NASCAR: Ryan Blaney wins at Martinsville to secure shot at Cup Series title

Blaney, Christopher Bell, William Byron and Kyle Larson will race for the championship at Phoenix

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA - OCTOBER 29: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Discount Tire Ford, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 29, 2023 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney won Sunday's Cup Series race at Martinsville to advance to the final four at Phoenix. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney didn’t need to win at Martinsville to have a chance at the NASCAR Cup Series title but he got the victory anyway.

Blaney drove away from Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin over the final 25 laps of the race to get the first win of his career at Martinsville and join Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson and William Byron as the four drivers racing for the title Nov. 5 at Phoenix Raceway.

As the race wound down, it was clear that Hamlin needed to get a win to have a title shot. He was eliminated from the playoffs Sunday along with pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr., Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher.

"Man, I just want to get ready and go try to win next week," Hamlin said. "I still love it so much 'cause every week I feel like I got a shot to win. That's what fuels my passion, even at my age, to keep doing this, is I'm with the team that I got that gives me such fast cars every week and gives me a chance to continue to pile on those stats before the end of my career."

Blaney entered the race in fourth in the standings; 10 points ahead of Reddick and 17 points ahead of Hamlin and Truex. But the cut-line drama didn’t involve him. It instead revolved around Byron, who entered the race in third with a healthy points lead over Reddick and the others.

But Byron failed to score stage points as Blaney and Hamlin ran up front for most of the race. Truex took himself out of the running for the final four with a pit road speeding penalty in the second stage and Reddick and Buescher were relative non-factors.

"Really disappointed," Truex said. "I mean, I thought I was well under speed leaving that box. Clearly, we were speeding. ... Obviously we have something to look at there. It's devastating. That's racing."

The race over the final stage became about how much ground Byron could make up through the field while hoping that Blaney won and Hamlin didn’t.

That’s exactly what happened, as Byron got into the final four by fewer than 10 points as he finished 13th.

Hamlin led the most laps

Hamlin was running second to Blaney when the caution flew for Michael McDowell’s spin on lap 322 of the 500-lap race. He and Blaney both pitted as they knew they could make it to the end of the race on fuel. Other cars didn’t with the hope that another caution or five would happen and they could pit for fresh tires and necessary gas under yellow.

A caution never materialized. McDowell’s spin was the last caution of the race and the drivers that were at the front like Chase Elliott and others had to pit. Blaney was able to work his way forward better than Hamlin was and ended up more than five seconds ahead of Hamlin at the checkered flag.

Blaney led 145 laps and was the only driver to lead more than 83 circuits.

Race results

1. Ryan Blaney

2. Aric Almirola

3. Denny Hamlin

4. Chase Briscoe

5. Joey Logano

6. Kyle Larson

7. Christopher Bell

8. Chris Buescher

9. Austin Cindric

10. Todd Gilliland

11. Bubba Wallace

12. Martin Truex Jr.

13. William Byron

14. Ross Chastain

15. Harrison Burton

16. Kevin Harvick

17. Chase Elliott

18. Ty Gibbs

19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

20. Ryan Preece

21. Erik Jones

22. Corey LaJoie

23. Austin Dillon

24. Ty Dillon

25. Michael McDowell

26. Tyler Reddick

27. Kyle Busch

28. AJ Allmendinger

29. Ryan Newman

30. Justin Haley

31. Carson Hocevar

32. Alex Bowman

33. Brad Keselowski

34. Daniel Suarez

35. JJ Yeley

36. BJ McLeod