Ryan Blaney crowned first NASCAR Cup Series championship; Ross Chastain wins finale at Phoenix

As Ross Chastain concluded the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season on a strong note by winning the season-finale NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 5, Ryan Blaney captured the main spotlight by winning his first NASCAR Cup Series championship with a runner-up finish and by outdueling title rivals Kyle Larson, William Byron and Christopher Bell on the track.

The 29-year-old, third-generation Blaney, who was born in Hartford, Ohio, but grew up in High Point, North Carolina, led two of 312-scheduled laps in a finale where he started the deepest of the four championship finalists in 15th place, but used the long runs to his advantage as he methodically carved his way through the field and found himself mixed within the battle for the title against Byron, Larson and Bell. With Bell falling out of contention amid an early incident and Blaney left to battle against two Hendrick Motorsports competitors for the title for the remainder of the finale, Blaney continued to persevere against the competition, even against a multitude of non-title contenders vying for the finale victory.

Despite being overtaken by both Larson and Byron during the final pit stop during a caution period with less than 40 laps remaining, Blaney, who restarted inside the top 10 during the final restart with 31 laps remaining, drove his way back to the front and overtook Larson for both the runner-up spot and the lead in the championship battle with 20 laps remaining. From there, Blaney managed to pull away and remain ahead of Larson by more than a second for the remaining scheduled laps as he crossed the finish line in the runner-up spot behind race winner Chastain and captured his first championship in his eighth full-time season in NASCAR’s premier series.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, November 4, title contender William Byron notched his fourth Cup pole position of the 2023 season and the 12th of his career after posting a pole-winning lap at 132.597 mph in 27.150 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Martin Truex Jr., who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 132.509 mph in 27.168 seconds. Byron’s title rivals, which included teammate Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney qualified fourth, 13th and 15th, respectively.

Before the event, Brad Keselowski dropped to the rear of the field after being absent during Saturday’s qualifying session due to his wife going into labor, which resulted in this year’s Xfinity Series champion Cole Custer qualifying Keselowski’s No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing entry.

When the green flag waved and the finale commenced, William Byron rocketed ahead with the lead over Martin Truex Jr. as the field fanned out through the frontstretch’s dogleg and the first two turns. With the field still fanning out through the backstretch, Byron proceeded to lead the first lap while Kevin Harvick challenged Truex for the runner-up spot followed by a hard-charging Kyle Larson.

Then as Larson used the dogleg in an attempt to overtake both Harvick and Truex for the runner-up spot during the following lap, Harvick and Larson continued to battle for the runner-up spot through the first two turns while Bubba Wallace battled and overtook Truex for fourth place. As Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney tried to muscle their way into the top 10, Byron retained the lead by a steady margin over Harvick and teammate Larson through the fifth lap.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, title contender Byron was leading by more than a second over Harvick followed by teammate/title contender Larson, Wallace and Denny Hamlin as Truex, Ross Chastain, Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick and rookie Ty Gibbs were in the top 10. Behind, Ryan Preece and Chris Buescher were running in 11th and 12th followed by title contenders Bell and Blaney while Kyle Busch occupied 15th place in front of Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Michael McDowell and Austin Dillon. Meanwhile, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was in 21st ahead of Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland while Brad Keselowski, Chase Briscoe, Carson Hocevar, Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger were mired in the top 30 ahead of Justin Haley, Corey LaJoie, Ty Dillon, JJ Yeley, BJ McLeod and Ryan Newman.

Ten laps later, Byron stabilized his advantage to a second over Harvick while third-place Larson trailed by more than three seconds. As Wallace and Truex continued to run in the top five on the track, title contenders Bell and Blaney were still mired back in 13th and 14th, respectively. Byron would continue to lead by more than a second over runner-up Harvick and by more than three seconds over teammate Larson by Lap 30 while Bell and Blaney were mired back in 11th and 14th, respectively.

At the Lap 40 mark, Byron retained the lead by more than a second over Harvick. Behind, Wallace overtook Larson for third place followed by Chastain, Truex, Buescher, Erik Jones and Hamlin. Meanwhile, Bell cracked the top 10 as he was up to 10th place while Blaney battled Tyler Reddick for 11th place.

