Left Dumbfounded by Ryan Blaney & Ford’s Unforeseen Surge, Denny Hamlin Debates Over NASCAR’s New Championship Winning Mantra

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Ford has pulled off the biggest shock of the 2023 NASCAR season. Be it the Cup, Xfinity, or Truck Series, the engine manufacturer’s cars never seemed to consistently match up to the pace of the Toyotas or Chevys. Yet as the season came to an end, it was Ford standing atop the mountain in all three divisions. Their rapid resurgence has taken a lot of people by surprise including Denny Hamlin, who might have had a chance to make it to Phoenix had Ryan Blaney not found his purple patch of form.
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In the Cup Series, Ryan Blaney of Team Penske was crowned the 2023 champion in his debut appearance in the championship race. Cole Custer of Stewart-Haas Racing won the Xfinity Series and Ben Rhodes of ThorSport Racing took the Truck Series crown. All three drivers have one thing in common. They all found form towards the very end of the season and there was a bit of luck involved for everyone.
Denny Hamlin questions contentious NASCAR playoffs format
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The NASCAR playoffs format has been a matter of debate for quite a while now. The system is unbelievably cruel as a couple of bad races can negate a season’s worth of good work. Conversely, a driver who has not been in great form for most of the campaign can redeem themselves in the last few races, which is exactly what happened to Ryan Blaney.
If we look at Ford’s example, they won 8 Cup, 5 Xfinity, 6 Truck races and still managed to win all three championships. As far as Denny Hamlin goes, the system is something that he is not a fan of.
“You gotta just be good at Phoenix now. I mean, is that the new riddle to winning a championship?” the JGR man asked on a recent episode of the Actions Detrimental podcast. “It appears that riddle works. It’s just focus on a couple of races,” he added.
As far as the Cup Series goes, Hamlin was not surprised that Ryan Blaney won the Cup in his maiden appearance in the championship race. The Phoenix Raceway has been a strong track for Team Penske over the years and this time was no different.
“I just think that it’s why we’re talking about Blaney is, he’s gonna be the fastest. It’s just historically that’s been a really good Penske track. And they did it. They did it. I mean, if you take them to somewhere else, maybe it’s a different outcome,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver explained.
What astounded Hamlin was how fast Ryan Blaney rose to the occasion and obliterated his competition starting from the last couple of races in the round of 12.
“It was a game-changer when he showed up in the round of 8 and really, last couple of races in the round of 12, he was starting to come on and the next thing you know is, “Woah where did he come from?” You know we even talked about it on this show, “I don’t think he has the speed.” Not him personally, the cars had not shown any speed,” Hamlin said.
No matter what the reason may be, nothing can be taken away from Ryan Blaney for his incredible racecraft under pressure. The 2023 Cup Series champion did however show signs of breaking, and he perhaps would have had it not been for Roger Penske.
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Ryan Blaney hails Roger Penske’s role in winning him the Cup Series
When inside a race car, Ryan Blaney is a man with a short fuse. So when something does not go his way, it doesn’t take long for the 29-year-old to lose his calm. Team Penske could not afford that in a championship race and so the team’s owner took the responsibility of calming his driver down when things got tough. At the end of the race, Blaney expressed his gratitude to his boss for playing the role he did.
“Roger Penske came over the radio and instantly calmed me down. Roger has seen everything there is to see in motorsports and his calm made me calm. He knew when to come onto the radio to motivate me and also remind me to reel the reins in a little bit on me,” Blaney said as per ESPN.
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Ryan Blaney had all the help he could get and perhaps the fastest car on the track, but it was his skills that won him the crown. People can debate all they want about how the playoff format is unfair but no one can take the 29-year-old’s Cup Series win away.
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