Speedway Digest Staff
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hampion: Ryan Blaney of Team Penske (Ford)
Race Winner: Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing (Chevrolet)
Stage 1 Winner: William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet)
Stage 2 Winner: Chris Buescher of RFK Racing (Ford)
SHR Race Finish:
● Kevin Harvick (Started 3rd, Finished 7th / Running, completed 312 of 312 laps)
● Aric Almirola (Started 28th, Finished 13th / Running, completed 312 of 312 laps)
● Ryan Preece (Started 12th, Finished 14th / Running, completed 312 of 312 laps)
● Chase Briscoe (Started 26th, Finished 24th / Running, completed 312 of 312 laps)
SHR Points Final:
● Kevin Harvick (13th with 2,241 points)
● Aric Almirola (22nd with 675 points)
● Ryan Preece (23rd with 637 points)
● Chase Briscoe (30th with 534 points)
Championship 4 Final:
1. Ryan Blaney (5,035 points)
2. Kyle Larson (5,034 points)
3. William Byron (5,033 points)
4. Christopher Bell (5,001 points)
● Phoenix marked Harvick’s 826th and final NASCAR Cup Series start. The 47-year-old from Bakersfield, California, has officially retired as a Cup Series driver, and the surefire, first-ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer leaves an incredible mark on the sport.
- His 826 career starts ranks eighth all-time.
- He won the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series championship (in the inaugural season of elimination-style playoffs).
- His 60 points-paying wins ranks 10th all-time.
- His 63 runner-up finishes ranks sixth all-time.
- His 251 top-five finishes ranks ninth all-time.
- His 444 top-10 finishes ranks fifth all-time.
- His 309,630.958 miles completed ranks fourth all-time.
- His 16,058 laps led ranks 11th all-time. His 1,299 starts across NASCAR’s top-three series – Cup, Xfinity and Truck – is the most all-time (and 85 more than the next-best driver in this category, Kyle Busch, who has 1,214 starts).
- His 121 wins across NASCAR’s top-three series ranks third all-time. His 29 wins after turning 40 ranks third all-time. His 37 wins since 2014 (when his career with SHR began) are the most of all drivers. His 784 consecutive starts is the third-longest streak in NASCAR Cup Series history.
● Harvick earned his 14th top-10 of the season and his 31st top-10 in his series-leading 42nd career NASCAR Cup Series start at Phoenix.
● This was Harvick’s fourth straight result of 16th or better. He finished 16th Oct. 15 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 11th Oct. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and 16th last Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
● This was Harvick’s 21st straight top-10 at Phoenix – a streak that began in March 2013.
● Harvick’s nine wins, 20 top-fives and 31 top-10s at Phoenix are the most among all NASCAR Cup Series drivers, past and present.
● Since joining SHR in 2014, Harvick has not finished outside of the top-10 at Phoenix and has scored five of his nine wins.
● Harvick finished second in Stage 1 to earn nine bonus points and third in Stage 2 to earn eight more bonus points.
● Harvick led twice for 23 laps to increase his laps-led total at Phoenix to a series-best 1,722.
● Harvick has now led 11,643 laps since joining SHR in 2014.
● Phoenix served as Almirola’s final race with SHR. The 39-year-old from Tampa, Florida, joined the organization in 2018 and scored two points-paying victories, won two non-points races, earned five poles, made the NASCAR Playoffs four times and finished a career-best fifth in points in 2018 during his six-year tenure with the team. Almirola is not retiring from racing. He is instead “ready for the next adventure.” SHR wishes him well and is grateful for all the contributions he made to the company.
● Almirola earned his 12th top-15 of the season and his 15th top-15 in 26 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix.
● This was Almirola’s fourth straight top-15. He finished 14th Oct. 15 at Las Vegas, ninth Oct. 22 at Homestead and second last Sunday at Martinsville.
● Preece earned his 12th top-15 of the season and his second top-15 in nine career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix.
● This was Preece’s third straight top-20. He finished 13th Oct. 22 at Homestead at 20th last Sunday at Martinsville.
● This was Preece’s second straight top-15 at Phoenix. He finished 12th in the series’ prior visit to the track in March.
● Briscoe led once for two laps to increase his laps-led total at Phoenix to 114.
● Ross Chastain won the NASCAR Cup Series Season Finale to score his fourth career NASCAR Cup Series victory, his second of the year and his second at Phoenix. His margin over second-place Ryan Blaney was 1.23 seconds.
● Blaney, in his eighth fulltime season, earned his first NASCAR Cup Series championship by virtue of his runner-up finish. He is the 36th different driver to win the series title.
● Blaney, from High Point, North Carolina, is the 11th NASCAR Cup Series champion from the state of North Carolina. The others are Buck Baker (Charlotte), Dale Earnhardt (Kannapolis), Bobby Isaac (Catawba), Dale Jarrett (Hickory), Ned Jarrett (Newton), Lee Petty (Randleman), Richard Petty (Randleman), Herb Thomas (Olivia), Rex White (Taylorsville) and Benny Parsons (Ellerbe).
● This was Ford’s 729th all-time NASCAR Cup Series victory, its eighth of the season and second in a row. Blaney won last weekend at Martinsville.
● This was Ford’s 11th NASCAR Cup Series championship by its ninth different driver. Joey Logano won in 2018 and again in 2022. The only other Ford driver with multiple championships is David Pearson, who won back-to-back titles in 1968 and 1969. Ford’s other champions are Ned Jarret (1965), Bill Elliott (1988), Alan Kulwicki (1992), Dale Jarrett (1999), Matt Kenseth (2003) and Kurt Busch (2004).
● This was Ford’s series-leading 20th NASCAR Cup Series victory at Phoenix. The manufacturer won the first two races at Phoenix with NASCAR Hall of Famers Alan Kulwicki on Nov. 6, 1988 and Bill Elliott on Nov. 5, 1989. It has now won the three of the last four races at Phoenix with Briscoe (March 2022), Logano (November 2022) and Blaney (November 2023).
● There were four caution periods for a total of 27 laps.
● Twenty-four of the 36 drivers in the race finished on the lead lap.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster, for sure. I think as you look at this last week, this really means a lot to me just because I love driving the racecar, 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 can’t wait to be able to walk in that tunnel with my head up and look around, just look at all the really cool things that are NASCAR racing in every venue that we go to with great fans and people all over the place. I think for me, you walk into that tunnel laser focused on how you make your car go faster and communicate with your team the best you can. Sometimes you don’t see everything around you. I opened this chapter unexpectedly in 2001, and closed it in 2023 how we wanted to. That was to be competitive. The thing that means the most is having the respect of the drivers and competitors and the crew chiefs, my team, organization, all the past people that I worked for or worked with. There have been so many great stories and things that have happened over this year, but especially this week. I think for me, we gave it all we had, right? Every lap, every week in some way, shape or form we touched every aspect of this racecar. I care about how everything looks, whether it’s the color of the car, the stickers. I sit in the sponsorship meetings, marketing meetings, the team meetings, and there’s just not any piece of it that I don’t feel like we are a part of in some way, shape or form. We built a team here at Stewart-Haas Racing. We built so many things from the bottom up. I think the hard work is something that people recognize. As you guys have seen through the week, I’m a pretty emotional person. I’ve just done a really good job of hiding that.” – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light HARVICK Ford Mustang
“I’m going to really miss that part right there. Going to battle with my guys. Just competing – competing at the top level with this 10 team. That’s the coolest thing about my job. I get to do what I love to do with people I love. It’s enjoyable to do this with the people that you love. I will certainly miss competing at the top level and competing with them and stepping into that racecar and feeling like a gladiator going to battle in front of a packed out racetrack. I’m so grateful and so thankful. God has blessed me in ways I never imagined possible.” – Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang
The 2024 season begins with the non-points Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum on Feb. 4 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before kicking off its 36-race slate of points-paying events with the 66th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Both events will be broadcast live on FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our 2023 NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney.
We'll take questions.
Q. What did you take from last year's Playoff that you applied to the last few weeks?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, we had a good shot to get here last year. I made mistakes at Vegas and Miami that kept us out. That was pretty brutal for me, for our whole group, right? Whenever you are the one personally making those mistakes, you take it the harshest, right?
Everyone on the 12 group supported me really well. We kind of set into, Hey, what do we need to get better? What are the areas we need to get better? We did that over the off-season, was able to get here this year. I think we learned a lot from last year from multiple sides.
Q. Your dad said you had some conversations about things, manage things. From your perspective, what were those conversations like?
RYAN BLANEY: Dad is right there. He came to the media center with me (smiling). He's taking no questions, though.
No, I mean, he's been awesome, right? He's been not only someone I grew up wanting to be like and wanting to do his sport, obviously getting me started in racing, supported me along the way, opened a lot of doors for me.
For him to still be supportive when I'm an adult is great. His whole thing through the Playoffs was, I see the path, I can see the path to the championship, I can see it.
After we won Martinsville, he's like, It's lit up now, the path is lit up. I think we drove through the gate tonight. So we have arrived. It's cool to have my whole family here, which is special.
Q. After you won at Charlotte, you talked about your confidence level. How much of a turning point do you think that was?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I think winning the 600 was huge for our organization for multiple reasons. It was big for me after getting out of that slump after not winning for a little bit. It was definitely good.
I got asked earlier about this. I think the big shot in the arm was winning Talladega in the Playoffs. Our team, we struggled through the summer months after the 600. We worked really hard to get better and better. Our team was like teetering on needing a little something good to happen, then we're going to be full-on dangerous.
We won Talladega and it was like green light, let's go, we're really in a good mood here. I think that's what kind of set the rest of our Playoffs off to where they are now.
I think both of those wins were huge, but I personally think Talladega was a big shot in the arm right in the middle of the Playoffs that really got us going.
Q. You talked about Chase winning his championship, feeling good for a friend. Now that you get the opportunity, he came up to the stage, what did that mean? What did you share up there?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, it means a ton. I remember being there and going up to the stage in 2020 when he won his, just being super proud of him, right? Chase and I have known each other and raced each other for a couple decades. It's pretty special to share something like that with somebody, a close friend like that. For him to show me all the support this week was really neat as well for me. Him kind of checking in on me, seeing how I was doing. He's been here a couple times.
Yeah, to have him up onstage was special. I'm going to enjoy that picture of he and I with the trophy. But no, I mean, he's been an amazing friend to me, great competitor, and it's cool to have that championship that we can share now.
