Ryan Blaney needed a miracle to hoist the Cup Series crown. The Team Penske hotshot seemed a world away from a title just a few months ago; such is the case when your winless run stretches to 59 races.
But in the Valley of the Sun, sorcery takes place. And under the gleam of the spotlight, Blaney proved himself to be more machine than man, bursting beyond his opposition to pick up his first-ever Cup Series Championship.
It wasn’t easy for Blaney, whose No. 12 chariot toiled through qualifying. He started the day in 15th place, the lowest position among championship contenders.
Given the quality of his adversaries — Kyle Larson is one of NASCAR’s greatest-ever drivers, William Byron was perhaps the best racer over the course of the year and Christopher Bell just came off a third-place finish in last year’s competition — the odds were against him.
But Blaney didn’t fret. He didn’t fold, either. In fact, he catapulted his way atop the standings over the course of the final two stages, making a charge on Byron before outlasting Larson, who usurped his position after a late caution.
Blaney has long been considered one of the most talented drivers of NASCAR’s “Next Generation.” That he was sharing the track with those who had achieved so much at such young ages — the Championship 4 quartet of Blaney, Byron, Larson and Christopher Bell clocked in at the youngest average age for any Final Four collective — was almost poetic.
But it wouldn’t be a storybook ensinf without the finish. And although Blaney was unable to slip by Ross Chastain, who picked up his second win of the year with little fanfare, he did himself one better, finishing off a legendary postseason run that saw him win two of his final six races and finish second on two other occasions to vanquish his fellow combatants.
And now, his place in history is secure. Not because of his famous last name or his affiliation with Roger Penske. But because of his hardware.
The Valley of the Sun takes no prisoners. Particularly when the Cup Series rolls through its sun-bleached course.
MORE: Watch the Cup Series Championship live with Fubo (free trial)
The Sporting News tracked live updates from this year’s Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Motor Speedway. Follow below for highlights, results and analysis as the Cup Series season came to a close under the beaming Phoenix sun.
(All results are unofficial)
(All times Eastern)
6:31 p.m.: Burnouts galore as Chastain and Blaney paint the track in smoke!
6:29 p.m.: Chastain wins the race! Blaney wins the championship! Team Penske is back-to-back winners of the Cup Series title! And Blaney is in tears!
6:28 p.m.: Blaney up 1.5 seconds up on Larson. Just one lap to go. It looks like he’s going to do it!
6:26 p.m.: Six laps to go. Blaney’s advantage over Larson now sits at more than a second. This has been a legendary showcase by the No. 12 car. And he’s on the brink of NASCAR immortality.
6:23 p.m.: 11 laps remain and Blaney’s lead over Larson is up to eight-tenths of a second. You’d have to imagine the No. 5 car has one more run in it to try to close the gap. It’s just a matter of when.
6:20 p.m.: Chastain has built a two-second cushion between him and Blaney in second. Things are looking quite peachy for him at the front of the pack. However, the real contest that folks are watching with bated breath is between Blaney and Larson. The title is on the line. And with 16 laps to go, it’s Blaney with a three-tenths of a second edge over the No. 5.
6:19 p.m.: Blaney clears Larson! He’s got the advantage with 20 laps left! What a race this is turning out to be! What a display by Blaney!
6:17 p.m.: Great defensive driving by Larson. Blaney is doing everything in his power to usurp his competitor. But it’s just not happening right now.
6:14 p.m.: We’re back to green and it’s an absolute doozy! Larson has a slight edge over Byron and Blaney. Blaney just cut Larson’s lead ever so slightly. They’re right behind each other in second and third. And Blaney just keeps going! He’s trying to use every trick in the trade to get beyond Larson, even rolling into the bottom of the apron to a spot. With 26 laps to go, it’s Larson ahead, though.
6:12 p.m.: Larson is out in front of Byron and Blaney. The No. 12 car has been dominant for much of the last 100 tracks. But he’ll need to steady his hand to try to outlast his Hendrick Motorsports foes.
6:08 p.m.: Byron’s had the best pit crew throughout the year. But he’s unable to gain any position on Blaney in the stalls. Larson, on the other hand? Well, he edged beyond the majority of his competition to pick up a spot on the No. 12. This is enthralling stuff.
6:06 p.m.: CAUTION! Busch goes spinning near the start-finish line. Blaney will have to ward off Larson and Byron on the restart. Just 37 laps to go! The pressure is on!
6:04 p.m.: Blaney overtakes Truex for second! 42 laps left from Phoenix! All Blaney has to do is retain his position over Larson and Byron and he’ll pick up an improbable Cup Series title! Fair play to the No. 12 driver, though; he’s going for the victory, too.
5:59 p.m.: Blaney takes the lead! He got into the back of Chastain, seemingly growing frustrated after the No. 1 failed to give up his spot in first! And now Blaney’s back to third! Truex slipped in front of Blaney. Now, it’s Blaney in third, Larson in fourth and Byron in fifth! Aggressive driving by Blaney, who looked like he was hell-bent to take top spot. That might have done some serious damage to his tires, however. Just 47 laps to go.
5:49 p.m.: Hendrick boys Larson and Byron are headed to pit road. That will bring Blaney into the pits as well. Chastain also headed to pit road. Looks like the No. 12 won’t displace Chastain atop the totem pole. But he’ll maintain his spot in front of Larson and Byron. 69 laps to go.
5:44 p.m.: Blaney is still pushing hard to try to race beyond Chastain. But his team is reminding him that he doesn’t actually need to win the race to capture that all-important championship. 81 laps to go. Byron and Larson are more than three seconds behind Blaney in second. They might have to take a risk and pit early in the hopes of making up some time.
5:35 p.m.: Blaney slips into second place! He’s surges past Byron on Lap 212! He would be the Cup Series champion if things stay the same by the end of today’s race! Looks like the No. 12 team found an alteration that has it flying.
5:26 p.m.: Back to green for the final stage of the Cup Series slate. Chastain darts out to the front, trailed by Byron in second and Truex Jr. in third. Blaney and Larson are in fourth and fifth position, respectively. Buescher drops all the way to ninth.
5:19 p.m.: The end of Stage 2 sees Buescher take the crown! Byron is still on the offensive, even usurping Martin Truex Jr. for P4 — and giving him an extra bit of breathing room over Blaney and Larson, who sit in sixth and seventh, respectively.
5:11 p.m.: Chris Buescher takes the lead! He took advantage of some precarious positioning by Chastain, who found it difficult to bypass lapped cars over the past few laps or so.
As for title contenders, Byron remains out in front. Blaney’s trying to find a new path to the top. But he’s been stuffed thus far.
5:06 p.m.: Byron’s advantage grows. Looks like he might’ve just found his bearings amid Blaney’s crowding.