Penske Racing

Team Penske 2023 NASCAR Season Review - Ryan Blaney

January 11, 2024

Team Penske concludes its look back at the exciting 2023 season with this week's focus on the NASCAR Cup Series championship performance by driver Ryan Blaney and the No. 12 Menards/Discount Tire/BODYARMOR/DEX Imaging/Advance Auto Parts/WURTH/Wabash Ford Mustang team.

“It’s not very often you get to do something in motorsports that Mr. Penske hasn’t done, so to be able to be a part of this and bring him another championship is very special.”
Ryan Blaney

The path to the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) Championship for Ryan Blaney and Team Penske’s No. 12 Menards/Discount Tire/BODYARMOR/DEX Imaging/Advance Auto Parts/WURTH/Wabash Ford Mustang team was one of record-setting highs and a few challenging lows throughout a grueling 38-week season. Despite entering the 2023 NCS season coming off of his third-straight Round of 8 Playoff performance, Blaney’s 46-race winless streak loomed large entering the 30-year-old racer’s eighth full-time Cup Series season.

Following a stretch of seven top-10 finishes in the season’s first 13 races – including a pair of runner-up efforts at Phoenix and Talladega – Blaney and the No. 12 team brought an emphatic end to the winless streak at the end of May with one of the biggest wins of his career. Blaney led a race-high 163 laps in the BodyArmor Mustang to take the checkered flag in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. With Josef Newgarden’s dramatic Indianapolis 500 victory one day earlier, Blaney’s triumph completed the INDYCAR/NASCAR Memorial Day Weekend sweep for the first time in Team Penske’s storied history. The Coca-Cola 600 win also marked the first career NCS victory for crew chief Jonathan Hassler in his second season working with the Blaney and the No. 12 Ford team.

“Obviously, a big weekend for Team Penske,” Blaney said in victory lane. “Watching the Indy 500 yesterday, how that played out, and watching Josef win his first one and watching Mr. Penske win No. 19, that's really cool to see. Especially when that stuff happens, you're like, well, the pressure is on for us to try to sweep the weekend, especially in two really big races. That was the goal, and fortunately we executed well enough to get it done.”

After the win in Charlotte locked the No. 12 team into the Playoffs, the summer months brought struggles with consistent finishes across the three-car Team Penske program. Blaney and the team had their challenges as they posted finishes outside the top-20 in five of the next seven races. The No. 12 Ford Mustang came away with top-10 finishes at Michigan and Watkins Glen entering the regular season finale at Daytona where Blaney looked to be a strong contender for the win. Unfortunately, Blaney was caught up in a multi-car incident while leading the race on the final lap of Stage 2, which brought an abrupt end to the regular season for the team.

Blaney entered the NCS Playoffs Round of 16 as the 12th-seeded driver – only one point above the cutline – as the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway played host to the postseason opening race. A pair of top-10 finishes in both stages paired with a ninth-place finish at the “Lady in Black” vaulted Blaney to ninth in the points standings as he advanced to the Round of 12.

The No. 12 Ford squad’s championship hopes took a hit in the opening race of the Round of 12 at Texas Motor Speedway when Blaney was taken out in a multi-car wreck in the closing laps. The unfortunate result disrupted another promising run that included stage finishes of seventh and fourth. The 28th-place finish relegated Blaney to 11th in the standings and 11 points below the cutoff line with Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL on the horizon – a pair of tracks that produced wins in recent years for the No. 12 Ford Mustang.

After starting 10th in the Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang at Talladega and running at the front of the pack all afternoon, Blaney took the green flag on a late restart from the outside of row one with 13 laps to go and he worked with fellow Ford driver Kevin Harvick to make his way to the front with an inside lane full of Chevrolets. After the field worked its way to the line to take the white flag, Blaney made the eventual race-winning move by darting beneath Harvick after the exit of turn two to secure the lead. With a multi-car crash developing behind them, Blaney edged Harvick by .012 of a second to claim his ninth-career NCS win – and third at Talladega – while clinching his spot in the Round of 8 for the third-consecutive season.

“I’ve won it by more than I have the last couple years,” Blaney remarked post-race. “That one might have been by four feet, the others were by two, but you just don’t know. You just kind of drag race a line and hope you get help. (Spotter) Josh [Williams] did a fantastic job on the roof like always. This is always such a special place to win at.”

No stranger to the Round of 8 over his career, Blaney was still searching for that breakthrough moment to pave a way through to the Championship 4 for the first time in his Cup Series career. The road to the title race wouldn’t come without controversy, however, as Blaney’s sixth-place finish at Las Vegas turned into a 36th-place result following a disqualification in post-race inspection. NASCAR initially ruled that the left-front shock on the No. 12 Ford did not meet the overall specified length outlined in the rule book. Ultimately, the penalty was rescinded the following Monday when NASCAR determined the discrepancy was actually an issue with one of its templates. With his sixth-place finish restored, Blaney and the No. 12 team moved on to the penultimate round of the 2023 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

After leading 53 laps and earning a stage win, Blaney brought home a second-place finish at Homestead to edge a step closer to a berth in the Championship 4. The result set up a short track showdown at Martinsville to decide the final competitors to race for the crown in Phoenix. 

The breakthrough moment that paved the way to Phoenix for Blaney and the No. 12 Ford team was worth the wait as they produced one of their most convincing performances of the 2023 season. Driving the Discount Tire Ford Mustang, Blaney led 145 laps at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway oval to earn his way into the Championship 4 for the first time in his career while also matching his total for most wins in a season with three. Blaney became the third Team Penske driver to advance to the Championship 4 (joining Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano) marking the seventh time in the last 10 seasons that a team driver earned the opportunity to race for the Cup Series title. After closing out the Round of 8 with an average finish of 3.0, the No. 12 Ford team carried as much momentum as anyone heading into the season finale.

After years of falling just short of competing for a Cup Series title at Phoenix, Blaney joined elite company on November 5 as the third-generation racer battled all race long to secure a second-place finish and earn the title of 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Champion. By producing the top finish among the other three title contenders – Kyle Larson, William Byron, and Christopher Bell – Blaney and the No. 12 Ford team reached the pinnacle of the sport. The title-winning run secured Team Penske’s 44th national championship and the first-ever back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series crowns for the organization. The result also helped Ford sweep NASCAR’s championship weekend, as the Blue Oval became the first manufacturer to do so since 2001. 

“I think our team did an amazing job not giving up,” Blaney said after climbing from the Menards Ford Mustang at the start-finish line. “It was somewhat of an up and down year, but you’re going to 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. I am 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 in these Playoffs and in particular the last five weeks. It’s so cool to have all their hard work pay off, so they should be proud.”

Another year of firsts capped off Team Penske’s 57th season as three NASCAR Cup Series Championships have been won by the organization over the last six seasons. Blaney and the No. 12 Ford team begin their title defense in 2024 looking to become the first repeat Cup Series champions since 2010 – a feat that has yet to be accomplished since the inception of the current playoff format.

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