When we were kids starting racing together, we never thought we would be here, have a championship apiece. It's really cool to share that with somebody.
Q. You can remember five years ago when the marketing campaign came out that promoted the young drivers. That was controversial among some of the competitors. To go from where you were in the spotlight, that the guys hadn't deserved the attention yet, to now where you have a championship, Chase, what has that journey been like?
RYAN BLANEY: Well, I think it's nice to kind of have fulfilled that. Yeah, I do remember that, these guys haven't earned this marketing stuff.
It's nice to kind of be able five years later have a couple of us that have won a championship, that kind of solidifies, Well, okay... At the time, right, they're just pushing younger drivers, they're trying to promote the younger guys. Some guys got a little hurt about that.
It's nice that these younger drivers, the newer guys, are succeeding in their own way and being able to have championships and wins. For a fan base to grow up with that, that driver who is in their mid or late 20s, it's something I think people can latch onto.
Obviously now it's easy for me to look back at that marketing campaign, They knew what they were doing (smiling). But you never know how it's going to work.
No, yeah, five years ago I never thought we would be sitting here right now. Seems like they had a little knowledge of where they thought each of us were going to go.
Q. You've been known as somebody that says yes to a lot of things that NASCAR asks. Now you're going to have a whole different opportunity with the championship. How would you like to use this newfound platform to move the sport forward as a champion?
RYAN BLANEY: I'm not really sure, to be honest with you. I'm excited to have those opportunities. I really look forward to facing them head on. I feel like if you get the privilege to be a champion of your sport, it is part of your job to promote your sport and do the best you can to be the best champion that you can.
I'll be honest with you, that's a responsibility I really haven't thought about yet. I think that's going to kind of dawn on me the following days. I think it's part of your job to kind of, hey, embrace it, push the sport. You have this awesome platform now to where you've done something incredible, use that, promote the sport.
I'm excited to see what happens this off-season, see what comes up, to where you're not only growing yourself, you are growing the sport of NASCAR as well. Someone asked me earlier the Netflix deal that's happened right now. I've worked with them a lot through the Playoffs. They've got a lot of inside stuff. I think that's another big thing of promoting the sport in a positive way to a certain audience or a brand-new audience, so...
Q. You came in yesterday and we joked about how you're always even-keeled. Many of us thought you were racing Ross Chastain a little unnecessarily hard. Ross says you got mad at him and ran in the back of him on purpose. Larson and Byron said that's pretty common of you to lose your temper like that. Roger said that you tend to boil over, you pass boiling point. That's not an even-keeled Ryan Blaney that we all know. You got a secret dark side out there? We were specifically told by Roger to ask you about the beard.
RYAN BLANEY: I guess to answer your first question, there's no secret that I can snap on the radio. That's been my whole life. That's been my whole career. It's just kind of something I do.
The fact that Ross said I raced him hard, the dude blocked three lanes in the corner of every lap. I don't know how I'm racing him hard. When you look in the mirror going left, right, left, following wherever I go, I don't understand how he thinks I'm racing him hard. He's backing me up to the 5. I have to go. He's backing me up to Larson to where I'm going to be in trouble.
Q. (No microphone.)
RYAN BLANEY: (Expletive) right I hit him on purpose. I mean, yeah, I hit him on purpose. He blocked me on purpose 10 times. So, yeah, I hit him on purpose.
What do you expect me to do? He's backing me up to the other championship guy, and I got to go. We were just racing hard. But do I think he was overaccessive on the blocks? Yes, very much so. Did I hit him? Yes, I did. That's just part of it.
What else do you want to know, the beard?
Q. Roger specifically said to ask.
RYAN BLANEY: It's here.
Q. (No microphone.)
RYAN BLANEY: I didn't talk about it. I'll shave it off next year for sure. It's a little Playoff beard. It's a little different.
Q. (No microphone.)
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I think that means he wants me to shave it. It will get shaved. Just give me a couple months, yeah.
Q. You talked about peaking at the right time a few times this week. There was a while in the summer where you were down, Penske was down, Ford was down. Now Ford won all three championships. Was there a point that you got down on yourself and thought maybe this isn't the year, or did you always keep the faith and think you were capable of getting this hot right now?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, I think it is easy to get down. I mean, we won Charlotte in May, then we had like a string of bad runs in two or three months. That was kind of across the board.
When RFK started running well, Buescher won those three races, Brad started running really good, it's like it's there. The speed in the Fords are out there. These guys found it. What are we missing? We took that as a challenge.
These guys have figured out a way to make what we thought was an uncompetitive car winning cars. So we can't blame that anymore, so let's just go to work.
I didn't really ever have that thought in the summer months even when we were struggling, right? You try to do the best you can of giving information on where we need to be better, whether that's from an engine side, aero side, setup side. You just try to do the work. You understand that this sport you're going to be on top for a little while, then other team is going to find something, you're going to go to the bottom for a little while.
You have to keep working hard. That's what I love about this group, is they don't ever get down on themselves. They just do the work. They just figure it out. That's what we did.
So I never had a doubt. There were a lot of tough conversations, Hey, we got to do something or we're not going to be competitive at all in the Playoffs. Everyone jumped on the opportunity to dig down deep. That's what they did. Wound up here.
Q. What does this mean to the Blaney legacy? When you think about your family's past, championships they've accrued, now be part of that championship legacy, how cool is that for you?
RYAN BLANEY: It's fantastic. I mean, just coming from a racing family in general, right? Grandfather, Lou, winning a bunch of championships the Northeast. Dad being the Outlaw champion. Dale winning of the All-Star championship. Now for me to kind of add some asphalt into there is pretty good because that's what I grew up doing.
Just special. Growing up around the racetrack, watching Jimmie and Jeff, Tony, Mark Martin, I love those guys. I saw them win championships. I wanted to be that way. For it to come full circle is special. I couldn't think of a better spot of my family being there and them being able to witness it.
They are just as much a part of it as I am. Not only my dad, my mom sacrificed more than you could imagine to make sure I could get to every race and do what I needed to do to get going. I have two awesome sisters that support me. It's pretty special to have them here.
Q. You've been hounded in the past of asking you about trying to get through the Playoffs, the Round of 8 in particular. How nice is it to not have made this Championship 4 but to win a championship out of the way?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, out of the way (smiling).
No, it's nice to make our first Final 4. Obviously that was the main goal this year, something we haven't done. To achieve that last week, it's like, Great, that's awesome, check that one off. It's just a double whammy that we get to come here and win the championship, as well.
Super proud of everybody. It all happened, gosh, like Chase and Kyle did the same thing, their first Champ 4 they won the championship? I think they did. It's nice to come here and be one for one. Hopefully we can continue to build off of that and be able to have more shots here at Phoenix where we can contend as well.
Q. Where do you feel like your place is now at Team Penske? Roger said I don't want to have 1-2-3-4 drivers in the pecking order. When you came into Team Penske, going against Joey and Brad, you were the third guy. Having a championship, where do you feel that puts you in this organization? Does that matter to you?
RYAN BLANEY: I don't really think it matters to me very much. Yeah, RP has always done an amazing job of there's not like a number one, number two, number three drivers, right? As a driver, when you're not winning as many races as Brad and Joey when I came into it, you feel like that, the number three driver, number two driver now. That's just like a personal, like, mindset that drivers get.
Now I think Joey has two, I have one. It's like, All right, still a half a percent down of him (smiling). No, I mean, we have a great group over there. Joey has been fantastic. Working with Austin is awesome. Harrison is fantastic, as well.
I just enjoy driving for amazing people like Team Penske folks and Mr. Penske, Walter, Bud Denker, Tim Cindric, Mike Nelson. It's just fun to be there. I couldn't really imagine myself anywhere else. They've been fantastic with me for over 10 years. Hopefully I get to spend another at least 10 more over there.
Q. I'll set you off with another Ross question. He also said that Ryan could run second and win the championship. He did it last year. He can do it again. So with everything that was at stake, what made you feel like you still had to get that position?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, the thing at the time was he was struggling, and the 5 is catching us. He's going to continue to struggle, and the 5 is going to be there before the race is over. I mean, that was my urgency. I can't have this guy back me up to the 5. That was my sense of urgency. I have to get in front of him so he doesn't back me up to the 5 who I'm racing.
Yeah, it's easy to say just run second. You never know if that thing goes green, then the 5 is there, then your championship is kind of dwindled away, so...
Q. Can you give us insight into who helps you find the chill in the cockpit? Who have you been working with? Who guided you to find that focus?
RYAN BLANEY: That's a good question. I don't know.
It was something we talked about a lot between me and Jonathan and internally with myself. Just trying to figure out, All right, it's not fun pointing out things that you do poorly, right? It's not pointing out flaws about yourself, but it's important to do to try to work on. Like you're bad here, you do a terrible job at this. It's hard admitting yourself to those things internally. If they're holding you back, you have to address those problems.
I think I kind of finally had, like, a realization that you got to really get better at this if you expect to go forward in your career. You have to do this. You have to be smarter during races. You have got to think about the bigger picture. It's not only about being fast, you have to evolve yourself to be a more well-rounded racer.
It was a lot of conversations with myself internally honestly. Yeah, I don't know, I think it gets easier as you get older. You kind of get more mature, just try to take things a little bit easier and be a little bit more thoughtful about how you approach things, so...
Q. You got out of the car and said you're not an emotional guy. Obviously that weight on you to win this championship... When does this really sink in? Is it safe to say this is the greatest moment of your racing career?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I'm not a very emotional guy. I did tear up on the last lap a little bit in the helmet just thinking about a lot of stuff. I was a little sobbing baby on the radio after the race. I could barely speak. I was just thinking about everything, proud of everybody. It's been a long career in motorsports.
Yeah, I don't know. Kind of overcome with emotion. If you try to do something for a long time, you're overcome with it. It is just kind of part of it.
What was the second question?
Q. Is this the greatest moment of your career?
RYAN BLANEY: Oh, by far. I mean, this tops everything, right? This is what you dream of as a kid. This is what you strive for. This is what you run 35 races a year for. To get to this moment, have a championship, you have to run a perfect race to get it.
Yeah, definitely a huge moment not only me, everybody involved in it. It's way bigger than I am. I can't thank those folks enough for doing what they do.
