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Ryan Blaney Wins First NASCAR Cup Series Championship, Still Finds Time to Shade Ross Chastain
The Watermelon Man may have won the duel in the desert, but Blaney’s runner-up finish in Phoenix powered him to his first Cup Series title.
While Ryan Blaney doesn’t have a nickname like Kyle Busch’s “Rowdy,” Joey Logano’s “Sliced Bread” or even Kyle Larson’s “Yung Money,” one word comes to mind after watching the Team Penske Ford wheelman capture the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship — "clutch."
Including his triumphant victories at Martinsville and Talladega, Blaney valiantly stormed down the final stretch of the playoffs, finishing first or second in four of the final six races before ultimately ascending to the throne as NASCAR's 2023 champion. His win at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday follows another Team Penske driver, Logano, taking the title last year.
What did Ryan Blaney say after winning the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship?
“Just so proud of this team,” Blaney said after the win, according to NASCAR. “Unbelievable year, unbelievable playoffs for us. To win back-to-back Cup titles for Mr. Penske, that’s so special. Having my family here, winning my first Cup title, I got emotional in the car. I’m not a very emotional guy." He added, "You never want to count yourself out. I mean, I think in the summer we were struggling a little bit. But we never gave up. We just went to work."
"I’ve said that all week, like, this group goes to work, and they figure out problems," Blaney continued. "That’s why they’re such an amazing group to be with, with the Team Penske folks, ’cause they just put their head down and do the work, accept the challenge.”
Blaney, addressing his legions of fans in attendance, shouted: “Thank you, guys, for coming. Hope it was an awesome show."
With Christopher Bell suffering a right-front brake rotor failure that sent him into the wall on Lap 109, William Byron failing to shift into high gear late in the race, and Larson — the odds favorite to win it all — just not having the same juice as Blaney in the final laps of the race, it was another driver who provided Blaney the most competitive drama. none other than Trackhouse Racing’s perpetually aggressive driver Ross Chastain. Though Chastain wasn't in contention for the championship, you never would’ve known it, judging by the intensity in the hard-racing style in which Chastain battled Blaney.
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Going toe-to-toe for the lead late in the final stage, after being blocked multiple times throughout the day, Blaney in the Team Penske No. 12 Ford Mustang bumped Chastain as he made his move around the inside. Understandably letting his emotions get the better of him, the fever pitch of the event ratcheted up with 56 laps to go when Blaney flipped the Melon Man the bird after having issues passing the driver.
After winning the race in which he led a race-high of 157 laps compared to Blaney’s two, Chastain reflected on his hard racing against Blaney.
What did Ross Chastain say about staying ahead of Ryan Blaney to win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race?
“I was not going to crash him,” stated Chastain after the race, according to NASCAR. “I was not going to use my front bumper, side fenders, anything. Dirty air? Different story. Yeah, I’m going to, and I’m going to keep the lead because that’s everything.”
“I was not gonna run him up, was not gonna pinch up... Yeah, I know he’s mad, and I don’t care,” continued an unapologetic Chastain. “I do not care; I did not care then; I do not care now. I’m here to race him, I’m not here to wreck him. ... He [Blaney] gets angry, it’s okay. I’ve known him for a decade. ... I did see movement when I checked the camera, and I was like, ‘Oh, he is angry.’ It’s nothing other but wanting to win and hold track position.”
After capturing the title, Blaney disagreed with Chastain’s take on their track tango.
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“The fact that Ross said I raced him hard, I mean the dude blocked three lanes getting into the corner every lap,” Blaney said, according to NASCAR. “I don’t know how I’m racing him hard. When you’re looking in the mirror and going and left and right and left and following me wherever I go, I don’t understand how he thinks I’m racing him hard. ... He’s backing me up to Larson to where I’ll be in trouble.”
What did Ryan Blaney say about bumping Ross Chastain at Phoenix Raceway?
When pressed if he meant to bump Chastain on purpose, Blaney didn’t shy away from the truth. “Well, f---ing right I hit him on purpose,” stated Blaney, earning a laugh from reporters. “I mean yeah, yes, I hit him on purpose. He blocked me on purpose 10 times, so yeah, I hit him on purpose. What do you expect me to do? He’s backing me up to the other championship guy [Larson], and I gotta go. We were just racing hard, but did I think he was over-excessive on the blocks? Yes, very much so. And yes, did I hit him? Yes, yes, I did, but that’s just part of it.”
With a title now under his belt, Blaney may have a new beef with Chastain next season but, for now, the 29-year-old can bask in the glory of his accomplishments. As a third-generation racer who hails from High Point, North Carolina, Blaney becomes “the first driver from NASCAR’s adopted home state to win a title in the 21st century” after Tar Heel native Dale Jarrett last accomplished the feat in 1999, according to Frontstretch.
As for what's next for Blaney, considering his burly beard prompted team owner Roger Penske to push the media to ask Blaney about his facial hair following the win, it might be time for a trim.
“I think that means he [Penske] wants me to shave it,” Blaney joked of Penske’s request. “It will get shaved. Just give me a couple months.”