The 75th NASCAR season has come to a close as the checkered flag flies in Phoenix. NASCAR has a new champion to reign supreme through the offseason and into next year and his name is Ryan Blaney. This marks the first championship victory of Ryan Blaney’s career. So, what did the championship path look like for Blaney and who fell just short of being able to hoist the trophy? Let’s talk about it.
2023 Cup Series Champion: Ryan Blaney
2023 marked the first year in his career that Ryan Blaney qualified for the Championship 4. Heading into Phoenix, there were a lot of eyes on Blaney as he’s currently in the middle of the hottest streak of his career and he is notoriously fast at Phoenix Raceway. In 2022, he led a lot of laps but then, possibly because of team orders, fell behind his teammate Joey Logano who would eventually go on to win the Cup. And, he finished runner-up there earlier this spring.
To start the race, Blaney rolled off in the 15th position, the worst of the Championship 4 drivers. While he hung around the back half of the top 10 for much of the first stage. After a fast round of pitstops, Blaney found himself racing solidly inside the top 5, overtaking Championship 4 rival, Christopher Bell. Struggling with loose conditions, Blaney would finish the second stage in the 6th position.
For much of the race, Blaney was frustrated. He battled loose conditions all day and was met with stark competition from non-playoff contenders. About halfway through the final stage, in a battle with Ross Chastain for the lead, Blaney fell down to third, dangerously in the clutches of championship rival, Kyle Larson. Able to regroup, Blaney started to work his way back up to battle with leader Chastain, who dominated the final stage of the race. In the end, Chastain was able to stretch his lead to win the race…but it was Ryan Blaney, in his No. 12 Menards Ford, who captured the crown as the checkered flag flew.
Blaney was in a bit of a unique situation today as his sister is dating fellow Championship 4 competitor, William Byron. The two of them spoke with Sirius NASCAR Radio about which driver she was rooting for today.
Ryan Blaney ends his season with a 2nd place finish and your 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Champion. In 2023, he scored 3 wins, 8 top-5s, and 18 top-10s. Oh, and his first Bill France Cup!
Maybe Next Year
As with any sport, while one team hoists the Bill France Cup, victorious and on top of the world, three other teams are left on the outs, so close to tasting victory but not close enough.
In 2022, Christopher Bell entered the Championship 4 as an outside pick. It was his clutch wins at the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville to put him in the position to steal one after a decent but not great season. But many saw that step forward as a massive leap as, all of a sudden, Christopher Bell became a week-in-week-out race-win contender.
Christopher Bell was hot in the Round of 8 which put him in prime position to contend for a championship at Phoenix. Heading into the Valley of the Sun, strangely enough, Bell struggled with loose conditions in qualifying, leading him to spend much of the first stage battling in the bottom half of the top 10.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be for Christopher Bell. His race ended about halfway through the second stage. Moments before the incident, Christopher Bell came on the radio complaining about his brakes overheating. Shortly thereafter, he found himself slamming hard into the outside wall, ending his championship hopes for another year.
Below in footage provided by NASCAR on NBC, you can see the full incident that ended Bell’s 2023 championship dreams.
Christopher Bell ends his season with 2 wins, 10 top-5s, and 19 top-10s.
2023 was the first year William Byron qualified for the Championship 4 in the NASCAR Cup Series. The 2017 Xfinity Champ finally started to come into his own in 2022 and was the most consistent driver from the Hendrick Motorsports stable in 2023. He started his ’23 Championship Weekend with a statement pole position and, once the green flag flew in the Valley of the Sun, Byron rocketed out front and didn’t look back for most of the first half of this race. He dominated the first stage and captured the green and white checkered flag.
The second stage saw Byron fade some as he fell as low as 4th, racing practically under a blanket with the other championship contenders, fending off a hard-charging Ryan Blaney. He would ultimately end the stage in the 4th position.
Willy B would end up finishing 4th, 3rd out of the Championship 4. He ends his season with 6 wins, 15 top-5s, and 21 top-10s. He took a big step forward this season. Maybe he can give it a better run in 2024.
Heading into Phoenix, Kyle Larson was the only Championship 4 contender who had won the cup before. Firing off loose, Larson ran around the top 5 for much of the first stage before ultimately fading to the upper half of the top 10. He finished the second stage in the 7th position.
Like in 2021, a lightning-fast pit stop got Larson up front for the final run of the race. Unfortunately for him and the No. 5 crew, he just couldn’t hold off the No. 12 team of Ryan Blaney. He finished the race in the 3rd position.
It has been a largely inconsistent year for Larson and the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy team. They’ve been fast pretty much all year but mistakes had hindered them in their ability to finish off races. To end the 2023 season, Kyle Larson is credited with 4 wins, 15 top-5s, and 18 top-10s.