Q. What makes Hassler such a good leader?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, Hassler has been fantastic. He's such a good guy. He and I's personalities are pretty similar. When Todd Gordon told me he was retiring after 2021, it's like, All right... They gave me a lot of leeway to pick who I wanted.
Jonathan, I had my eye on because he crew chiefed the 21 car for the last half of the year in '21. He did a great job, been around Penske for a long time.
He and I kind of went out one night and had dinner and just talked. I really enjoyed how our conversations went, our personalities meshed. I knew he was a smart guy. Being able to work with him through the winter of '21 into the new car, he's done a fantastic job.
He was an engineer, so it's hard to go from an engineering role straight into crew chiefing. You're managing and you're leading 15 guys. You're trying to keep them pumped up. Also thinking about setups with the injury, trying to pump up the pit crew guys, telling the mechanics what to do. That role is tough to jump into.
It took him a little while to kind of get comfortable with that. But this year it's kind of like what internally to myself last year of what I can do better, he and I had the talks of what can we both do better to make this more of a leadership role and for you to get more comfortable. He embraced it. He's been fantastic to our whole group.
Gosh, it's been fun to work with him. He's just an awesome guy and cool to have a really fun year with him.
Q. Can you take us through the nuts and bolts of the final run. What goes through your head in terms of setting your mind up, what you have to do in the last run?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, I was bummed we lost -- we didn't really have a bad pit stop. Those guys just had lightning-fast stops. Man, well, that kind of stinks. You immediately shift to, All right, this is the task. This is my new job. This is what we have to do.
I think getting around the 24 early was huge where I didn't have to pass two of 'em. Just let me set my sights on Kyle. I was able to get a pretty good run there, get to his outside when he got to the apron. He almost spun out getting to the apron, trying to not let me get to his bottom. I thought we were going to possibly wreck off of two. It was tight.
But no, just hard racing between two guys. I have a ton of respect for Kyle. So it's fun to race him for the championship like that. Obviously his pedigree in racing is massive, and his talent is endless. To be able to go toe to toe with him like that was pretty great.
Q. You said over the radio to Roger, Thanks for giving me a shot. What has that journey been like since you first got the call?
RYAN BLANEY: I look back over 10 years, how it kind of all came through. Would never have thought 10 years ago I'd be here today. Just was lucky to be able to have an opportunity to drive for a team like Team Penske and work with such great people from the Xfinity side to the Cup side, to be able to drive for the Wood Brothers for a couple years.
Honestly, I haven't said it, I'm ashamed of not saying it, Brad Keselowski was a huge piece of getting me in there, was a massive piece of driving their Xfinity program. I drove his Trucks for a couple years. Brad was a huge connecting piece with me being a part of the Penske group.
I can't thank him enough. It was a lot of fun seeing him after the race. He came to the stage. That meant a lot to me because, like I said, he's a huge part of my career. Yeah, you want to drive for amazing people, and I've been lucky to do that from Brad to the Wood Brothers to Penske. It's been a dream come true.
Q. Three straight runner-up finishes at Phoenix. Is that frustrating for you? Does this sort of make up for that?
RYAN BLANEY: I don't give a shit about running second three times (smiling). Not now. I don't care.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan, we will let you go on that one.
RYAN BLANEY: Thank you so much. Thank you, guys (laughter).
HE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the race winner, Ross Chastain.
If you have question for Ross, raise your hand.
Q. Weird question. You raced Blaney hard. You're racing for the win. What is your mindset there? Does any of it play into beyond I want to win this race, I'm a Chevy guy, he's a Ford guy?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Absolutely, yeah. It was in every shot, every corner, every throttle application, every brake input, every downshift, upshift, all parts of the lap.
I was not going to crash him. I was not going to use my front bumper, side fenders, anything. Dirty air? Different story. Yeah, I'm going to. I'm going to keep the lead because that's everything.
Before the second to last run I thought we had him covered. Coming to the end of stage two, the 17 drove by me. Made some adjustments. Got too loose, we were too tight, too loose, too tight again when Blaney and the 19 right there when the last caution came out.
I asked Phil and our group to please let me turn better, make the car turn better without giving up any rear grip.
He got by me one time, was not going to run him up, pinch him up. Yeah, I know he's mad and I don't care. I do not care. I did not care then, I do not care now. I'm here to race him. I'm not going to wreck him. I gave him the bottom most times. One time I was inside of him after he got by me. I crossed back over into three and I made sure to wrap the bottom. I'm not going to slide up and pinch him at all. It's in my mind the entire time, for sure.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: Anger. He gets angry. It's okay. I've known him for a decade. I could see him moving around in the car. The car's going straight. I could see his colorful suit and gloves. I didn't see apparently there was -- I was number one, I don't know. I could see, like, movement when I checked the camera. I was like, Oh, he is angry.
Yeah, the caution came out and we made the right adjustment and were able to drive away. Yeah, it's nothing other than wanting to win and hold track position. He could run second and win the championship. He did it last year. He can do it again. He ultimately did it.
Q. Were you surprised, given everything that was at stake for him, he's running in the back of you, forcing the issue? Is he always that aggressive? Were you expecting that?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, no, I didn't expect him to throttle up down one and two and drive square into me. These cars allow that. He didn't care about the 19. Probably just as soon the 19 went over me. I don't know.
Yes. Unexpected. That last caution couldn't come out at a better time. I was so thankful. Didn't account for guys on two tires. Didn't expect to be second row. Thought I would be front row no matter what.
Not surprised by it because it's him and he does that. These cars allow that. They allow inconsequential hits. But they also don't affect the front car as much. I slid, but I was able to hold the lead.
Q. The ethos of this race for the non-Championship 4 guys has been racing with mittens, as Steve Letarte would say. That's why we've had nine consecutive winners that were champions until you. You said you were proud of winning this race because it's never been done before. Did you also set a new standard for how to race the Championship 4? Are you proud of that as well?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I'm proud that we won. I watched practice back yesterday morning, Saturday morning. I heard Dale Earnhardt Jr. say, Ross will be one, get up and race these guys. I paused it. I'm like, Would I do that? I don't know. That seems kind of aggressive. I clicked it. I didn't really have an answer for myself. I asked myself would I race them. I was like, I'll race 'em. He's like, He's going to race 'em aggressive, he's going to do it. If there is anybody that will do it, he'll do it. Whatever he said.
I don't know. Kind of undetermined. Then I got out there and I was like, I'm doing it, I am racing them. The difference was I'm not going to use my front bumper, front fenders, side. I'm not going to pinch them up into the wall. I didn't mean to fence Larson at Darlington, but I did it. I was not going to do that. I was not going to drive into the corner.
When he cleared me down into one, I'm not going to try to, like, make it anything other than cross him over and do it clean, have leverage into three, wrap the bottom. It worked. I was like, Holy cow. He passed me, he's faster, but I got right back by him. I don't think he led the lap.
Yeah, in my mind the whole time, proud of the precision driving we all did. The only contact was him just in a moment of anger throttling up in one to two and drive square up into my back bumper. Other than that, no contact. That's what I'm here to do.
Q. Ending this year on a high note, do you think of what could have been if the years were reversed and you were in the Championship 4? Does it make that any easier coming out of here with a win knowing it's possible if you get to the Championship 4 again?
ROSS CHASTAIN: For me it's an evolution of Trackhouse and GM with this car, right? It's year two. We finished up year two with this car. We came out so fast last year. We found it in the last Charlotte oval test, then we came out to road courses, everywhere, we won on road courses, superspeedways. We didn't win on the oval last year. We won this year. We sustained that level of competition.
We've had our fair share of eighth-place days, 18th-place days, sometimes 22nd-place days, straight up.
Yeah, it's just a continuation, and we're staying here. We're not going away. Like, we're disruptive on track usually by my driving, but it goes with the disruptiveness of Justin and Pitbull and our leadership team doing things different, having a real presence in Nashville, keeping a presence there on Broadway for something outside of Charlotte and Concord and the Lake Norman area. Our shop's in Concord, all of our employees are there except for Justin and the brain trust of the marketing side.
Yeah, I just love that we're staying here and we're continuing to be fast. Our processes are working. We trust 'em and we continue to see it through.
Q. I hope my question is not too personal. I was confused at the podium ceremony after your race and your winning. You smashed a watermelon. Can you explain why?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yes. Last time we talked was at this podium, I was excited about the future. Obviously it didn't come to fruition (smiling).
I guess I was up here last year for championship stuff. I'm having flashbacks of that day. Good to have you back.
I'm an eighth-generation watermelon farmer. Anytime I can put agriculture on a bright-light stage like this with these incredibly bright lights, as you guys go in and out of focus for me, it's what I want to do.
We're a small part of the 1% that's in charge of feeding the other 99% of us that rely on farmers to eat every day. If it's smashing a watermelon on the frontstretch, then in Victory Lane, it's just to shine a bright line and promote agriculture and hopefully win on Sunday, sell on Monday, we sell some watermelons tomorrow.
My platform is incredible. Obviously we have our corporate partners at Trackhouse, to be able to put on my car. Then I also get to do what I want. It's my life. It's my career. It's my platform. So something like bringing farmers to the racetrack next year starting at the Daytona 500 with our Ag to Asphalt program is a simple way for me that I can tell farmers thank you, let them enter on agtoasphalt.com, and they can come enjoy the races.
We had a Bayer Seminis Seedway guy with his kid this weekend. That kid had never been to a race. That kid is hooked. The same way with other farmers that will be here next year. I want to promote what my family has done in a very long time.
Most of the families in the room, if you go back far enough, all of y'all your families farmed at some point. They were smart enough to get out of it. There were not some good days, my grandfather remembers it. For my dad's generation and my generation are better days. I believe it's the good old days. Promoting agriculture is top of mind for me.
Smashing is what I do. I'm going to keep doing it for hopefully a really long time.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: That's right. That's right. The crowd, I was a little worried that they might be focused on Blaney. I went down to three and four where NASCAR wanted me to go, and I did a burnout by him. We did burnouts by each other. Pretty cool. I was worried we were going to run into each other.
The reaction was just as strong as the other wins. I'm really proud of that. I'm really proud that people see how much I care whenever we win.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: Every race there's one right inside the hauler.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: Look, yeah, we've had a bit of a rough patch. It's been in there a bit. Watermelon never tastes as sweet as it does in Victory Lane. I'm going to gnaw this thing all the way down.
