Ross Chastain roared to the win Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, but runner-up Ryan Blaney left the desert with the biggest trophy.
Chastain scored his second victory this year by winning the 2023 season finale, but Blaney won the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in a 31-lap dash in Avondale, Ariz.
With 37 laps remaining, Chastain led and Blaney was in position for his first title, but Kyle Busch brought out the fourth caution with a spin.
With clear track ahead of him, Chastain put his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet ahead by more than a second after the last green flag, but Blaney restarted in sixth, behind title contenders Kyle Larson and William Byron.
However, Blaney used his No. 12 Team Penske Ford to pass both competitors and cruise to the championship by nearly two seconds.
“It was just time to go to work,” said Blaney, the eighth-year full-time driver who gave owner Roger Penske his first back-to-back Cup titles. “I was hoping our car was good enough, which it was. What an unbelievable playoffs for us.”
The No. 12 endured a tough summer.
“You never want to count yourself out,” Blaney said. “In the summer, we were struggling a little bit. But we never gave up. … This group goes to work and figures out problems. Such an amazing group to be with.”
Larson, Byron and Chris Buescher completed the top five.
The race marked the fourth straight season NASCAR crowned its champion at the 1-mile track in the Sonoran Desert.
“His car was really fast, really in the last few months,” said Larson, the 2021 Cup champion. “We weren’t the greatest on the tracks, so I was hoping for pit stops.”
Added Byron, Larson’s teammate: “Once the track rubbered in, we got really tight. … We just had a big balance shift and couldn’t gain a lot of speed.”
Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion competing in his final race as a full-time driver, started third and finished seventh.
“We did something else that’s never been done before,” said Chastain, who won for the fourth time in his career. “For everyone on this team, this vision for Trackhouse and what this was was goals like this. They were lofty.”
The spring race winner nearly eight months ago, Byron put the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole to start the season finale at the flat track. Larson (fourth), Christopher Bell (13th) and Blaney (15th) rounded out the Championship 4 starters.
On Lap 109, Bell became the first Championship 4 driver to be eliminated from contention when his brake rotor exploded and flattened his right front tire in the first incident.
His yellow No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota then smacked the Turn 1 wall, slashing the championship field to three.
Buescher, who stormed through the summer with three wins in five races, claimed Stage 2 over Chastain and Harvick. Closely behind in the top seven were Byron, Blaney and Larson.
Blaney found power and handling in his No. 12 Ford with about 100 circuits to go, passing Byron to take the top spot among the remaining trio of title contenders.
With 75 laps left, second-place Blaney topped fourth-place Byron by three seconds, but the first round of green-flag pit stops began with Byron’s and Larson’s Camaros pitting together, followed by Blaney’s Mustang a lap later.
–Field Level Media