By Lap 50, Byron’s advantage decreased to six-tenths of a second over runner-up Harvick, who started to gain ground on the former’s lead and used the inside lane through the turn to gain even more ground amid lapped traffic, while third-place Wallace trailed by a second. Behind, Larson was back in fifth after being overtaken by Chastain, Bell was running ninth behind Erik Jones and Blaney was battling Hamlin for 10th.

When the first stage period concluded on Lap 60, title contender Byron fended off a late charge from Harvick to claim his ninth Cup stage victory of the 2023 season and to strike first in his bid for his first Cup title. Harvick settled in second place after following Byron by four-tenths of a second followed by Chastain, Wallace and Larson while Buescher, Truex, Erik Jones, Bell and Blaney were scored in the top 10 on the track. By then, all four championship finalists that included Byron, Larson, Bell and Blaney were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Byron pitted for the first service of the afternoon. Following the pit stops, Byron retained the lead after exiting pit road first from the first pit stall ahead of Harvick and Chastain while Larson, Buescher, Wallace, Truex, Blaney, Bell and Hamlin followed suit. Amid the pit stops, Kyle Busch and BJ McLeod were sent to the rear of the field for speeding on pit road.

The second stage period started on Lap 68 as Byron and Harvick occupied the front row. At the start, Byron retained the lead from Harvick and Chastain as the field fanned out through the frontstretch’s dogleg before navigating their way through the first two turns and the backstretch. With Byron maintaining the lead through the frontstretch, Harvick and Chastain battled for the runner-up spot ahead of Larson and Wallace while Blaney moved up to sixth as Bell battled Buescher for seventh. Blaney would proceed to overtake Wallace for fifth place as Bell followed suit in sixth, leaving both to gain ground on Larson for fourth place. Meanwhile, Byron retained the lead in both the race and the championship battle by seven-tenths of a second over Harvick at the Lap 75 mark.

Just past the Lap 80 mark, Byron extended his advantage to more than a second over Harvick followed by third-place Chastain, who trailed by two seconds. Behind, title contenders Larson, Blaney and Bell occupied fourth through sixth on the track while Wallace, Buescher, Truex and Hamlin were running in the top 10 ahead of Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Reddick, and Ryan Preece. Byron would retain the lead by six-tenths of a second over Harvick and by a second-and-a-half over third-place Chastain by Lap 90 while Larson, Bell and Blaney retained fourth through sixth, respectively.

Then on Lap 93, Harvick used the outside lane through the first two turns and entering the backstretch to rocket past Byron and move his No. 4 Busch Light Harvick Ford Mustang into the lead. Harvick would proceed to stretch his advantage by more than half a second over Byron while third-place Chastain tried to close in on Byron for the runner-up spot.

At the Lap 100 mark, Harvick was leading by more than a second over Chastain followed by Byron, who now trailed the lead by one-and-a-half seconds but continued to lead the championship battle. Behind, however, Blaney moved up to fourth place and started to close in on Byron for the championship lead while Bell and Larson occupied fifth and seventh, respectively, on the track. With Buescher running sixth, Truex, Wallace and Erik Jones were in the top 10 while Hamlin, Suarez, Briscoe, Reddick and Keselowski followed suit in the top 15.

Five laps later, Blaney drew himself into a side-by-side battle with Byron for third place on the track, but for the lead in the championship battle. After spending the next two laps battling Byron for the spot, Blaney managed to muscle his No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang past Byron’s No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 through Turns 3 and 4 assuming both third place on the track and the lead in the championship battle. By then, title contenders Bell and Larson trailed in sixth and seventh, respectively, while Harvick continued to lead the race over Chastain.

Shortly after, the caution flew after Bell, who was running in sixth place and had radioed braking concerns a few laps earlier, went dead straight toward the outside wall in Turns 3 and 4 after his brake rotor exploded as he scraped and heavily damaged the right side of his No. 20 DeWalt/Rheem Toyota TRD Camry. The incident all but evaporated Bell’s hopes of winning this year’s Cup Series championship as he retired from the race in 36th place, dead last.

Photo by David Myers for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“That was my first time I’ve ever exploded a rotor in my career,” Bell, who ended in fourth place in the final championship standings, said in the infield care center on NBC. “I was surprised. Just obviously a disappointing way to end, but super, super proud of this No. 20 team, all of our partners DeWalt, Rheem. To be in the Final Four, it’s something that we’re really proud of. It stinks to not have the shot at the end of it. Obviously, we were all four [title contenders] really close and we all four showed strengths at different times, so I think it’s gonna be a great championship race. Whoever’s [the championship] is his is gonna be well-deserving.”