Q. You described how you were personally racing Blaney, going for the win, you didn't care that he was racing for a championship. How would you describe Blaney's race style, this race or previous competitions?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Maybe I said it wrong earlier. I do care. I care, arguably, out there more than anybody because I was not going to put him in a position to damage his car in any way, put his car in a bad spot, other than keep him behind me. As long as he's behind me, that's all I cared about.
We're all different. He reacts physically in the car. I mean, he says stuff on the radio, for sure. I just have known him, that you can see him. Bright neon yellow, so you can see it easily.
Yeah, I think that I -- I believe that I cared arguably more than him. He didn't have to pass me to win the championship. He could stay right there. There was no other competitor for points within any sight of me. It was the 19, the 12 and the 1, third, second, first.
Yeah, I'd say I cared more than anybody as long as he was running second. He didn't need to run first. He didn't run first last year. His teammate won. Now he could run second again and win the championship.
Q. How difficult was it to just run pretty much from yellow line to the wall today? You were on the bottom, the top, fending off all those guys in the different lanes.
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, the track changed a lot. We had speed all weekend, we knew that. As we moved around in the race, when I started the first run, I could see the people in front of me moving up. I moved up with Harvick, a few of the guys.
By the way, that was incredible to race with him like that, restarts, side by side with him in his last race. I actually got a little emotional in the car. I was looking over.
We were coming to the restart, I'm warming my tires, I'm like, Don't feel sorry for him, go pass him, it's a race. I drove off into turn one, was able to get the lead.
Yeah, we would start on the bottom, then I asked, once I had the lead, had the front couple spots when they were moving up, when guys were moving up off the bottom, and Brandon and Phil were giving me updates when half the field was up there.
Yeah, our car was versatile. I could go places. I could place it a little half turn of brake bias to tighten me up as we went through the run. Yeah, I could place it and still make speed.
There's been times here at Phoenix with this group, our first race here in the 42 car in 2021, was my first race with Phil Surgen and my engineers. We were the slowest car into turn one by far. I couldn't get in the corner, I had to slow down. I'd argue there wasn't many people faster than us today and I could place it where I wanted to.
Q. What is it like to put an exclamation point on the season with what you did today?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Indescribable. It's honestly hard to put into words what this means, what winning in Cup feels like. I cannot describe it. I cannot describe the ripple effects this will have going into the off-season, preparing for next year.
Justin Marks hired me, Trackhouse hired me. Justin knew who I was. I've wrecked Justin Marks in the Xfinity races before. Daniel Suarez has wrecked Justin Marks in the Xfinity Series races before. He knew who he was hiring when he put us behind the wheels of his two cars.
Through all the stuff, he stayed with us. There was definitely public stuff that I wouldn't have said, but he's my boss and he gets to say it. He owns the team. I got to be the employee at that point. As an independent contractor, I have to listen to what he says if I want to drive the car.
Y'all got to watch that. Y'all got to watch me learn through that process. Our sport is incredibly invasive for professional and personal things that people say if they say them publicly, which y'all will put a microphone in front of us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if we would allow it.
It is so, so good to end this season with all the stuff, right? The best way I can describe it, just a lot of stuff. That's Cup racing. I'm going to make mistakes. They knew that hiring me. Through the good days of winning and the bad days of crashing out going for wins, spinning people out, ultimately they're there for me. This is a great way to go enjoy the off-season.
Q. I asked William and Kyle earlier about the future of the sport. Is it exciting for you knowing that you will potentially be in this group?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yes, to say my name next to guys like Kyle Larson, it's hard for me to believe it. It's hard for me to understand it, comprehend it. Early last year we won at COTA. We walked back in the shop, the shop that was CGR, the shop I had been at for so many good things, getting the job, winning the Xfinity race. And it's all gone. Now I'm the third Cup driver in 77 with Spire.
For those win parties, I had a little bit of like impostor syndrome or something. I didn't really believe it. I'm having a little bit of it now when you look long-term when you say I'm going to be competing. That's pretty wild.
Yeah, I feel like we're going to celebrate this. We have no racing. I think my next race now is Speed Fest at Watermelon Capital Speedway in January. I have some time to celebrate but a lot of work to do. There were a lot of tracks this year I did not show up, me personally, giving my best effort just from a gas and brake and steering perspective of things. Worked a lot on Phoenix over the last few months. I put that into action today. Together with the car being incredibly good, you saw that.
So yeah, I don't really know how to comprehend that maybe in a couple years we're still doing this. I'm human. I go back to my past. I've had things taken away that were a sure bet. I thought it was a one-direction all the way up the mountain. Had to go find another mountain to climb. We found it, we're climbing it.
I feel as long as I get up, do my best, put my work in, go to work and surround myself with good people, trust our processes, yeah, we'll see.
THE MODERATOR: Ross, congratulations. Enjoy the off-season.
ROSS CHASTAIN: Y'all, too.
HE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our two champions, championship owner Roger Penske, and it is champion crew chief, Jonathan Hassler.
We'll get right to questions.
Q. Roger, I was listening to Ryan's radio throughout the race. You would occasionally come on and give him a word of encouragement, help him calm down. Could you give us more on how you fulfill that role.
ROGER PENSKE: Other than the spotter, I have the right to give him a couple shots one way or the other.
He was running fine. He was concerned that he was being backed up by the 1 obviously to the 5, which he really wasn't. Calming him down. He was doing a great job. The guys, Jonathan, the team, good pit stops, good strategy on getting their car right.
It's more to say, Hey, you're doing a good job. I told him before the race, Win, lose or draw, you're a champion.
Q. Roger, to win back-to-back championships for this organization in this Next Gen era, how significant is this?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, we've had a lot of championships, but the level that we're racing in NASCAR today, I've never seen it before. My great friend Rick Hendrick, I think he has 15 to 16. We're excited to have four. Long way to go.
Back to back shows the strength of our organization. We really weren't that strong in the middle part of the season. As Jonathan and the engineering team, along with Ford, helped us get better and better, you could see how well the Fords ran even here today, I think it was a combination of many things.
For me, personally that is what we're here for. We love the competition, we love the stress, but also we like a day to sit down here like this and say we're champions.
Q. Jonathan, Team Penske is in different organizations. Different cars, different technology, different kind of races. When there is an engineering problem, are you also talking and trying to get advice from your colleagues from INDYCAR or IMSA? Secondly, I guess as a non-technician, when you rolled out the car in Daytona until the very last race, you made ongoing developments. Can you give brief information what kind of errors you improved in the car, aero package, engine, suspension.
JONATHAN HASSLER: To your first question on the collaboration across Team Penske, we try to certainly work together as much as we and share information and talk and communicate and share philosophies. There's a lot of great people at Team Penske. It's certainly those people that are able to kind of put cars in Victory Lane and win championships. I'm certainly honored to be a part of that.
Speaking to the development through the year, it's really not one area. There's a lot of little things you can do to these cars and you got to make the right decision on each one of those little things along the way.
I think the adage is pennies make nickels, nickels make dimes, dimes make dollars. You just kind of stack all those things up and try to put the best piece together you can at the end of the day.
Q. (No microphone.)
JONATHAN HASSLER: Yeah, we develop on the cars each and every week.
Q. When it was about 20 to go, When was the last time the captain went back to back in INDYCAR? Between '16, 2017. To be able to accomplish that not only in INDYCAR but here, that's pretty remarkable.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, as you know, we're racers. My dad took me to Indianapolis 1951 as a kid. I see a lot of kids out there with their parents. I think I was injected at that point about racing.
Obviously winning at Indy is something. You guys follow this sport. It is tough. You talk about 38 weekends or 38 races or competitions, and you got to be at your best. You could see it today. Here is the 20 car which could have been a winner today, had a mechanical problem. Six Sigma isn't good enough on a day like this.
We had some pit stops where guys maybe were a little bit quicker, ours weren't bad. The good news is I think we learned how to win. Blaney learned how to win over the last couple months. You've seen that. I think he's matured to be a champion. When you see guys like Kyle Larson and Elliott come up to him in the winner's circle and congratulate him, he's a key guy in that garage area and will set a lot of standards for other drivers coming up.
To me, he showed how good he is today to everybody, not just our team and Jonathan and myself. When you think about Jonathan coming with us here, really been with us a long time, having the chance to take that step up, Look, you and Blaney are going to get together. They didn't know. They've been a tremendous combination. I think that's what we have at Indy, too.
We have one thing, we got continuity and low turnover. Half the people at Team Penske have been there over 10 years. Hendricks organization, some of the other that have success...
Jonathan, I congratulate you and what you've been able to do with Ryan as an individual and a friend and obviously as our leader in the cockpit of the car.
INDYCAR championships, NASCAR championships, they just go down in the book. We got to get one next year.
Q. Can you describe Blaney's star power. You've had Mark Donohue, Rick Mears, Helio. You look at the kind of guys that ascend beyond the sport. Blaney can be that guy. What do you think his limits are?
ROGER PENSKE: I think his limits are the sky, to be honest with you. He gets in that class with Mears. He's a soft-spoken guy, really, but when he gets behind the wheel, like Joey, when he puts his hat on, don't get in his way. I think he showed that today.
He's only getting better and better. He's got the confidence. He's a leader. He's a winner and a champion. Once you have that -- it's so hard to get there. I don't think any of us realize him personally the last 20 or 30 laps when he had to pass a couple guys to get the championship, that shows his true mettle. He's got a long way to go, a long way.
Q. Blaney came in yesterday after qualifying. He seemed down. We asked him about it. He's like, This is how I always am. We who don't race kind of thought he was foolishly racing Chastain too hard. Larson and Byron come in and they're like, No way, Blaney loses his cool all the time out there on the track. He ran into Truex at the end of stage two. We expected all that. What kind of racer is Ryan Blaney? Is he this hot-tempered, aggressive racer? Is he fooling us all?
ROGER PENSKE: I don't think he's hot-tempered. You can say his frustration level gets above the boiling point I'd have to say.
Look, I talked to him after qualifying. He was disappointed. He said to me, I started 14th in the last stage a week ago and I won. He said, I'm fine.
That's all I had to hear.
Q. Your take on him?
JONATHAN HASSLER: I think came into this race with a lot of confidence, wanted to make a statement. I think he raced that way, as well.
