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.
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.
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.
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.
This story will be updated.