Blaney, the 29-year-old third generation driver, earned his first championship in NASCAR’s elite division on Sunday in his first career appearance in the Championship 4.
To win the title, Blaney ran down and bested two of the top drivers in the series this season – Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, who led the series with six wins, and Kyle Larson, who had four wins and led the most laps.
It’s the fourth overall and second consecutive Cup title for Penske and 44th in the storied history of the organization.
Blaney’s path to the championship was very similar to Joey Logano’s 2022 run – both won one race early in the season then came up with a pair of clutch victories in the 10-race playoffs to secure the title.
Blaney also became the first driver to win the championship under the current playoff format without winning the season finale. He edged out Larson for second place in Sunday’s race while Ross Chastain took the checkered flag.
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing, Worldwide Express Chevrolet Camaro and William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Axalta Chevrolet Camaro
Even while he appeared to have the title in hand running second, Blaney consistently challenged Chastain for the win, with the two making contact several times.
He ended the year with three wins, a championship and has now joined an elite group in motorsports that has won championships for Penske.
“I think his limits are the sky, to be honest with you. He gets in that class with (Rick) Mears,” Penske said, referring to the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner. “He’s a soft-spoken guy, really, but when he gets behind the wheel, like Joey, when he puts his hat on, don’t get in his way. I think he showed that (Sunday).
“He’s only getting better and better. He’s got the confidence. He’s a leader. He’s a winner and a champion. Once you have that – it’s so hard to get there.”
Even in winning the championship on Sunday, it was no easy path for Blaney.
He was 10th after the first stage and sixth in Stage 2. Blaney finally worked his way up to second with 100 of the 312 laps remaining.
A late-race caution sent all the lead-lap cars down pit road and Blaney came out behind the two remaining title contenders (Larson and Byron) and sixth overall when the race restarted with 31 laps to go.
He appeared to be back where he started but wasted little time getting around Byron and Larson and into the championship lead.
“I don’t think any of us realize the last 20 or 30 laps when he had to pass a couple guys to get the championship, that shows his true mettle,” Penske said. “He’s got a long way to go, a long way.
“To me, he carried that win at (Talladega), then you saw the run he had with [Denny] Hamlin in Florida, and of course to run 500 laps with these guys last week (at Martinsville), not make a mistake, stay cool – to me, he broke the bank.”
Source : Motorsport.com