Racing with the 1 there at the end, I think it was 100% the right thing to do. I think the more cars that we can get between us and those other guys, in the event we have another pit stop later in the race, is going to be a huge help for us obviously with the 24 and the 5 having those really good pit stalls.
Q. (No microphone.)
JONATHAN HASSLER: I'm definitely fine with that. I think that was what we needed to do. There definitely came a point where the 1 and the 19 were up there, we kind of needed to lay down for a minute and just hold our own. He finally did that when the time was right for that.
Q. Jonathan, most of the race, first half was run in the green, then there were cautions 40 laps to go. Did you feel you had to make any changes to the car, or did you feel like your car was good enough on the long and medium long run?
JONATHAN HASSLER: Yeah, we made a really small change there at the end. The track was definitely changing as the race went on. We tried to leave it alone for a run, we took a step backwards. We had to kind of double down and catch back up with it.
I think the sun setting a little bit definitely turned the corner on the track. I think we did a decent job of keeping up with that.
Q. Roger, you're talking about continuity. You've been at this table before. Speak to the leadership that you've seen out of Ryan compared to previous years, the outlook on the future.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think when you think about Ryan, you got to think about the Mike Nelsons, Travis Geislers. Unsung heroes. Following me? They're part of this team. I think it was a team effort from my perspective. Ryan was the guy that capped it off today. It's about all of Team Penske.
Q. Jonathan, you're Ryan's third crew chief since he's been at Team Penske. Can you reflect on what this journey has been like coming in, trying to be the guy to get him to this point. You're a relatively young crew chief statistic-wise. What has this been like for you?
JONATHAN HASSLER: Yeah, I think I had -- I've been at Team Penske obviously a long time. Ryan and I kind of had a little bit of a relationship on the side while I was working with some of the other teams, kind of became a friend of mine with some shared interests.
When Todd retired and we had some other people moving around, it was certainly the best opportunity available. He's got tons of speed and tons of talent. I kind of wanted to get onboard.
We kind of spent last year kind of learning each other. We figured out that we could go really fast, we had a lot of speed through a lot of different races. I thought we could have won six or seven races last year if we executed, but we didn't. We really went to work in the off-season kind of finishing the two-thirds point of the race both on my and his end.
I probably needed to make some better adjustments as the races went on. He needed to stay a little bit more composed as things didn't work out the way he expected them to or they weren't perfect. We definitely addressed that in the off-season. Obviously I think we've made a lot of progress.
Q. Roger, when you look at Ryan's place at Team Penske, when he was teammates with Brad and Joey, some would say he was the third guy. Now he has a championship. What do you think that does for his confidence and feeling like what his place is at Team Penske, he's not just the other Penske driver?
ROGER PENSKE: I think when you go back, came onboard, he came up running in Xfinity for some races, won championships. He was the third driver. When you look at Brad and you look at Joey, they were very complimentary to him and supported him. The fact Brad came up here on the podium this afternoon and gave him a big hug with the job he's done.
They're all champions. We try to run our business very flat. You follow me? Might be number three coming through the door, but on race day we're all the same. I think that's where he is today.
Joey has taken over when Brad moved on as the senior guy. I think you've seen that. We're working with Harrison, working with Cindric. I think this is all part of it.
I don't want to have a 1-2-3-4, quite honestly. I want to have all 1s. I think he's one of those.
Q. Roger, for all the success you've had in INDYCAR, in the NASCAR side, didn't get a championship for a number of years. This is now your third in the last six seasons. For somebody who is so used to having success, so driven, what maybe were the frustrations from a personal standpoint in not being able to get a championship early on, how your organization has been able to turn it around?
ROGER PENSKE: I'd say as we were gaining momentum in NASCAR, NASCAR was changing. Technically I think it moved our direction where we had the cross-pollenization, the previous question whether it's sports car or INDYCAR.
As we got into this, we built this solid team. You think about it, over 10 years we've had some really strong cars. I think it's all about the people, them staying with us.
Obviously the Ford Motor Company has supported us tremendously during the switch, if you look at where we've been. To me, it's continuity with our people, it's the sponsors. You look at John Menard who has been at Indy as long as I have. To see him win this today, these are the things you can't buy. It's all about performance.
I think that's what we're all about as a company. I certainly feel that way. We're just fortunate to be on a playground where we all can race like we did today. I see this young group of guys coming up, the average age is 27 or 28, it might be the new breed, but you could see racing Truex, racing these guys out there, there's a lot of respect for all four of 'em.
To me, we're just glad to be in the bunch.
Q. When you're watching Ryan and how tight competition it was, are you nervous? Are you jumping up and down? You're the captain, but sometimes the captain gets a little bit unnerved.
ROGER PENSKE: I think the captain had to stay cool. He was the coolest guy on the ship (smiling).
I would say I probably was cool. Inside I was turning over, counting the laps. Seven to go. Finally our man said, Seven to go. He had a nice lead at that point.
I was waiting for the yellow. How about you (laughter)?
Q. Thinking about Ryan's success over the last year, how much of a turning point do you think the Charlotte win was for him?
ROGER PENSKE: I think, as Jonathan said, last year we could have won some races. It was some bad luck. It was poor execution. It was speeding in the pits. We have a red list you could put on the wall of things that cost us races last year.
I had the confidence last year that we get going this year... We had a different car. Ford didn't maybe have the downforce we wanted. On the big tracks, we were right there, weren't we, all season long on the big tracks.
As Jonathan and the team, Travis, Michael, the whole engineering group start started to understand the car better, stacking pennies and dimes to get where we are, it's just progression.
We're not going to stop. The car doesn't get fixed by sitting it in the garage. The driver got better. The crew got better. I think the outcome is what we see here today, they're champions.
Q. Six of the last seven races he has finished in the top six. What do you think that says about him?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, you could put the words in my mouth really: amazing, consistency. When was the bubble going to burst? It didn't burst today, did it?
To me, he carried that win at the superspeedway, then you saw the run he had with Hamlin in Florida, and of course to run 500 laps with these guys last week, not make a mistake, stay cool, to me he broke the bank. He was there and he understood what he had to do.
Someone said earlier, Jonathan said the last third of the race he raced himself too hard early on. He said on the radio he just had to cool it down and get ready to go. He was more worried about what was coming up in the back.
I think he had some left when he went back up to try to get the 1. You saw that. He started to pick it back up again. He had a little bit in the bank.
Q. When Austin Cindric was in here yesterday, he told us that when Joey Logano got eliminated from the Playoffs, everybody at Team Penske mobilized to make sure Ryan Blaney was going to make the championship. How did you mobilize Team Penske to get him to this position?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think, number one, we knew what we had to do. He's in the Championship Final 4. When we came to the racetrack the last several weeks, everybody came the same way. We had an opportunity. Then they had a certain element that they had to test on their car. There's very little testing, very little practice. I think that went into the notebook. Then Jonathan could take the pluses, minuses, tire pressure, aero, springs or shocks. We had that ability to get that from really the three drivers plus what Harrison was doing.
To me, I think that was key for you, wasn't it?
JONATHAN HASSLER: Yeah, I agree entirely with Roger's assessment there. It was just making sure we show up the same, picking the highlights really from my list of kind of the things that I think we need to work on, get answers to, try to answer those questions, put our best foot forward for the race.
Q. Jonathan, early in the Playoffs, I heard y'all found something. I don't think you're going to tell me what you found. Was it true that y'all had found something that you all were putting together for the final few races in the Playoffs?
ROGER PENSKE: Go ahead. You want me to do it?
JONATHAN HASSLER: Yes.
ROGER PENSKE: Look, I think we found a lot of things, this car, to get it where it really needed to operate because aerodynamic it was so important. I think we learned how to get that car lower and faster. I think it was that plus the spring and shock setup. I think the support we talked about a minute ago from the other cars where we could try things.
Today you can't practice. You can't test. But I think the things that we were able to get through, the Ford simulation, what we did ourselves, was powerful to get us to where we are.
THE MODERATOR: Roger, Jonathan, thank you so much. Congratulations on an amazing season and championship.
ROGER PENSKE: Thank you. See you next year (smiling).
- Ryan Blaney won his first NASCAR Cup Series championship today at Phoenix Raceway.
- It’s also the second straight championship for Mustang after Joey Logano won the title last year.
- Blaney’s title completes a weekend that saw Ford win all three major NASCAR touring championships for the first time in its history.
- It also marks the first time an OEM has won all three titles in the same season since 2001, and the sixth time that has happened in NASCAR history.
- The Cup championship is the fourth for team owner Roger Penske
- Ford has won the Cup Series championship 11 times by nine different drivers.
UNOFFICIAL FORD FINISHING RESULTS
2nd – Ryan Blaney
5th – Chris Buescher
7th – Kevin Harvick
9th – Michael McDowell
13th – Aric Almirola
14th – Ryan Preece
15th – Brad Keselowski
18th – Joey Logano
24th – Chase Briscoe
26th – Harrison Burton
27th – JJ Yeley
30th – Todd GIlliland
34th – Ryan Newman
35th – Austin Cindric
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Dutch Boy Ford Mustang – CHAMPIONSHIP VICTORY LANE INTERVIEW:
HOW MUCH OF THE STORY OF THIS 12 TEAM THIS YEAR IS ABOUT NEVER GIVING UP AND OVERCOMING ADVERSITY? “Yeah, I think we did an amazing job on that. It was somewhat of an up and down year, but you’re gonna have those moments and through the summer we just worked really hard to get back to where we needed to be and set a deadline for the playoffs and we met that deadline. I’m just super proud of the effort by everybody at Team Penske who put in tons and tons of hours of hard work and nobody really got down. They just put their heads down and decided to really put in a lot of work and it showed up, especially these playoffs and especially the last five weeks. It’s so cool to have all of their hard work pay off, so they should be proud.”
WHAT ABOUT YOUR DAD. HOW MUCH HAS FAMILY MEANT TO YOU? “It’s been everything. Obviously, I come from a family of racers – my grandfather and dad and uncle. Dad is obviously who I grew up watching and admiring and wanted to be like, so to be able to do what he did because as a kid I just wanted to do what dad did, so to be able to race and let alone compete for wins and championships and still have my parents around and people that you look up to that are still around it makes it even more special.”
