Ryan Blaney wins Xfinity 500 at Martinsville as Championship 4 is set
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Sunday, October 29, 2023
Photo Credit: TheScore
The story of Ryan Blaney's career to this point has always been one of a young, star talent who has speed and consistency, but can never fully get the job done.
Coming in as part of the new wave of young, generational talent, scoring just nine wins in his nearly nine year career is not the total you would expect. Whether it's been luck, mistakes, or both, he's never truly had the breakout season he's been waiting for.
Having already scored two victories in 2023, Blaney, after running in the top three all day, overcame an unlucky strategy play to take the lead back from Aric Almirola with 23 laps to go, to take his third victory of the season in the Xfinity 500.
The victory was Blaney's first at Martinsville, but more importantly clinched him a spot in the Championship 4. Next weekend's Championship Finale will be Blaney's first as a Cup Series driver, and could potentially serve up his first ever title.
Blaney was only ever challenged throughout the day by other two drivers - Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr. However, both drivers suffered issues of their own that kept them from winning, and ultimately, a Championship 4 appearance.
Truex Jr. started on the pole, and ran in the top three for the opening two stages of the race, before a pit road speeding penalty, and a slow pit stop soon afterwards saw him fall to the back of the field. The 2023 regular-season champion was only able to recover to 12th, which given he entered Martinsville shockingly outside the playoff cut line, saw him be eliminated from this postseason contention.
Hamlin, meanwhile, was running second behind Blaney, before the two of them fell back on pit strategy. Blaney was able to drive through the field much faster than Hamlin, which ultimately made the difference. Hamlin finished the race a solid third, but much like Truex Jr, his place in the standings entering the race meant he was eliminated in the Round of 8.
Joining the two of them in the drop zone after Martinsville was Hamlin's 23XI driver Tyler Reddick, who ran outside the top 15 all day, and RFK's Chris Buescher, who came into the race in a must-win situation, and came up short in a very respectable, and hard-fought eighth-place.
As for everybody else, Almirola, who announced his full-time retirement from the sport on Saturday, finished second with a brilliant fuel strategy, ahead of Hamlin in third.
Chase Briscoe finished an excellent fourth for Stewart-Haas Racing after running in the top five all day long, ahead of Joey Logano in fifth, and Championship 4-locks Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell in sixth and seventh. Behind Buescher was Austin Cindric and Todd Gilliland in ninth and tenth.
William Byron finished 13th for Hendrick Motorsports after running outside the top 15 all day, but crucially managed to still punch his ticket to the Championship 4 after an otherwise solid playoff run.
That all means that the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season comes down to Championship Weekend in seven days' time at Phoenix Raceway, where Blaney, Larson, Byron and Bell will do battle for the most prestigious crown in all of stock car racing. Three of them will be vying for their first Cup Series championships, while Larson will be looking for his second.