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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ryan Blaney wins the NASCAR Cup Series championship in Phoenix

Ryan Blaney drives the No. 12 Menards/Dutch Boy Ford during the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday in Avondale, Arizona.  (Tribune News Service)
By Shane Connuck Charlotte Observer

AVONDALE, Ariz. Ryan Blaney has won the NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Sunday’s championship race at Phoenix Raceway came down to the wire. Christopher Bell was eliminated after a brake rotor failure early in Stage 2, and Kyle Larson, William Byron and Blaney ran in the Top 10 for most of the race.

That trio held down the second to fourth positions for the last 25 laps, behind race winner Ross Chastain.

For the first time since 2013, the winner of the season’s final race is not the Cup Series champion.

Kevin Harvick, running the final race of his legendary career, started third and led the race for 21 laps, finishing seventh.

Here’s a closer look at how the Championship 4 finalists performed at Phoenix Raceway:

Christopher Bell

Bell’s championship hopes ended early.

During Lap 109, Bell made contact with the wall while running in sixth place. He had a brake rotor failure, and the right-front tire of his Toyota Camry caught fire. He was eliminated from the race.

“Just wasn’t meant to be,” Bell told reporters outside the infield care center.

Bell, the 28-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver, reached the Championship 4 for the second straight season. He led the Cup Series field with six poles – four of which came in the playoffs, including for each race in the Round of 16.

He was strong finishing races in the playoffs as well, boasting five Top 10 finishes in his 10 playoff races. Bell won at Homestead, his second win of the season (Bristol Dirt).

Ryan Blaney

Blaney ran well throughout Sunday’s race. He started 15th and worked his way into the Top 10 early, battling fellow championship contenders Byron and Larson throughout the first two stages.

He had the fastest car among those contenders earlier in the final stage and worked through the top of the field, taking the lead from Ross Chastain with about 50 laps left.

The 29-year-old Team Penske driver has been running his best races in the postseason – finishing in the Top 10 in seven of its 10 races.

William Byron

Byron, who leads the Cup Series with six victories and 20 Top 10 finishes, won his fourth pole of the season.

The last three pole-winners – Chase Elliott (2020), Kyle Larson (2021) and Joey Logano (2022) – have gone on to win the race and championship at Phoenix Raceway. Byron didn’t add to that, finishing the race fourth.

Byron paced the field in Stage 1, collecting the stage win. He ran in the Top 10 for nearly the entire race.

Kyle Larson

Larson started the race in the second row and ran in the top five for most of it.

He was waiting for Byron to pit with about 75 laps left. Once the 24 car pitted, so did the No. 5, and then Larson beat Byron off pit road to grab the championship lead.

Many drivers headed down pit road after Kyle Busch spun with 35 laps remaining, and Larson beat the other championship contenders onto the track with four new tires.

Blaney past him with 20 laps to go. Larson finished third, roughly two seconds behind Blaney.

Larson, the only previous champion among this year’s finalists, put together a strong season in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy Camaro. He won four races, including Darlington and Las Vegas in the playoffs.