZ — November 5, 2023

The NASCAR season culminates today with the Cup Series Championship race from Phoenix Raceway. This is the fourth year that Phoenix has hosted the final race of the year since the championship weekend was moved from Homestead-Miami Speedway after 16 seasons (2004-2019).

Four drivers will race for the ultimate prize in the sport, the Cup Series trophy. William Byron, Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, and Ryan Blaney.

Photo Courtesy of NASCAR

If history means anything, the Champion must win the season finale to capture the Cup.  That has been the case for the past nine seasons. If anyone could break that trend, it might be Kevin Harvick.

Harvick is retiring after today’s race to join the Fox Sports Broadcast booth. He will be making his 826th career NASCAR Cup Series start this weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Harvick has competed in the series for 23 straight seasons (2001-2023).

Kevin Harvick

An assured first-ballot Hall of Famer, Harvick has amassed an impressive resume behind the wheel with 60 Cup wins (7.3% winning percentage), 251 top fives (30.4% top-five finishing percentage), 443 top 10s (53.6% top-10 finishing percentage) and 31 poles.

Plus, he is tied with Denny Hamlin for the series-most Playoff appearances all-time with 17 each, and he is also tied with Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch for the series-most Championship 4 Round appearances with five each. His successes don’t end there. He also earned a NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship in 2020 and the overall Cup Series Championship in 2014 – the first year of the elimination-style Playoff format.

Why would Harvick be considered more than a sentimental favorite today? He has more wins at Phoenix Raceway than any other active driver competing.

Active Phoenix Race Winners (10) Wins Seasons
Kevin Harvick 9 2018, 2016, 2015, 2014 sweep, 2013, 2012, 2007 sweep
Joey Logano 3 2022, 2020, 2016
Kyle Busch 3 2019, 2018, 2005
Denny Hamlin 2 2019, 2012
Ryan Newman 2 2017, 2010
William Byron 1 2023
Chase Briscoe 1 2022
Kyle Larson 1 2021
Martin Truex Jr 1 2021
Chase Elliott 1 2020

Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola is also retiring from full-time competition after today’s race.

Today’s Race

Stages at Phoenix today are set for 60/125/127 laps. But points don’t matter. Of the four drivers racing for the championship title, the one with the highest finish earns the Bill France Cup.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series crowned champions this weekend at Phoenix already. Ben Rhodes drove his Ford F-150 to the truck title on Friday. Saturday evening, Cole Custer captured the Xfinity Championship in his Ford Mustang.

If Ryan Blaney is going to make it a Blue Oval championship sweep, he will have to do so from the 15th starting position in his Team Penske Mustang. William Byron starts from the pole position. The other two playoff drivers? Kyle Larson starts fourth, and Christopher Bell fires off from the 13th position.

Brad Keselowski will start from the back of the pack. Yesterday, he was in North Carolina with his wife, who was giving birth to their son. Cole Custer qualified the car for Keselowski. But could not secure the spot due to the driver change.

The race is sold out in the grandstand, and earlier in the week, the last of the 10,000 camping spaces at the track was filled.

Stage One

When the green flag waved, they fanned out four wide into turn one, but it was William Byron(24) holding the lead and establishing a half-second interval over Kevin Harvick(4) in second. Kyle Larson(5) ran third, while Christopher Bell(20) and Ryan Blaney(12) lost positions, running 15th and 16th, respectively.

There are 36 cars on the track, and everyone would like to win the last race of the year. However, 32 drivers are acutely aware of the Championship Four and do not want to be the cause of an incident that takes away their shot at the title. Respect will be the order of the day until the closing laps bring out the natural aggression we expect to see.

The short distance of Stage One will allow all teams to gauge the performance of their race cars and make changes at the end of the Stage.

Harvick made a run at Byron as the laps wound down. But, it was the #24 car taking the green and white checkered flag as all the Championship Four finished in the top ten.

Stage One Results

POS CAR DRIVER BEHIND
1 24 William Byron (P)
2 4 Kevin Harvick* 0.47
3 1 Ross Chastain 0.584
4 23 Bubba Wallace 1.633
5 5 Kyle Larson (P) 3.898
6 17 Chris Buescher* 4.507
7 19 Martin Truex Jr. 4.524
8 43 Erik Jones 9.019
9 20 Christopher Bell (P) 9.392
10 12 Ryan Blaney (P)* 11.695

(P) Playoff Drivers *Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage Two

The top three drivers held their positions coming off the pit road. Larson ran fourth, Blaney in eighth, and Bell in ninth position the Championship Four for Stage Two.

Byron again drove off into the lead. Harvick and Ross Chastain(1) separated Larson, Blaney, and Bell from the race leader.

Byron led for the first 92 laps of the race before Harvick caught and passed him to take over the top spot. Chastain followed with a pass to take second.

Kevin Harvick at Phoenix Raceway / NASCAR Photo

Blaney drove deep into the dogleg of turns one and two, making a pass on both Bell and Larson. He then ran down Byron and took the Championship lead away from Byron.

Christopher Bell became the first of the Championship Four to encounter trouble on lap 109. He had been complaining of brake issues, and his chance at a win went away when the right front brake rotor exploded, and he hit the wall in turn three. Forcing the #20 to the garage and out of the race.

The ensuing caution allowed the field to pit within the fuel window that would allow them to complete the Stage. Harvick, Chastain, and Byron led the field off pit road. Blaney, with a slow stop, came out in seventh.

As drivers jockeyed for position on the restart, Chastain made the pass on Harvick for the top spot. Chris Buescher(17) ran third, Byron fourth, Martin Truex Jr.(19) fifth, with Larson and Blaney sixth and seventh.