During the caution period, the lead lap field led by Harvick pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Harvick retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Chastain, Byron, Buescher, Larson, Truex and Blaney.

With the race restarting under green on Lap 116, the field fanned out through the frontstretch’s dogleg as Harvick maintained the lead over Chastain and Byron. Through the first two turns and the backstretch, Buescher would move into third place and Chastain would move into the lead over Harvick while Byron was in fourth ahead of Truex, Larson, Erik Jones and Blaney. As the field navigated through the frontstretch, contact was made between teammates Briscoe and Preece as Preece slipped up the track. With the field still fanned out to four lanes through the dogleg, Chastain maintained the race lead over Harvick and Buescher while Byron, who was in fourth, retained the lead in the title battle over teammate Larson and Blaney.

Just past the Lap 125 mark, Chastain was leading by half a second over Harvick followed by third-place Buescher, who trailed by more than a second, while Byron retained the lead in the championship battle in fourth place. Behind, Truex occupied fifth place ahead of title contenders Larson and Blaney while Wallace, Erik Jones and Hamlin were scored in the top 10 ahead of Suarez, Keselowski, Carson Hocevar, Kyle Busch, Logano and Reddick.

Fifteen laps later, Chastain continued to lead by nearly eight-tenths of a second over Harvick followed by Buescher and Truex while Byron, who continued to lead the championship battle, fell back to fifth place in front of title rivals Larson and Blaney. Meanwhile, Austin Cindric, who got into the wall earlier, was on pit road and mired multiple laps down in 35th place.

At the halfway mark on Lap 156, Chastain was leading by nine-tenths of a second over Buescher followed by Harvick and Truex while Byron maintained the lead in the championship battle while running fifth place on the track ahead of Blaney and Larson. Meanwhile, Wallace, Erik Jones and Keselowski occupied the remaining spots in the top 10 on the track while Suarez, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Hocevar, Logano, McDowell, Bowman, Ty Gibbs, Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon were running in the top 20 ahead of Reddick, Chase Elliott, Preece, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Briscoe.

Fourteen laps later, Chastain’s advantage decreased to two-tenths of a second over Buescher, who started to gain ground on the former for the top spot, while third-place Harvick trailed by three seconds. As Truex retained fourth place, Byron continued to lead the title battle and retain fifth place in front of Blaney and Larson. A lap later, Buescher muscled his No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang past Chastain’s No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 through the frontstretch to assume the lead for the first time. Buescher would stretch his advantage to half a second over Chastain by Lap 175 while Harvick, Truex, Byron, Blaney and Larson followed suit in the top seven.

When the second stage period concluded on Lap 185, Buescher, who was eliminated from the Playoffs following the Round of 8 finale last weekend, captured his second Cup stage victory of the 2023 season. Chastain and Harvick settled in second and third followed by title contender Byron while Truex, Blaney, Larson, Wallace, Keselowski and Erik Jones were scored in the top 10.

During the stage break, the lead lap field led by Buescher pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Chastain reassumed the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Byron, Truex, Larson, Blaney, Harvick, Keselowski and Buescher.

With 119 laps remaining, the final stage period commenced as Chastain and Byron occupied the front row. At the start and with the field fanning out through the frontstretch’s dogleg, Chastain maintained the lead while Byron and Truex battled for the runner-up spot. As the field navigated back to the frontstretch, Byron fended off Truex to retain the runner-up spot on the track and the lead in the championship standings over Blaney and Larson, both of whom were running fourth and fifth, while Chastin continued to lead the race. Meanwhile, Harvick slipped to sixth as he was running in front of Wallace, Keselowski, Buescher and Hamlin.

With 100 laps remaining, Chastain was leading the race by more than a second over Blaney, who overtook Byron two laps earlier to assume the lead in the championship battle. With Byron following pursuit of Blaney in third place, Truex slipped to fourth place on the track while Larson occupied fifth place ahead of Harvick, Wallace, Buescher, Keselowski and Hamlin.

