For the first time since 2014 when the current playoff system was implemented in NASCAR’s Cup Series, the champion didn’t win the season finale.
In fact, Ross Chastain’s victory in Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway marked the first time the champion hadn’t won the season’s last race since 2013. That year Denny Hamlin won the race and series champion Jimmie Johnson finished ninth.
This year, Chastain won the race, and Ryan Blaney gave Team Penske its second consecutive NASCAR Cup Series championship for the first time. The last time Penske won consecutive titles was in IndyCar, 2016-2017.
“We’ve had a lot of championships, but the level that we’re racing in NASCAR today, I’ve never seen it before,” championship team owner Roger Penske said. “Back-to-back shows the strength of our organization.”
Chastain’s victory also showed the strength of Trackhouse Racing.
At one point when Chastain, Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. were racing for the lead with 53 laps remaining, Blaney hit Chastain in the rear. Chastain stubbornly refused to relinquish the No. 1 position. Eventually, he led the most laps, setting the pace on six occasions for 157 of the 312 laps.
“I was not going to crash him,” Chastain said about Blaney after he secured his second victory this season and the fourth of his career. “I was not going to use my front bumper, side fenders, anything. Dirty air? Different story.”
The three fought for the lead for three laps before Blaney’s Ford got loose and he dropped to third. Blaney regained his composure and headed back to the front, passing Truex for second with 42 laps remaining.
Then on lap 275 Kyle Busch’s Chevrolet spun in turn four and the race’s complexion changed. When the lead-lap cars pitted with 35 laps remaining Hamlin and Erik Jones received only two tires, while title contenders Blaney, Kyle Larson and William Byron received four fresh tires. Hamlin, Larson, and Byron chose the inside lane, while Jones, Chastain and Blaney took the outside.
Chastain snatched the lead from Hamlin on lap 282 and led the final 31 laps to finish 1.230 seconds ahead of Blaney.
“That last caution we were really tight. It saved us,” Chastain says. “(Crew chief) Phil Surgen … this group at Trackhouse, all of our GM support staff, sim staff, everybody came up with a way to make this turn, and we drove off into the sunset.” — Deb Williams
Harvick Ends Career with One More Top 10
Throughout Kevin Harvick’s NASCAR career, the California native has possessed a feel for success at Phoenix Raceway.
In 42 starts at the one-mile track, he won nine races, including six of eight from 2012-2016. His last Phoenix victory came in March 2018, but he hadn’t finished outside the top 10 since March 2013. In fact, he finished outside the top 10 in only 11 races. Overall, he had 20 top-five and 31 top-10 finishes, led 1,722 laps and completed 99.8 percent of the laps he ran at the track.
Harvick kept his streak alive in his final race with a seventh-place finish.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Harvick says. “This really means a lot to me just because I love driving the race car. I love being around the people more. I love our sport. It’s given our family so much through the years to be thankful for and proud of.
“I opened this chapter unexpectedly in 2001 and closed it in 2023 how we wanted to.” — Deb Williams
— Team Penske (@Team_Penske) November 5, 2023
Almirola at Peace with Decision
By the time Aric Almirola arrived at Phoenix Raceway for the NASCAR Cup Series season finale, the retiring Stewart-Haas Racing Smithfield Ford driver had flipped the switch from sad to satisfied.
“At one time, I thought I was going to be sad going into this weekend, but as I sat on the airplane and thought about it, I'm not sad at all. I'm happy it happened. I'm grateful,” says Almirola, who finished 13th in Sunday’s race at the one-mile track.
“Yeah, I've had 12 years in the Cup series. Not a lot of people get that, and I've won some races. I've won races at every level in NASCAR. Not a lot of people can say that, so I have an incredible sense of gratitude.
“I just feel really blessed and fortunate, because there's so many other kids that were as talented as I was growing up racing go-karts and late models and stuff. And for whatever reason, I made it, and I made a career out of it.”
The Tampa, Fla., resident reiterated that he’s not sad his full-time Cup career has ended. He’s simply “happy it happened to me.”
In 16 years in the Cup Series, Almirola won three races, earned six poles, and recorded 30 top-five and 96 top-10 finishes. In 13 years in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, he won four races, five poles, and secured 14 top-five and 39 top-10 finishes. Almirola drove in NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series for eight years. He won two races and had 19 top-five and 38 top-10 finishes. — Susan Wade
ARCA/Truck Series Racer Honeycutt Pulls Off Double
The motorsports community knows John Andretti and Tony Stewart are among those drivers who have competed in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. But Kaden Honeycutt, a 20-year-old rising star from Aledo, Texas, might have outdone them the first weekend in November.
