Ryan Blaney may have finished second in NASCAR’s season finale, but he left the track as the NASCAR Cup Series champion, his first title within the Series.
The Team Penske driver finished 1.23 seconds behind race winner Ross Chastain but was the best finisher of the Championship 4 drivers at Phoenix Raceway.
It’s the second straight championship for Team Penske, which won the 2022 title with Joey Logano. Kyle Larson, who was trying to win his second title in three years, finished third.
Since NASCAR instituted its winner-take-all playoff finale in 2014, every driver who won the title had also won the final race. Not this year. Chastain led the final 31 laps to become the first driver ineligible for the championship to win the season finale.
It was Blaney’s third consecutive runner-up finish at Phoenix and his fifth consecutive top five.
No one showed the consistency that Blaney exhibited in the playoffs. Consistency that was lacking earlier this season. After he scored his first win of 2023 at the Coca-Cola 600, Blaney had a horrible summer. He had five finishes of 30th or worse in the final 12 races of the regular season and failed to record a top-five finish. Blaney didn’t have the look of a title contender heading into the postseason.
But Blaney ended up dominating the playoff season. He was the only driver to get a win in both the second and third round of the playoffs and finished in the top two in four of the final six races of the season.
Blaney may not be a popular champion. It was not a normal championship run as he struggled for a good portion of the season. But he performed best when it counted the most. He is a deserving champion.