Ryan Blaney charges into NASCAR’s Championship 4 with Martinsville win

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA - OCTOBER 29: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Discount Tire Ford, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 29, 2023 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney picked the right time to pick up his first win at Martinsville Speedway.  Blaney capped off a dominating weekend with a stellar performance on Sunday to score his third victory of the season, and his first at NASCAR’s shortest track.

“It’s awesome,” Blaney said. “I grew up in High Point, not too far from here. Closer to High Point honestly, Martinsville than Charlotte. Really cool. Wanting to win here for a long time. Been super close for many years. Awesome to close it out.”

With his win, Blaney will join Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell who won the first two races in the round in NASCAR’s final 4 who will race for the championship at Phoenix Raceway next Sunday.

William Byron will join the Championship 4 after finishing 13th, just good enough to make it in on points.

“Obviously, we were not very good,” Byron said. “Our worst race of the year. These guys deserve it so much. They work so hard. Honestly, probably with 50 to go I felt really, really bad. I just had did drive the hell out of it. The guys stuck with me, they kept motivating me through little bits and pieces, just kind of keeping my mind straight.”

Blaney’s win came at the expense of Denny Hamlin who will be denied another chance at a championship despite leading the most laps, winning Stage 1 and finishing third. Hamlin was also eliminated last season when Ross Chastain made his now famous ‘Hail Melon’ move on the final lap.

“The mechanical failure last week with the power steering, that sealed our fate,” Hamlin said. “The 12 car was the best car today, so congrats to them. All the Final 4 that made it. It’s going to be great. Hate we’re not in it with our FedEx Camry. Definitely I was happy with the performance we had today. Really all around.

“Just in the Round of 8 you can’t have one bad week. Unfortunately, mechanical failure takes us from running really well to in the 30s. That’s it.”

Among those missing the Championship 4 were Chris Buescher, Tyler Reddick and the regular season champion Martin Truex Jr.

Problems in the pits again doomed Truex. He suffered a pit road speeding penalty and later his car was dropped off the jack.

“We gave it a hell of an effort,” Truex said. “I felt like we had a really strong car. I don’t think we could have beat the 12. He was really, really strong. We were definitely close.”

Blaney was in control in the second half of the race, he won Stage 2, but a mix of pit strategies mixed up the field in the closing stages.

And an unusual situation happened during a caution for a Michael McDowell spin on lap 217. The pace car lost power and came to a stop. NASCAR called out the cleanup truck to pace the field as a tow truck removed the pace car.

During the caution Blaney and the leaders pitted while Corey LaJoie and Chase Elliott stayed out. Behind them Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson and Chase Briscoe took fuel only and were the first off pit road behind LaJoie and Elliott.

The green waved on lap 329 and Elliott soon had the lead. Hamlin meanwhile was fighting his way forward coming from twelfth on the restart to eighth by lap 348; Blaney followed one spot behind.

By lap 356 Elliott had a 2.5 second lead over LaJoie. The top four, however, had pitted earlier than the rest of the field so having enough fuel became the issue.

By lap 412 Almirola had erased a near two second lead for Elliott and took the lead. By lap 446, Almirola had a 4 second lead and hopes that his Ford had enough fuel.

Blaney recovered to third by lap 452 and had second by lap 463. He then began to quickly chip away at Almirola’s lead. Blaney caught and retook the lead on lap 478.

In the final laps the battle became for the final spot. Hamlin and Byron each had different agendas: Byron held the spot on points but only if he didn’t fall back, Hamlin on the other hand was third and needed to win.

As those who didn’t stop earlier began to pit, Byron began to creep up in the standings. Blaney put Byron a lap down on lap 487, but Byron had moved up to 14th and was 7 points ahead of Hamlin.

Elliott pitted out of fuel on lap 491 giving Byron another spot and denying Hamlin a chance for the Championship 4.

Chase Briscoe and Joey Logano rounded out the top five.

Larson and Bell were sixth and seventh respectively, with Buescher, Austin Cindric and Todd Gilliand rounding out the top 10.

Blaney will now be part of the youngest group or Championship 4 to ever race for the NASCAR Cup series title; at 31 the oldest driver is Kyle Larson, he’s also the only driver who could be a repeat champion. Blaney, however, heads to Phoenix with the momentum of being the most recent winner.

“Well, I mean, felt like we put together really strong Playoffs,” Blaney said. “Especially the Round of 8, we had a good run in the whole Round of 8.”

Race Results

Greg Engle