Twenty laps later, Chastain retained the lead by less than three-tenths of a second over Blaney, who started to close in on Chastain for the race lead and continued to lead the championship battle, while Truex was up to third place. Meanwhile, title contender Byron trailed in fourth place on the track and by more than four seconds followed by teammate/title contender Larson while Buescher, Harvick, Wallace, Keselowski and Hamlin occupied the top 10. Chastain would stabilize his advantage to three-tenths of a second over Blaney with 75 laps remaining while Byron and Larson continued to run fourth and fifth, respectively, behind Truex.

Then with 73 laps remaining, green flag pit stops commenced as title contenders Byron and Larson pitted from the top five. The leader Chastain and Blaney would pit during the following lap along with Buescher, Harvick, Wallace, Keselowski, Bowman, Kyle Busch, Logano, Suarez, Ty Gibbs, Austin Dillon, Reddick, Truex, Aric Almirola, Erik Jones, Hocevar, Michael McDowell, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Preece and others. Amid the green flag pit stops, Hamlin, who has yet to pit, was leading followed by Briscoe and Stenhouse while Chastain and Blaney, the first two competitors who pitted, followed suit in fourth and fifth.

Hamlin would then surrender the lead to pit his No. 11 FedEx Toyota TRD Camry under green with 61 laps remaining as Briscoe assumed the lead. Two laps later, however, Chastain rocketed past Briscoe to reassume the lead followed by a hard-charging Blaney, who retained the lead in the championship battle. By then, title contenders Larson and Byron were mired back in fifth and sixth on the track while Truex moved up to third place on the track before Briscoe pitted his No. 14 Mahindra Tractor Ford Mustang under green.

With 55 laps remaining, the battle for the race lead intensified as Blaney attempted to make a move beneath Chastain entering the backstretch. With Chastain still running on the outside lane, Blaney drag-raced Chastain entering the frontstretch and led the following lap by a hair before Chastain fought back on the outside lane. Chastain then used the lapped competitor of Ryan Newman to muscle ahead through the backstretch, but Blaney fought back on the inside lane.

Then with 53 laps remaining, Blaney gave Chastain a bump in the rear bumper, which allowed Truex to join the battle entering the backstretch. Amid the battles, Blaney and Chastain continued to duel for the lead through the frontstretch and the first two turns until Blaney muscled ahead with the lead on the inside lane. Chastain, however, pulled a crossover move on Blaney through the backstretch as both dueled for the lead through the frontstretch and in front of Truex. Chastain would then reassume the lead and pull away from Blaney through the backstretch entering the backstretch as Truex made his move beneath Blaney, who got loose, to assume the runner-up spot in his No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota TRD Camry. Despite losing ground of the race lead, Blaney, who fell back to third, retained the lead in the championship fight as he was ahead of title rival Larson by more than two seconds and with Byron running in fifth place with 50 laps remaining.

With 44 laps remaining, the battle for the lead between Chastain and Truex ignited as Truex made his move beneath Chastain for the lead through the frontstretch as Chastain was getting mired in lapped traffic. With both competitors dueling for the lead through the backstretch, Chastain used the outside lane to retain the lead as Blaney closed back in on the two leaders. Blaney then made his move beneath Truex entering Turns 3 and 4 to overtake the runner-up spot over Truex with 43 laps remaining before proceeding to regain ground on Chastain for the race lead.

Then with 37 laps remaining and just as Blaney attempted to take the lead from Chastain, the caution flew after Kyle Busch spun his No. 8 3CHI Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in Turn 4. During the caution period, the lead lap field led by Chastain and Blaney pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Hamlin and Erik Jones exited pit road first and second, respectively, after both opted for two-tire pit stops while title contender Larson exited in third place and as the first competitor with four fresh tires followed by Chastain, Byron, Blaney and Truex.

Down to the final 31 laps of the event, the race restarted under green. At the start and with the field fanning out through the frontstretch’s dogleg, Hamlin muscled ahead with the lead before Larson and Chastain attempted to pin Hamlin in a three-wide move for the lead through the first two turns. With all three leaders remaining in three-wide formation through the backstretch, Chastain used the outside lane to muscle ahead with the lead before Larson and Hamlin fought back in three-wide formation through the frontstretch.

Then as Larson tried to muscle ahead from the inside lane with 30 laps remaining, he got loose entering Turns 1 and 2, which allowed title rivals Blaney and Byron to join the battle. As Chastain and Larson dueled for the lead through the backstretch, Chastain muscled ahead to control the race lead. Larson settled in the runner-up spot as Byron, Blaney and Hamlin battled for third place. As Chastain retained the race lead by a second with 25 laps remaining, the battle for the championship ignited as Larson, who was running second, had Blaney close in on his rear bumper while Byron trailed both by a second in fourth place.