HOW ABOUT THE JOB JONATHAN HASSLER DID FOR THIS TEAM? “He’s been amazing. It’s been a fun two years. We had a shot to get here last year and I made some mistakes that kept us out, so we worked really hard in the winter to try to get back to where we know we can be and he’s such a dedicated hard worker. Every single person on this 12 group is, from the pit crew to the mechanics and truck drivers. Everyone has a part in it and they work their asses off, so it’s cool to see all that stuff pay off. It’s fun to work with Jonathan and hopefully we can get some more.”
HOW ABOUT ROGER PENSKE. WHAT HAS HE MEANT TO YOUR CAREER? “It’s been amazing. It’s been over 10 years when I walked through the doors of that place. It’s hard to believe. It’s gone by so fast. I was telling everybody all week that having the opportunity to go back-to-back Cup champions for Mr. Penske hasn’t been done. He hasn’t done that and it’s not very often you get to do something in motorsports that RP hasn’t done because he’s done everything and accomplished everything, so to be able to be a part of this and bring him another championship and be a driver that’s brought him a championship is very special, so it’s been a fun decade and hopefully another fun decade ahead.”
KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Busch Light Harvick Ford Mustang – WHAT ARE YOUR EMOTIONS? “It’s kind of a relief, to be honest with you. There was just so much going on before the race and this week, but it was pretty cool to lead some laps there in the last race. I’m just proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, everybody that works on this car and has worked on this car for a long time. I’ve just got to thank all the fans and NASCAR and my family and everybody for all of the support. It’s been a great ride and I can’t complain.”
WHEN YOU TOOK THE LEAD COULD YOU HEAR THE ROAR OF THE CROWD? THEY WERE ON THEIR FEET. “I figured. The fans have been great wishing us well to do the best that we can on the racetrack. It’s been an up and down year, but we’ve had some good runs and we were at least competitive. We didn’t ride around in the back, so that’s the main thing – just doing all that we can do.”
WHAT DO YOU FEEL? “Relief now. The emotions are kind of over at this particular point. This was a tough week with everything going on and lots to do. I think, for me, it’s been a great ride, so I don’t have anything to complain about. I’m just happy that we got to this point and kind of closed the book on our own.”
IT LOOKED LIKE YOU MIGHT WIN. “Yeah, as the sun went down we kept getting tighter in the corner and then we lost a few spots on a pit stop and the cars are so even you couldn’t really make it back up, but we just got a little bit too tight. We were OK. We were right in the middle of where we needed to be, but just on the wrong side of that front group.”
HOW DO YOU WALK OUT OF THIS TRACK? “This whole year has been incredible with the fans and the garage and everybody for all the support. We wanted to tell a story for 30 years and I think we did a pretty good job with that.”
YOU SAID TO KEELAN, ‘WHAT NOW?’ WHEN YOU GOT OUT OF THE CAR. WHAT NOW? “Yeah. Everything is already in place with everything that we have going on with television and businesses and Keelan’s racing and school. We’ve got so many things in motion with the next couple of years with plans and what we want to do, so we’re gonna go back to work. I do already have calls next week with the folks from Fox and starting to work on end of the year things for what we want to do there, but I still think the responsibility is just as big to go up there and try to give the fans as much information as possible and do a good job for Fox and everybody with this sport to tell the best story that we can. We have a lot of great drivers, a lot of great personalities and I hope everybody gets to see that.”
YOU’RE LEAVING ON YOUR OWN TERMS WHILE STILL COMPETITIVE. WHAT MORE COULD YOU ASK FOR OTHER THAN A WIN OR TITLE? “It really hasn’t been about wins or losses, but you never want to flop around, so to be able to lead laps in the last race kind of tells you how competitive we still are and I think with some tweaks and adjustments to some of the things at Stewart-Haas, you could go right back out there and be where you need to be with everything that we have going on. Josh is gonna do a great job. I can’t wait to see Josh drive this car around. Busch is still in this sport. Mobil is still in this sport. It gave everybody time to do and evaluate what they wanted to do and that’s really what I wanted. I wanted to leave here and be able to look at all you guys, look at the fans, walk in the TV booth and walk into any trailer in that garage, whether it’s a driver, a crew chief, NASCAR, whoever it is, and be able to end on good terms and I think we did that.”
CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang – “I wish we would have been in the Championship 4 because we certainly had a shot at it here today. We drove forward. The first run we needed about 20 laps and after that we needed about five laps and after that we fired off good, so we had a good short and long run speed Fastenal Ford Mustang. I’ve never had that much fun here at Phoenix and I surely appreciate all those guys and girls’ hard work to get us to that point. That was fun. It was a great race. We got behind on one pit stop and then I think we had something happen at the end. It felt like we dropped a cylinder or something to the point we weren’t 100 percent. To still battle and come home fifth was a fantastic race for us. I’m super proud of everybody on this team. What a fantastic year. I would have loved to been in that Championship 4 because I think we would have had a real shot at this thing today. It’s a huge accomplishment for this season and I can’t wait until next year.”
CHASE BRISCOE, No. 14 Mahindra Tractors Ford Mustang – “It’s a frustrating way to end the season. Obviously, I wish we could have had a better run. This has statistically been our best track and I thought we were gonna be OK. We were able to drive up to 12th and had a restart there where I kind of got drove through and lost all of our track position and from there could literally never get it back. That was aggravating to say the least, but we’ll try to come back next year better and stronger and I’m already looking forward to it.”
MARK RUSHBROOK, Global Director, Ford Performance Motorsports – ARE YOU SHOCKED WINNING ALL THREE? “This is NASCAR and all three national series are so competitive and you’ve got to be on your game for every element of the program, whether it’s the engine, the chassis, the setup, the aero, the driver, the pit crew – everything has to be right. Yeah, we did struggle for sure, especially in Cup early on certain style tracks, but all of our racing teams worked together. Nobody gave up and kept digging and certainly came on strong, especially with Team Penske and the 12 car through the playoffs. We had some strength with RFK through the season. We’ve had seasons where we’ve won a lot of races and not won a championship and that’s been a disappointment. We didn’t win as many races as we would have liked to this year, but to win three championships just makes a statement about the team we have at Ford Performance and the partnership and the family that we have racing our cars and trucks on track, so I’m really proud of what everybody has done.”
ARE YOU SURPRISED BY THE END RESULT? “Well, I said this week in some of the interviews during the week as we were unveiling our new car and people were asking about the championship and you want to always have at least one driver in the Championship 4 for every series. You’d like to have more and we had one driver in and I knew we had a good shot with all of those drivers and teams, but so much happens during the race, especially Friday night. Things could have gone in any direction, but Ryan was so strong today that he was driving to the front on every run and he was racing hard against everybody. He certainly earned the championship today.”
WHEN THE PLAYOFFS STARTED YOUR GROUP GOT WHITTLED DOWN. WHAT HAVE THESE LAST 10 WEEKS BEEN LIKE? “We entered in Cup with more drivers than Chevy and Toyota to start, but then we lost more in the first round going from 16 to 12 and we were on the other side of it, but that is what makes this playoff format exciting are those cutoffs where every three races you’re cutting out four of the drivers and you’ve got to peak at the right time and have the right finishes at the right time. It certainly, especially for the 12 car and Team Penske, they came on strong winning at Talladega and then really strong again at Miami-Homestead and then winning at Martinsville and strong here again today.”
WAS THIS ONE OF THE TOUGHEST SEASONS FOR FORD WITH THE EARLY STRUGGLES? “I feel like we work so hard every year. Everyone does. That’s what NASCAR racing is, but when you do have struggles early in the season it does make you at some level dig deeper and work harder. It stresses relationships for sure, but ultimately you come back together as family and partners and get through it.”
WHAT CAN YOU CHALK THIS SUCCESS UP TO? “We’ve increased the emphasis on our program every single year and certainly with the relevance we were really big at pushing for the Next Gen car back in the early days when it was first being talked about – the relevance and everything, which made it even more important for us to be successful with it, so we were working hard, obviously, on the Next Gen car before we were ever racing it, and not just on the body but also making sure we understood what the common chassis was, running it in our simulator, so really understanding it is what it takes to be successful.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO WIN WITH MUSTANG IN CUP AND CAN YOU MARKET THIS INTERNATIONALLY? “Winning is everything for us, just as a point of pride. It’s certainly going to be a celebration in Dearborn. My phone has been blowing up with Ford family members and our senior executives already so excited about it, so it means a lot internally to the customer because motorsports is so important to us. But that is the basis for a successful marketing program is success on the racetrack, so you have to win races and you have to win championships to have that credibility and for fans to engage with your brand and want to make them proud to have a Ford parked in their driveway or their garage. And for us, NASCAR, even though we’re racing a Mustang, we certainly sell Mustangs because of it, but we sell more F-150s to NASCAR fans than we do Mustangs. But this is a proof point for them. As far as the international question, Mustang is our global sports car. It is the best-selling sports car in the world and when we took the decision back in 2015 to have Mustang go global that was an important decision for us to be able to have that, and now with the commitment of our company for the seventh generation Mustang and to have that continue to be selling globally as a road car, but we’re racing it globally, not just in NASCAR and NHRA, but in Australia SuperCars, Mustang GT3, Mustang GT4, Dark Horse R with the spec challenge. We take the benefits from any Mustang success and market it globally. It helps all of our Mustang racing programs be more successful.”
WHAT HAS KEVIN HARVICK MEANT TO FORD? “We love Kevin Harvick. That was a big part of bringing Stewart-Haas to Ford was knowing that Kevin Harvick was there. It’s a weird moment. I was talking to Delana on pit road before the race and asking her how she felt and, for her, it was like suddenly the day is here. You know it’s coming and we feel the same way. We’ve known that Kevin was going to retire for quite some time and suddenly here we are in Phoenix and he had a great race. He was running up front as he usually does in Phoenix and he’s meant a lot to our program. He’s won 25 Cup races with us in just seven years of racing with us and we’re certainly going to miss him. He’s done a lot for us in terms of extra stuff away from the track that we’re really going to miss.”
IT’S BEEN SINCE 2001 AN OEM HAS WON ALL THREE TITLES. WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE DRIVERS WHO WILL REPRESENT THESE SERIES AND FORD AS CHAMPIONS? “As much as we’re a car company and we make and sell cars and trucks and we’re out here racing them, we’re also a family company, a people company and it’s all about the people that are racing these cars inside the shop and ultimately the drivers that get it done on track. Those three drivers that we had win this weekend to win a championship, to have Ben Rhodes, Cole Custer and Ryan Blaney as champions for this sport and representing our brand, we’re really proud of what they’ve done. I knew they all could do it and really glad to see them as champions.”
