Ryan Blaney didn’t need to win the race at Phoenix, he just needed to finish ahead of his three competitors to win the title. And that’s exactly what he did, holding off Kyle Larson (P3), William Byron (P4) and Christopher Bell (P36).
But early on, the race belonged to Byron as he won Stage 1 and led 95 laps on the day. Kevin Harvick sure made the race interesting in his final race by finishing P7 and battling with Byron in Stage 1. After Bell blew a rotor that sent his car into the wall, the race was down to three and Ross Chastain took his aggressive game to the front winning Stage 2 and dominating the end of the race leading a race high 157 laps.
While I like to see the eventual champ win the race, Chastain was having none of that even as Blaney continued to run up to his bumper and even into his bumper trying to pass. Chastain is known to be an aggressive driver and Blaney returned the favor as they raced each other hard. Was it too hard? Heck no. You want these guys to run hard for a win and especially for a title. Now, had Kyle Larson been able to catch Blaney because of Chastain blocking in every corner, maybe you could cry foul. But again, isn’t that part of racing? Use up your equipment trying to pass and you can get passed yourself.
One could argue that blocking when the title is on the line and yeah, I can see that. But if NASCAR isn’t showing the leader the “move over” flag they must be OK with it. And again, being smart with your equipment is part of winning a title. And believe me, if Larson was threatening Blaney, he would have been even more aggressive with his passing attempts.
In the end, the youngest final four drivers put on one heck of a show with just one point separating each of the final three.
Once again we saw the driver with the most wins during the season not win the title. But Blaney had proven that he had a car that could pull away on long runs and had enough power to hold position on restarts. I’m not sure what Team Penske found over the final races but it was enough to allow Blaney to drive the way he wanted and win. And when you have a final four set of drivers where none looked to be all that dominant, you only need to be the dominant car amongst them.
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Congrats to Kevin Harvick for quite the career. His entrance into Cup racing was certainly not how he wanted it but when he got to this level, he proved why RCR had him waiting in the wings. And through the final year, he proved he was going on out his way, still competitive even if he hadn’t won a race this year. We watched his kids grow up on track as he fought for and won a championship. He never let his competitive edge slip and was fiery to the end. A true ambassador for the sport and I, for one, look forward to seeing him bring that knowledge and edge to the broadcast booth.
What a race season. I thank you all for reading and following this website, it’s been a real honor to write once again about NASCAR and hear your feedback.
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images/NASCAR Media)