Then with 22 laps remaining, the battle for this year’s championship ignited as Blaney closed in on Larson’s rear bumper. Then as Larson got loose and nearly wrecked in the frontstretch during the following lap, Blaney moved to the outside lane and made his bid to overtake Larson through the first two turns. With both Larson and Blaney dueling against one another through the backstretch, Blaney then gassed his No. 12 Ford ahead of Larson’s No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the outside lane and to claim both the runner-up spot on the track and the lead in the championship battle with 20 laps remaining. Blaney would then move in front of Larson through the frontstretch and muscle ahead with a slight advantage through the backstretch. With Larson trying to use the outside lane to regain ground, Blaney, however, maintained his ground and remained in front of Larson during the following lap.

With less than 15 laps remaining, Chastain continued to lead the race by two seconds over Blaney, who remained a half a second ahead of Larson in his bid to win the title, while Byron, who was in fourth, trailed his two title rivals by two seconds followed by Buescher, Truex, Harvick and Hamlin. Blaney would retain the runner-up spot on the track and the lead in the championship battle by eight-tenths of a second over Larson with 10 laps remaining while Chastain retained the race lead by nearly two seconds.

Down to the final five laps of the event, Chastain stabilized his advantage to more than a second over Blaney, who continued to lead the title battle by more than a second over third-place Larson as fourth-place Byron trailed Blaney by nearly four seconds.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Chastain remained as the race leader by more than a second over Blaney, who remained as the championship leader by nearly two seconds over Larson and by four seconds over Byron. Following one final circuit around the Phoenix circuit, Chastain was able to cross the finish line in first place to claim the victory in the finale while Blaney was able to follow suit in the runner-up spot and win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship.

With the championship, Blaney became the 36th different competitor to win a NASCAR Cup Series championship and the third to do so while driving for Team Penske, which achieved its fourth Cup career title. Blaney, who became the eighth different competitor to win a Cup title since the inception of the current Playoff-elimination format in 2014, also recorded the second consecutive Cup driver’s title in recent years for Ford as the Ford nameplate achieved a sweep in driver’s titles across NASCAR’s top three national touring series (Ben Rhodes won the Craftsman Truck Series title and Cole Custer won the Xfinity Series title). The championship was also the first for crew chief Jonathan Hassler and Penske’s No. 12 entry.

Overall, Blaney, who achieved his first Cup title in his eighth full-time season in NASCAR’s premier series, capped off the 2023 season with three victories (Charlotte Motor Speedway in May and Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway in October), which tallied his wins total to 10. He also earned six stage victories, eight top-five results, 18 top-10 results, 562 laps led and an average-finishing result of 14.1.

“It was just time to go to work [on the final restart],” Blaney said on NBC. “We did a good job of getting where we needed to be and [Larson and Byron] had two good pit stops, so just needed to go to work. [I was] Hoping our car was good enough, which it was. Just so proud of this team. What an unbelievable year. What an unbelievable Playoffs for us. To win back-to-back Cup titles for Mr. [Roger] Penske, that’s so special, and to have my family here on my first Cup title. I got emotional in the car. I’m not a very emotional guy, but so cool. Thank you, [fans], for coming. I hope it was an awesome show. Can’t wait to celebrate with my guys.”

“[I was praying] No yellow,” Blaney added. “[I] Didn’t want a caution and knew once I got to the white [flag], I felt pretty good about us just getting there and finishing it off. I just didn’t want a yellow and luckily, everyone kept it straight. We were going good. I wanna shout out also to Kyle [Larson] and William [Byron]. That was fun racing those guys all day, and [Christopher] Bell. Racing those two guys at the end there, racing clean. That’s what racing’s all about. That was a lot of fun. I think in the summer, we were struggling a little bit, but we never gave up. We just went to work and I’ve said that all week. This group goes to work and they figure out problems. That’s why they’re such an amazing group to be with the Team Penske folks because they just put their heads down and do the work and accept the challenge. It was a lot of hard work by a lot of amazing men and women over at our race shop and I can’t thank them enough for that. They deserve this [championship] just as much as the guys who travel here as much as me. They’re just a big part of it.”