Honeycutt completed four races in two days with the first pair about 2,100 miles apart from the final two.
In Friday’s ARCA Menards Series West season-ending Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 100 at Phoenix Raceway, Honeycutt finished ninth. With that, he secured the Cook Racing Technology team owners championship for Steve McGowan and Bruce Cook in his MMI-Sunwest Construction Chevrolet.
Last to P1 in the Pro Late model! And 25th to 6th in the LMSC at Caraway Speedway in the CARS Tour!! What a dang weekend we just had. All 4 races were tough in every way possible. But we accomplished so much this weekend I can’t believe it. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/sv0kEVlhpj
— Kaden Honeycutt (@KadenWHoneycutt) November 5, 2023
Later that evening, Honeycutt scored an eighth-place finish in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Craftsman 150 in the RANDCO Industries Chevrolet Silverado for Young’s Motorsports in his 11th Truck Series start.
He left Phoenix immediately and flew to North Carolina, where he lives in Mooresville, and raced in two CARS Tour events, the 21st annual John Blewett III North/South Shoot Out, Saturday at Caraway Raceway, at Sophia, N.C.
In each race, Honeycutt charged from the rear of the field. He won the Pro Late Model trophy from a last place start on the grid in his E33 Motorsports entry. After that 100-lap challenge, he improved from 25th to sixth in the 125-lap Late Model Stock feature, racing for R&S Racecars.
“The amount of effort from each team to get me here was amazing. Thank you to all my supporters who cheered me on for four races,” Honeycutt said late Saturday after 475 laps of racing. — Susan Wade
A 44th championship for The Captain. pic.twitter.com/AFnACWWJtc
— Team Penske (@Team_Penske) November 5, 2023
NASCAR Cup Series Championship
1. (8) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 312.
2. (15) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 312.
3. (4) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 312.
4. (1) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 312.
5. (9) Chris Buescher, Ford, 312.
6. (2) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 312.
7. (3) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 312.
8. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 312.
9. (19) Michael McDowell, Ford, 312.
10. (5) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 312.
11. (16) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 312.
12. (21) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 312.
13. (28) Aric Almirola, Ford, 312.
14. (12) Ryan Preece, Ford, 312.
15. (31) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 312.
16. (20) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 312.
17. (23) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 312.
18. (17) Joey Logano, Ford, 312.
19. (22) Carson Hocevar(i), Chevrolet, 312.
20. (7) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 312.
21. (11) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 312.
22. (10) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 312.
23. (24) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 312.
24. (26) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 312.
25. (18) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 311.
26. (25) Harrison Burton, Ford, 311.
27. (34) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 311.
28. (33) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 310.
29. (35) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 310.
30. (14) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 309.
31. (29) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 308.
32. (32) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 308.
33. (36) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 306.
34. (30) Ryan Newman(i), Ford, 305.
35. (27) Austin Cindric, Ford, 301.
36. (13) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, Accident, 108.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 108.827 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 52 Mins, 1 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.230 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 4 for 27 laps.
Lead Changes: 18 among 8 drivers.
Lap Leaders: W. Byron (P) 1-92;K. Harvick 93-111;W. Byron (P) 112;K. Harvick 113-116;R. Chastain 117-170;C. Buescher 171-188;W. Byron (P) 189;R. Chastain 190-240;M. Truex Jr. 241;D. Hamlin 242-251;C. Briscoe 252-253;R. Chastain 254-257;R. Blaney (P) 258;R. Chastain 259-260;R. Blaney (P) 261;R. Chastain 262-276;W. Byron (P) 277;D. Hamlin 278-281;R. Chastain 282-312.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Ross Chastain 6 times for 157 laps; William Byron (P) 4 times for 95 laps; Kevin Harvick 2 times for 23 laps; Chris Buescher 1 time for 18 laps; Denny Hamlin 2 times for 14 laps; Ryan Blaney (P) 2 times for 2 laps; Chase Briscoe 1 time for 2 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 24,4,1,23,5,17,19,43,20,12
Stage #2 Top Ten: 17,1,4,24,19,12,5,23,6,43