Restart Mayhem at Phoenix / NASCAR Photo

With 50 laps to go in Stage Two, Truex passed Byron to put the three remaining Championship contenders in touch with each other, running fifth, sixth, and seventh.

Blaney worked hard to get past Larson. The pair ran side-by-side for three laps before Blaney could complete the pass. Up front, Buescher got around Harvick to take over the second spot.

With 25 laps to go in the Stage, Blaney caught Byron, and the race for the Championship lead was on.

Chris Buescher took a turn at the front of the pack, moving past Chastain with 12 laps to go in the Stage. Byron passed Truex to move back into the top five. Blaney, with an ill-handling race car, just held on until he could bring his car back to his crew for service.

Stage Two Results

POS CAR DRIVER BEHIND
1 17 Chris Buescher
2 1 Ross Chastain 2.539
3 4 Kevin Harvick* 4.429
4 24 William Byron (P) 5.127
5 19 Martin Truex Jr. 6.683
6 12 Ryan Blaney (P)* 7.672
7 5 Kyle Larson (P) 8.267
8 23 Bubba Wallace 11.468
9 6 Brad Keselowski* 13.759
10 43 Erik Jones 14.275

(P) Playoff Drivers *Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

Chastain was the first to exit the pit road. Byron, Truex, Larson, and Blaney followed him. Whoever takes full advantage of the restart will have a significant edge heading into the Final Stage. Everyone held their position except for Blaney, picking off one spot at the expense of Larson.

Whatever adjustments Blaney’s crew made to his race car, it turned him into the fastest on the track. He surged past Truex and Byron, setting his sights on the leader, Chastain. Byron seemed to lose the handle on his car quickly as he was passed by Truex and dropped into the clutches of Larson.

Harvick ran comfortably in the sixth position. Possibly biding his time for the final run to the checkered flag.

Byron and Larson pitted with 73 laps to go. Ryan Blaney and Chastain came in for service a lap later. Larson leap-frogged over Byron in the course of their stops. If the race stays green, it will be the longest stretch of the race. This scenario favors Blaney with his track position advantage over the two Hendrix drivers.

Blaney closed on Chastain and appeared to have the faster car. Chastain would not yield the position, and he took a shot to his rear bumper from Blaney.

A lap later, Blaney made the pass. Chastain crossed over and drew back to the side of Blaney’s car. Blaney got loose and lost the lead to Chastain. Truex also passed him.

After cooling his tires, Blaney drove to the lead again. But, with 38 laps to go, Kyle Busch spun across the start/finish line, bringing out the caution flag.

The Finish

Everyone pitted for fresh tires. Hamlin and Erik Jones(43) took only two new Goodyears and were first out of the pits. Larson, Chastain, and Byron exited before Blaney, who came out in sixth.

The gamble of Hamlin and Jones did not pay off. It only caused a jumble at the front on the restart as everyone drove around them while battling for position. When the scrambling was done, Chastain had driven away. Blaney had found the only Championship driver in front of him was Larson. Byron was fading fast in fourth place.

The fastest car besides Chastain, Blaney drove around Larson with 20 laps to go in the race. He quickly built the interval between them. With Chastain safely in the lead and Larson dropping back, Blaney just needed to keep his composure and hope no one brought out another caution.

Taking the white flag, Blaney followed in Chastain’s wake to cruise around the final circuit of the racetrack and become a NASCAR Champion.

For the first time in a decade, the Champion did not win the final race. Blaney’s win gave Roger Penske his first back-to-back NASCAR Championship wins following Joey Logano’s victory last year. Ford Performance swept NASCAR’s three premier series Championships for the first time.

Kevin Harvick ended his career with a seventh-place finish. Aric Almirola finished his full-time racing endeavors for Stewart-Haas with a 13th-place showing.

Results of the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race from Phoenix Raceway

POS CAR DRIVER BEHIND LAPS
1 1 Ross Chastain 312
2 12 Ryan Blaney (P) 1.230 312
3 5 Kyle Larson (P) 3.273 312
4 24 William Byron (P) 5.349 312
5 17 Chris Buescher 5.784 312
6 19 Martin Truex Jr. 5.864 312
7 4 Kevin Harvick 6.336 312
8 11 Denny Hamlin 8.928 312
9 34 Michael McDowell 10.238 312
10 23 Bubba Wallace 12.237 312
11 99 Daniel Suarez 12.486 312
12 3 Austin Dillon 13.028 312
13 10 Aric Almirola 13.649 312
14 41 Ryan Preece 14.097 312
15 6 Brad Keselowski 15.443 312
16 9 Chase Elliott 15.687 312
17 48 Alex Bowman 16.544 312
18 22 Joey Logano 16.921 312
19 42 Carson Hocevar 18.293 312
20 43 Erik Jones 19.063 311
21 54 Ty Gibbs 19.382 311
22 45 Tyler Reddick 19.903 311
23 14 Chase Briscoe 22.184 311
24 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 22.204 311
25 8 Kyle Busch -1 311
26 21 Harrison Burton -2 310
27 15 JJ Yeley -2 310
28 77 Ty Dillon -3 309
29 31 Justin Haley -3 309
30 38 Todd Gilliland -4 308
31 7 Corey LaJoie -4 308
32 16 AJ Allmendinger -4 308
33 78 BJ McLeod -6 306
34 51 Ryan Newman -8 304
35 2 Austin Cindric -12 300
36 20 Christopher Bell (P) -204 108