Upon receiving the championship trophy on the championship stage, Blaney echoed his praise towards his crew chief, team owner Roger and his team for the hard work and perseverance towards achieving this year’s Cup title while paying homage to his family’s deep background of racing that includes his grandfather, Lou, and father, Dave.

“I think we did an amazing job on [never giving up],” Blaney said. “It was somewhat of an up and down year, but you’re gonna have those moments and through the summer we just worked really hard to get back to where we needed to be and set a deadline for the playoffs and we met that deadline. I’m just super proud of the effort by everybody at Team Penske who put in tons and tons of hours of hard work and nobody really got down. They just put their heads down and decided to really put in a lot of work and it showed up, especially these playoffs and especially the last five weeks. It’s so cool to have all of their hard work pay off, so they should be proud. Obviously, I come from a family of racers – my grandfather and dad and uncle. Dad is obviously who I grew up watching and admiring and wanted to be like, so to be able to do what he did because as a kid I just wanted to do what dad did, so to be able to race and let alone compete for wins and championships and still have my parents around and people that you look up to that are still around it makes it even more special.”

“It’s, obviously, a great place to be here today,” Roger Penske, team owner of Penske Racing, added. “The job that Blaney did racing clean with [Larson, Byron and Bell] was a pleasure to be in this race. To race my best friend, [owner] Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs, what a team. You can’t beat this. That’s why we do this every day. At the end of the day, [Blaney]’s a champion. That’s what counts.”

“It’s incredible,” Jonathan Hassler, Blaney’s crew chief, added. “It’s just a huge testament to the whole organization and this No. 12 team, working hard day in and day out and never being afraid to be a little bit better.”

“Yes, I believe it,” Dave Blaney, Ryan Blaney’s father and former NASCAR competitor, added. “A huge day. I don’t even know how to describe it. I thought [Ryan Blaney] was gonna win it five times and lost it five times. He just kept getting after it and did it. Proud of him and everybody on the team. He’s so talented. It’s just building confidence and if this doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will. I’ve seen it for a long time. Great kid. I’ve seen a lot of races, but this was the coolest one.”

As Blaney celebrated his first Cup Series title, Larson and Byron, both of whom finished third and fourth, respectively, on the track, were left disappointed on pit road after both fell short of winning their second and first title, respectively, while representing Hendrick Motorsports in the finale. For Larson, the 2021 champion who ended up in the runner-up spot in the final standings for the first time in his career, he concluded this season with four victories, eight stage victories, two poles, 15 top-five results, 18 top-10 results, 1,127 laps led and an average-finishing result of 14.6.

Photo by David Myers for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“[Blaney]’s car was really fast, really the last few months, and especially today,” Larson, who applauded the competitive and clean racing with Blaney and who commended the fast pit services from his pit crew, said. “Our pit crew and pit road just really kept us in the game. We weren’t the greatest on the track, but I was just hoping for pit stops because I knew the way our team executed our lights and the way our pit crew can execute a fast pit stop, I knew it was gonna be our only shot to win. They did everything in their power to give us the winning job there, so huge thank you to them. I needed to come out [as] the leader on that restart. I’m not sure if it would’ve made a difference. I was just not as good as a few guys, especially Blaney and Ross [Chastain], probably. It would’ve been difficult, but my team did a really good job all season, so I’m extremely proud of them. We had an up-and-down year and we finally put together two solid weeks in a row. We’ll come back next year and try to be stronger. A lot of fun there. Congrats to Ryan. He’s a deserving champion. Him and his team have done an amazing job. It’s been fun to kind of come up through the ranks with him and now, you see him be a champion. Congrats to Team Penske and their whole team. We’ll try and beat them next year.”

For Byron, who led 95 laps, won the first stage, and achieved a career-best third place in the final standings, he concluded the 2023 season with a career-high six victories, a season-high nine stage victories, four poles, 15 top-five results, 21 top-10 results, 1,016 laps led and an average-finishing result of 11.0.

