Chastain Takes Final NASCAR Cup Race of 2023;
Blaney Wins his First Championship
By Dave Hascall
(Avondale, AZ) The 2023 NASCAR Season came to a conclusion Sunday afternoon at the Phoenix International Raceway as Ross Chastain dominated the 312 lap race. The 2022 Championship Four finalist didn’t qualify for the 2023 Championship Four but the Floridian led over half the laps to win.
Not taking anything away from Chastain, the bigger story was who was in this year’s Championship Four. Chevy’s Kyle Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports Teammate William Byron seemed the safest pick but Ford’s Penske Racing Ryan Blaney seemed to catch fire of late, with a win last week at Martinsville to secure his spot in the Championship Four. Toyota was represented by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell. Byron won the spring Phoenix winner but Larson and Blaney raced well. Bell’s average finish is a bit lower in average finishing position on the one-mile oddly-shaped oval.
Bell was the only driver of the four with issues. Early in the race, Bell complained of brake cooling issues. Bell’s Crew Chief, Adam Stevens told him that “it was on him” they had all of the brake cooling they could get. Even with all of the brake duct openings open, it wasn’t enough as Bell’s right front brake rotor exploded causing his Toyota to hit the wall. He was out of competition and finished fourth in the 2023 driver’s standings.
Larson, Byron, and Blaney were in the top ten most of the race. With 38 laps to go, Kyle Busch spun, bringing out the yellow flag. Chastain took the lead from Denny Hamlin, who took only two tires with Larson sniffing the lead. Chastain held Larson off as Blaney was closing on the front duo. With 21 laps to go, Larson lost grip and Blaney moved around him for second. That move secured the championship as Blaney was the highest finisher of the Championship Four. Chastain took the win over Blaney, Larson, Byron, and 2023’s biggest surprise, Chris Buescher.
The other two main series crowned their champions as Cole Custer took the Xfinity Title and Ben Rhodes took the Camping World Truck Series crown.