Ryan Blaney took home the NASCAR Cup Series Championship on Sunday thanks to a second-place finish in the Championship race at Phoenix Raceway. He outdueled Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and William Byron in the final laps. However, Blaney was criticized by some for not being a deserving Champion. Is that true?
Why They Say Blaney Is Not a Deserving Champion
The main argument people make about Blaney not being a deserving Champion is his entire body of work throughout the full season. He finished the year with 3 wins, 8 top-5s, 18 top-10s 0 poles, and a 14.1 average finish (The worst of any NASCAR Cup Series Champion). Now, that is a very good season, but, it was far from the best overall body of work a driver has had this season. In terms of rankings, Blaney finished as follows amongst Cup Series drivers in stat rankings
- Wins: T-3rd
- Top-5s: 11th
- Top-10s: T-4th
- Average Finish: 7th
Trey Ryan also took the liberty of compiling the leaders of almost every stat available in NASCAR. Ryan Blaney did not lead in any statistical category, even in advanced stats such as driver rating or % of laps as the fastest car. Blaney is nowhere to be found, but William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Christopher Bell, the Championship 4 contenders, are represented.
Blaney also did not lead in any Playoff category as well. William Byron led in Playoff average finish, Playoff points, and points scored in the Playoffs. No matter how you slice, Ryan Blaney did not have the best overall season, and, some could argue he was not even in the top-5. The Non-Playoff standings on Racing Reference put Blaney sixth in terms of points scored this season.
However, does that tell the whole story? Are there other factors to keep in mind?
Why They Say Blaney Is a Deserving Champion
While Blaney did not have the best overall season, he performed the best when it mattered most. When he needed a win at Talladega in the Round of 12, knowing it was his best chance at advancing, he got that win. When he needed a good run at Martinsville to Clinch a Championship 4 spot, he got a win.
His average finish over the final four races of the season was 2.75. That was by far the best of any Playoff contender. When he needed to get wins, he got them, and when he needed to be great, he was great.
It’s also worth noting that Blaney led the overall points at one point during the regular season. This was after Gateway, which was race 15 of the season. There were moments this season where he did show winning speed, and Championship level performance.
It may not have been consistent, but, that’s not necessary in this format. People may point to the Non-Playoff standings or the mythical Winston Cup points standings, but, those are flawed representations of a driver’s overall performance in 2023. That’s because, under those systems, drivers would not race the same way they do under the current system, so, there is no guarantee the same result would be replicated should either of those have been the actual system.
When the chips were down and Ryan Blaney had to have a Championship level performance, he had it. William Byron struggled at Martinsville and was a bit off late at Phoenix. Christopher Bell blew a brake rotor, and Kyle Larson also was just a bit off. Performing well when it matters most should count for something.
At the end of the day, Blaney will go down in the record books as the 2023 Cup Series Champion. There will forever be a discussion about whether or not this is the best way to determine a Champion, but, that discussion has been happening since the sport was founded in 1948. Regardless of which side anyone falls on, the result remains the same.