Photo by Ron Olds for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“Once the track rubbered out, we got really tight,” Byron said. “Especially when we lost the lead on track, we just had a big balance shift and got tight back in second through fifth and just couldn’t gain a lot of speed through [Turns] 1 and 2 and just kind of having to really over-slow the car and get it to the bottom [lane]. That’s all we had there. Just really proud of our AXALTA team. Just a great season. 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 gotta keep working, gotta keep working on the short track program for us. It was definitely the tough part of our season, but I felt like we brought a good car this weekend and really until the track kind of changed, I thought we were in the game. All we had there. We’ve had a great season. Lots to be proud of and we’re gonna keep digging hard, so this was a great season for us.”

Amid Blaney’s championship celebration, Ross Chastain celebrated in Victory Lane for the first time at Phoenix and for the second time in the 2023 Cup Serie season after leading a race-high 157 of 312 laps. Chastain’s fourth career victory in NASCAR’s premier series and the sixth overall for Trackhouse Racing was enough for the 30-year-old native from Alva, Florida, to conclude this season in ninth place in the final standings as he became the first competitor not vying for the title to win the finale since Denny Hamlin won the 2013 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Photo by Ron Olds for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“We did something else that’s never been done before, for everybody on this Worldwide Express team,” Chastain said in Victory Lane. “This vision for Trackhouse [Racing] and what this was was goals like this and they were lofty. I couldn’t think of anything I would want to do more as to try to be like Kevin Harvick and race with him early in the race was bucket list, little kid in me, racing that 2005 GameCube game. I am beside myself that we were able to do that. That last caution, we were really tight and it saved us. [Crew chief] Phil Surgen and this group at Trackhouse, all our GM support staff, SIM staff and everybody at Trackhouse, somehow, came up with a way to make this thing turn and we drove off into the sunset.”

On the track, Chris Buescher finished in fifth place while Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell and Bubba Wallace completed the top 10.

Notably, Harvick finished seventh in his 826th and final career start in the Cup Series while teammate Aric Almirola finished 13th in his 460th and final full-time event as a Cup competitor. In addition, Ty Gibbs, the 2023 Cup Series Rookie of the Year, finished 21st in front of Reddick, Carson Hocevar finished 19th in his final event with Legacy Motor Club, Ty Dillon finished 28th in his final event with Spire Motorsports and Justin Haley finished 29th in his final event with Kaulig Racing. Denny Hamlin, who finished eighth, claimed fifth place in the final standings while Chase Elliott, who finished 16th, settled in 17th place in the standings over Ty Gibbs, Daniel Suarez and teammate Alex Bowman.

There were 18 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 27 laps. In addition, 24 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.

Results.

1. Ross Chastain, 157 laps led

2. Ryan Blaney, two laps led

3. Kyle Larson

4. William Byron, 95 laps led, Stage 1 winner

5. Chris Buescher, 18 laps led, Stage 2 winner

6. Martin Truex Jr., one lap led

7. Kevin Harvick, 23 laps led

8. Denny Hamlin, 14 laps led

9. Michael McDowell

10. Bubba Wallace

11. Daniel Suarez

12. Austin Dillon

13. Aric Almirola

14. Ryan Preece

15. Brad Keselowski

16. Chase Elliott

17. Alex Bowman

18. Joey Logano

19. Carson Hocevar

20. Erik Jones

21. Ty Gibbs

22. Tyler Reddick

23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

24. Chase Briscoe, two laps led

25. Kyle Busch, one lap down

26. Harrison Burton, one lap down

27. JJ Yeley, one lap down

28. Ty Dillon, two laps down

29. Justin Haley, two laps down

30. Todd Gilliland, three laps down

31. Corey LaJoie, four laps down

32. AJ Allmendinger, four laps down

33. BJ McLeod, six laps down

34. Ryan Newman, seven laps down

35. Austin Cindric, 11 laps down

36. Christopher Bell – OUT, Accident

*Bold indicates championship finalists

Final standings

1. Ryan Blaney

2. Kyle Larson

3. William Byron

4. Christopher Bell

5. Denny Hamlin

6. Tyler Reddick

7. Chris Buescher

8. Brad Keselowski

9. Ross Chastain

10. Bubba Wallace

11. Martin Truex Jr.

12. Joey Logano

13. Kevin Harvick

14. Kyle Busch

15. Michael McDowell

16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The NASCAR Cup Series teams and competitors enter an off-season period before returning to action at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash on February 4, 2024, that will air at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. This event will be followed by the 66th annual running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, which will occur on February 18, 2024, at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX and officially commence Cup Series’ 76th season of competition.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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