WHAT DO YOU SEE IN TERMS OF DRIVERS GOING FORWARD AND A POTENTIAL YOUNG DRIVER BASE GOING FORWARD? “It’s the future of the sport. We’ve always got to be planning for that future, whether it’s from an engineering perspective, a team perspective, but certainly the drivers and there’s a lot of youth right now and that is important for the future of this sport, not just with having them be successful on track, but building those drivers to have a brand to engage with fans and keep the sport healthy with fans in the stands. Ryan Blaney, for us, is somebody that certainly developed. He’s got his own brand, his own person, and we love him for who he is and proud that he’s representing our brand.”
DO YOU OFFICIALLY NAME THIS FORD CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND NOW? “I’ve heard a few people saying that. We had a lot of pride in Ford Championship Weekend in Miami-Homestead for a long run and unofficially I guess we could call this Ford Championship Weekend.”
Ford Performance PR
From February to November and 35 weeks of racing led up to this, the NASCAR Cup Series championship race. Following a good qualifying run championship contender William Byron would start from the pole and clear away on the green flag bringing Kevin Harvick in his final race with him to second.
As the first stage would come to an end, Byron would end up leading every lap in the stage over Kevin Harvick who closed within a couple tenths of the lead but unable to get close enough while working traffic. Rounding out the top-five in the first stage would be Chastain, Wallace, and Larson.
All four of the championship drivers would finish in the top-10 with Bell finishing 9th and Blaney 10th.
After leading 93 laps, Byron would lose the lead for the first time of the day when Harvick would take control of the race.
Caution would come out once again for the second time of the day when championship contender Christopher Bell would blow a rotor and slam into the wall ending not only his day but his chance at a championship with a 36th place finish on the day.
Chastain would take the lead on the restart leading 54 laps before ceding the lead over to Buescher who had worked himself from the third spot over the 50 plus laps to take the lead just past halfway.
With half the championship event complete Byron would continue in the lead for the championship running in the fifth spot with both Blaney and Larson behind but neither having a car to advance on the No. 24 machine.
Stage two would end with Buescher taking home the stage win over Chastain and Harvick. Only three of the championship four would still be running with Byron in the lead of those running in the fourth spot, Blaney would end the stage in sixth and Larson rounding out those still running in seventh.
Green flag stops would come with under 75 to go Byron would be the first of the three championship drivers to hit pit road followed by Larson and Blaney. Following the stops Blaney would continue to lead the championship, but Larson would be able to pick up one spot by beating Byron off pit road during the cycle.
Following the stops Blaney would chase down Chastain for the lead taking it away with 54 laps to go before Chastain would rally back to take the lead back again. Blaney wouldn’t give up when three laps later would once again work himself back to the lead before Chastain would take the lead back.
Blaney would end up getting into Chastain and getting loose allowing Truex to get around and take the position putting the three-championship contended nose to tail. With Truex trying to fight with Chastain for the lead it would once again allow Blaney to close back in and take second place.
With laps closing to the end the fourth caution of the day would come out when Busch would go for a spin on the front stretch changing the strategy and forcing teams back to pit road.
Following the pit stops under caution Larson who was second in the championship running prior to the caution would come out in third and the lead for the championship with Byron picking up a spot coming out in fifth over Blaney who had been the championship leader but losing spots on pit road to coming out in sixth and third in the running for the championship.
Blaney on the restart would get around Byron and set his eyes on Larson for the championship lead finally getting to the bumper of the No. 5 machine for the second spot tagging each other before Larson would get loose allowing Blaney to get around and take the spot away.
Chastain would continue to lead while the pair would battle it out allowing Chastain to move out to a more than two second lead. Blaney would clear away from Larson and try to close the gap to Chastain coming within one-second of the lead when the checkered flag would fall on Ross Chastain winning the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race.
“We did something else that's never been done before. For everyone on this team, this vision for Trackhouse and was goals like this. They were lofty.” Said Chastain
“Obviously next year with Busch Light, I couldn't think of anything I would want to do more, is to try to be like Kevin Harvick. Racing him early in the race was bucket list little kid in me, racing that 2005 game, I drove as the 29 GM Goodwrench car. Now I'm driving a Chevy for GM to Victory Lane, a Camaro.
I am beside myself that we were able to do that. That last caution we were really tight. It saved us. Phil Surgen and this group at Trackhouse, all of our GM support staff, sim staff, everybody came up with a way to make this thing turn, and we drove off into the sunset.” Continued Chastain
But it would be Ryan Blaney with a second-place finish that would clinch the Cup Series Championship for the No. 12 team, Larson would end up third, Byron fourth and Christopher Bell would finish last out of the race in 36th as the four championship contenders.
“Just so proud of this team. Unbelievable year, unbelievable Playoffs for us. To win back-to-back Cup titles for Mr. Penske, that's so special. Having my family here, winning my first Cup title, I got emotional in the car. I'm not a very emotional guy.” Said Blaney
“I didn't want a caution. Once I got to the white, felt pretty good about it. It's just about getting there, finishing it off. Didn't want a yellow. Everyone kept it straight. I want to shout-out also Kyle and William, that was fun racing those guys all day, and the 20 Bell, unfortunately he broke. Racing those two guys at the end, racing clean, that's what racing is all about. It was a lot of fun.
You never want to count yourself out. I mean, I think in the summer we were struggling a little bit. But we never gave up. We just went to work. I've said that all week, like, this group goes to work and they figure out problems. That's why they're such an amazing group to be with, with the Team Penske folks, 'cause they just put their head down and do the work, accept the challenge.” Continued Blaney
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is where I would normally add in where we go next but I’d like to take the opportunity to tell everyone to enjoy the off-season and to have a happy and safe Thanksgiving and Christmas, LA Coliseum will be here before you know it.
Rising star William Sawalich earned the biggest win of his young Super Late Model career, winning the Curb Records/Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers All-American 400 Presented by US Tank & Cryogenic Equipment at Nashville Speedway Sunday afternoon. Sawalich became the event’s youngest winner, beating a stellar 34 car field in front of a huge, sun bathed crowd.
The Minnesota youngster inherited the point after a multi-car incident on lap 212, and would pace the final 88 circuits to earn the $20,000 winner’s share of the ASA STARS National Tour finale. The incident took out the likes of Bubba Pollard, Stephen Nasse and Jeremy Doss completely, while dashing any hopes of winning for championship contenders Ty Majeski and Cole Butcher.
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series star Ty Majeski, who entered the day with a slim eight-point advantage, was leading at the time of the lap 212 melee. He was involved and sustained heavy damage to the right front of the car. The Gearheads Motorsports Team thrashed during the red flag and got Majeski back on track.
The Wisconsin driver was able to limp home to an 11th place finish, good enough to secure the inaugural ASA STARS National Tour championship and the $25,000 bonus. Cole Butcher (-32), Gio Ruggiero (-127), Bubba Pollard (-210) and Austin Nason (-212) unofficially round out the top-five in the final standings.
With the win, Sawalich becomes the youngest winner in All American 400 history at 17 years, one month and two days. Former NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott and fellow NASCAR driver John Hunter Nemechek also won the All American at 17.
After kicking off the weekend with a win in the ARCA Menards Series West race at Phoenix Raceway, Sawalich made the cross-country flight to Nashville for the All American 400. He was 10th and eighth in the first two stages before he inherited the lead on lap 212, going unchallenged the rest of the way.
“The Donnie Wilson group gave me a really fast Toyota Camry here today and I couldn’t have asked for a better car. I didn’t really think the car was going to be that good on the long run, we were struggling early in the race for grip. We got lucky that those cars had a pileup but I still feel like we had the best car here.”
The ASA STARS National Tour capped off a three-day All American 400 weekend that featured 226 cars between ten different divisions. Champions were crowned for all six ¼-mile divisions and the weekly Pro Late Models, while the CRA Street Stocks and Vore’s Compact Touring Series were also in action.
All American 400 Results:
- William Sawalich
- Derek Thorn
- Michael House
- Austin Nason
- Willie Allen
- Dustin Smith
- Jake Finch
- Billy VanMeter
- Logan Bearden
- Jacob Goede
- Ty Majeski
- TJ Duke
- Josh Hicks
- Johnny Aramendia
- Tommy Joe Martins
- Michael Hinde
- Hunter Wright
- Luke Fenhaus
- Jake Garcia
- Albert Francis
- Ty Fredrickson
- Cole Butcher
- Bubba Pollard
- Jeremy Doss
- Stephen Nasse
- Gio Ruggiero
- Jordon Riddick
- Chase Burda
- Matt Craig
- Johnny Brazier
- Jackson Boone
- Allen Karnes
- Johnny Sauter
For more information on the ASA STARS National Tour, please visit the series website at starsnationaltour.com, or be sure to follow the series on social media (Facebook: STARS National Series | Twitter: @racewithstars | IG: @starsnational).
ASA STARS PR
THE MODERATOR: For the second consecutive night and third consecutive day, Ford is the champion. For the second consecutive day we have Mark Rushbrook with us to talk about it.
Congratulations on sweeping the week. Mark, we'll go to questions.
- After the struggles you had all year, to even have had a chance to be in this was nice. You swept the weekend. Are you shocked?
MARK RUSHBROOK: Thank you for phrasing it that way (smiling).
No, I mean, this is NASCAR, right? All three national series are so competitive, you've got to be on your game for every element of the program, whether it's the engine, the chassis, the setup, the aero, the driver, the pit crew, everything has got to be right.
Yeah, we did struggle for sure, especially in Cup early on certain style tracks. All of our racing teams working together, nobody gave up, they kept digging, certainly came on strong, especially with Team Penske and the 12 car through the Playoffs. Had some strength with RFK through the season.
We've had seasons where we won a lot of races and not won a championship. That's been a disappointment. We didn't win as many races as we would have liked to this year, but to win three championships just makes a statement I think about the team we have in Ford Performance, but the partnership and the family that we have racing our cars and trucks on track.
- Were you surprised by the end result?
MARK RUSHBROOK: No. I said this week in some of the interviews, as we were unveiling our new car, people were asking obviously about the championship, you want to always have at least one driver in the Championship 4 for every series. You'd like to have more. We had one driver in. I knew we had a good shot with all of those drivers and teams.
But so much happens during the race. Especially Friday night things could have gone any direction. Yeah, Ryan was so strong today that he was driving to the front on every run. He was racing hard against everybody. He certainly earned the championship today.
THE MODERATOR: This is the first time since 2001 a manufacturer has swept all three championships, only the sixth time in history, the first was done by Chevy.
- Mark, specifically on the Cup Series side, you and everyone at Ford had talked about it all year, you're trying, never giving up. When the Playoffs started, as you had Joey, Ryan, started to get whittled down, can you talk about what these last 10 weeks were like.
MARK RUSHBROOK: Well, we entered in Cup with more drivers than Chevy and Toyota to start, but then we lost more in the first round going from 16 to 12. We were on the other side of it.
That is what makes this Playoff format exciting, is those cutoffs where you're cutting every three races four of the drivers. You've got to peak at the right time and have the right finishes at the right time.
It certainly -- especially for the 12 car and Team Penske, they came on strong winning at Talladega, then really strong again at Miami-Homestead, winning at Martinsville, and strong here again today.
- (No microphone.)
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, well, I feel like we work so hard every year. Everyone does, right? That's what NASCAR racing is.
When you do have struggles early in the season, it does make you at some level dig deeper and work harder. It stresses relationships, for sure. Ultimately you come back together as family and partners and get through it.
- The first time in 19 years you won back-to-back Cup titles. All been with the Gen 7 car. You've had some struggles, but what can you chalk the success up to?
MARK RUSHBROOK: Well, we have increased the emphasis on our program every single year. Certainly with the relevance we were really big at pushing for the Next Gen car back in the early days when it was first being talked about, the relevance and everything, which made it even more important for us to be successful with it.
We were working hard obviously on the Next Gen car before we were ever racing it, not just on the body but making sure we understood what the common chassis was, running it in our simulator. Really understanding it I think is what it takes to be successful.
- From a marketing point of view, how important is it to win with the Mustang the Cup Series? Can you market this also internationally outside of the United States?
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, winning is everything for us, just as a point of pride. It's certainly going to be a celebration in Dearborn. My phone has been blowing up with Ford family members and our senior executives already so excited about it. It means a lot internally to the customer because motorsports is so important to us.
That is the basis for successful marketing programs, is success on the racetrack. So you have to win the races, you have to win championships to have that credibility, and for fans to engage with your brand and make them proud to have a Ford parked in their driveway or in their garage.
For us, NASCAR, even though we're racing a Mustang, we certainly sell Mustangs because of it, but we sell more F-150s to NASCAR fans. This is a proof point for them.
As far as the international question, Mustang is our global sports car. It is the best-selling sports car in the world. When we took the decision back in 2015 to have Mustang go global, that was an important decision for us to be able to have that.
Now with the commitment of our company for the seventh generation Mustang, to have that continue to be selling globally as a road car, but we're racing it globally not just in NASCAR and NHRA, but in Australia Supercars, Mustang GT3, Mustang GT4, Dark Horse R with a Spec Challenge.
We take the benefits from any Mustang success and market it globally. It helps all of our Mustang racing programs be more successful.
- Kevin Harvick comes to an end tonight. What has he meant to Ford? Will there be any continued work with him?
MARK RUSHBROOK: We love Kevin Harvick. That was a big part of bringing Stewart-Haas Racing because Kevin was there. I was talking to DeLana on pit road before the race, asking her how she felt. For her, it was suddenly the day is here. You know it's coming. We feel the same way, right? We know that Kevin was going to retire for quite some time, suddenly here we are in Phoenix.
He had a great race, was running up front as he usually does in Phoenix. He's meant a lot to our program, won 25 Cup races with us in just seven years of racing with us. We're certainly going to miss him. He's done a lot for us in terms of extra stuff away from the track that we're really going to miss.
- There's a list of names like Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jack Sprague, who had quite an impact in the Truck Series. When you hear those names, then hear the names now of this past weekend, Blaney and these others are going to be fantastic people to represent what a champion looks like, so what does it feel like for Ford to be able to have those names carry a championship trophy as well as the blue oval?
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, as much as we're a car company and we make and sell cars and trucks, we're out here racing them, we're also a family company, a people company. It is all about the people that are racing these cars inside the shop, ultimately the drivers that get it done on track.
Those three drivers that we had win this weekend to win a championship, to have Ben Rhodes, Cole Custer and Ryan Blaney as champions for the sport, representing our brand, we're really proud of what they've done. I knew they all could do it. Really glad to see them as champions.
- On a day when Kevin Harvick is outgoing, Ryan Blaney wins a championship, youngest Final 4 championship field, what kind of transition do you see in terms of drivers from your perspective? What can that mean with a potential younger driver base?
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, it's the future of the sport, right? We have always got to be planning for that future, whether it's from an engineering perspective, a team perspective, but certainly the drivers.
There's a lot of youth right now. That is important for the future of the sport, not just with having them be successful on track, but building those drivers to have a brand to engage with fans to keep the sport healthy with fans in the stands.
Ryan Blaney for us is somebody that certainly developed. He's got his own brand, his own person, and we love him for who he is, proud that he's representing our brand.
- Do you officially rename this Ford Championship Weekend now?
MARK RUSHBROOK: I've heard a few people saying that. We had a lot of pride in Miami-Homestead for a long run. Unofficially I guess we could call this weekend Ford Championship Weekend.
- (No microphone.)
MARK RUSHBROOK: We paid for it, but in a different way.
THE MODERATOR: Mark, congratulations on an outstanding weekend and enjoy the off-season.
Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney won the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship this afternoon on NBC and Peacock – his first career Cup Series title and second straight title for Team Penske after Joey Logano won in 2022. Blaney finished second in today’s championship race, outdueling fellow Championship 4 contenders Kyle Larson (3rd place), William Byron (4th place), and Christopher Bell (36th place) at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. Ross Chastain won the race.
Two-time Daytona 500 Champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., 21-time Cup Series race winner and “The Mayor” of NASCAR Jeff Burton, and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Steve Letarte served as analysts for the Cup Series Championship race from Phoenix Raceway with NBC Sports’ lead NASCAR race announcer Rick Allen. Marty Snider, Dave Burns, Kim Coon, and Parker Kligerman provided reports from pit road.
NBC Sports’ Countdown to Green pre-race coverage was hosted by Marty Snider alongside Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett, racing icon Kyle Petty, and JTG Daugherty Racing team owner Brad Daugherty.
Pre-race coverage on NBC and Peacock included:
- Special interviews with all Cup Series Championship 4 drivers, including:
- Ryan Blaney at the front of the grid with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- William Byron and Christopher Bell with Marty Snider, Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty and Brad Daugherty
- Kyle Larson with Earnhardt Jr. and Burton
- 1999 Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett voicing the opening tease for the Cup Series Championship race;
- Championship 4 driver introductions by WWE Hall of Famer and Barmageddon host Nikki Garcia;
- A feature on Kevin Harvick, who competed in his final NASCAR Cup Series race following a 23-year career. The piece looked back at Harvick’s illustrious career and the special moments he’s been able to share with his wife and two children, and was followed by a conversation with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- NBC Sports’ NASCAR studio analysts go off the beaten path to take a unique look at their favorite moments of the 2023 season;
- A celebration of the best championship moments in NASCAR history as the sport concludes its 75th season, as well as a look at the first NASCAR championship trophy from 1948.
Blaney to Snider after burnouts: “So proud of this team. What an unbelievable year and Playoffs for us. To win back-to-back cup titles for Mr. Penske is so special, and to have my family here for my first Cup title…I got emotional in the car and I’m not a very emotional guy.”
Letarte: “What’s most impressive to me is that it hasn’t been a dominant year. There were times during the season that this No. 12 car did not have the speed that it needed…they went to work and found the speed. Talk about peaking at the right time.”
Earnhardt Jr.: “The Blaney name is now in the history books as a NASCAR Cup Series champion. He carries on that deep racing legacy. A humble driver giving credit to all of those for his success.”
Race-winner Chastain to Burns: “We did something else that’s never been done before…this vision for Trackhouse was goals like this and they were lofty…I couldn’t think of anything I would want to do more is be like Kevin Harvick and racing him early in the race was bucket list, little kid in me, racing that 2005 GameCube game.”
Harvick to Coon following his final race: “It’s been an emotional roller coaster for sure…this means a lot to me, just because I love driving the car, I love being around the people more. I love our sport. It’s given our family so much throughout the years…I opened this chapter unexpectedly in 2001 and closed it in 2023 how we wanted to, and that was being competitive.”
STAGE 3 QUOTES
Allen: “Winning is his family’s DNA and Ryan has just crested the mountain of all wins. Ryan Blaney is a NASCAR Cup Series champion!”
Earnhardt Jr.: “It is one of the impressive things about racing – how incredible it is to watch these great drivers under these conditions. This is what we’ve been waiting for all season long and here we are with an incredible drive between these drivers.”
STAGE 2 QUOTES
Letarte on Christopher Bell wrecking out of the race after brake failure: “You could hear it. As soon as he touches the brake pedal, the right front rotor explodes. The rotor goes through the wheel and Christopher Bell has no option but to go straight into the wall…we heard him complaining about the brakes…how are they cooled? It’s ducts in the front…he was wide open…I think in Bell’s part he’s using the brakes too much.”
Burns on Bell: “We heard him say on the broadcast that the brakes are too hot, and then he radioed back to crew chief Adam Stevens that. ‘I’m going to need brake help.’”
Earnhardt Jr. on impact of Kevin Harvick replacing Dale Earnhardt Sr. and winning his first race just weeks after Earnhardt’s passing: “I don’t think any of us could really understand what Kevin was going through, and I don’t know that all of us really took time to respect the amount of pressure that he was under. He helped soften the loss for RCR and Dale Earnhardt fans. All of us in the industry were thinking, ‘Where are we going to go? How are we going to go forward?’ (Harvick winning at Atlanta) was the best possible outcome on that day to help that process start. He didn’t know what he had done, but I’ll say this – throughout all of that, and after all of these years, he has always been complimentary of my father and he has never complained about that situation and how difficult that might have been for him. I always appreciate that. It says a lot about his character and it’s meant a lot to me personally.”
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