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Team Penske NASCAR Cup Series Race Report - Martinsville 2
October 29, 2023

RACE: XFINITY 500      
DATE: OCTOBER 29, 2023

START: 21ST   

RACE RUNDOWN: Austin Cindric and the No. 2 Menards/Richmond team contested solidly in the top five for a hefty stretch at Martinsville Speedway, but ultimately earned a ninth-place finish in the penultimate race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series campaign. Cindric fired off from the 21st position on Sunday afternoon at the Virginia short track and made his first appearance on pit road under caution on lap 105 for a four-tire stop after reporting that the car was free rolling through the center. With just 19 laps remaining in the opening segment, the driver of the No. 2 Ford Mustang restarted 23rd and gained a couple positions in the span of the short run to finish Stage 1 in the 20th position. Having just pitted, the team opted to stay out under the Stage break and took the green flag 14th for the launch of Stage 2. Happy with the balance, Cindric continued to maintain solid pace as the laps clicked away. On lap 216, a caution slowed the field and the 25-year-old racer informed the team that the Menards/Richmond machine was a lot more stable as he headed to pit road for four fresh tires and race fuel. Cindric continued to find happiness with the handling of his racecar as he crossed the line 12th at the end of Stage 2, saying that it was the best he had fired off. Electing to stay out, Cindric restarted in the top five on lap 271 before the yellow flag was thrown shortly after. With the lead in sight, the young driver restarted third on lap 285 and remained among the frontrunners until a full-service pit stop under caution on lap 323 bumped Cindric back to 16th for the restart as varying pit strategies played out. With just under 100 laps to go in the race, Cindric said that the car fired off too tight. Battling hard through the final sprint, Cindric rejoined the top 10 and claimed a ninth-place finish at The Paperclip. 
CINDRIC'S THOUGHTS: "I'm over the moon for everyone on the No. 12 car. Ryan [Blaney] really deserves it and he has deserved a win at this place for a while. I'm proud of them and happy for Discount Tire and Menards to be racing for a championship. It was a really great day for us on the No. 2 car; we earned a top-10 finish straight up. We had great speed and [crew chief] Brian [Wilson] called a great race – I have no complaints. We've got a lot to build on for next year. This is an important racetrack and I want to be doing what Ryan did today, next year – racing my way into the Championship 4."

START: 11TH     

RACE RUNDOWN: Ryan Blaney locked himself into the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 in dramatic fashion Sunday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway, leading 145 laps in the No. 12 Discount Tire Ford Mustang en route to his third win of the 2023 season. Blaney joins Kyle Larson, William Byron, and Christopher Bell in the Championship 4 on Sunday, November 5 in Phoenix in search of his first-career Cup Series title. He becomes the third Team Penske driver to advance to the Championship 4 (Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano) as the organization has now had a representative in the championship race in seven of the last 10 seasons since the current playoffs format's inception in 2014. Blaney's win on Sunday matches a career-high for most wins in a season with three (2021) as he closed out the Round of 8 with an average finish of 3.0 to break through to the Championship 4 for the first time in his career.

After starting 11th, Blaney and crew chief Jonathan Hassler dialed in the Discount Tire Ford Mustang to work their way to the front of the field in Stage 1. Following the first caution of the afternoon on lap 104, the No. 12 crew fired off a quick, four-tire stop to get Blaney off pit road fourth as the field took the green with 19 laps to go in the opening stage. Blaney battled his way around the No. 19 using the outside lane on the restart to come away with a second-place finish in Stage 1. The leaders opted not to pit during the stage break as Blaney lined up to restart from the outside of row one. As the green flag run wore on, Blaney erased the deficit to the No. 11 for the lead and ultimately took over the top spot on lap 195. The Championship 4 hopefuls battled back-and-forth for the lead with a stage win on the line as Blaney prevailed to lock up his sixth stage win of the season in Stage 2. The following restart appeared to spell trouble for Blaney as the No. 11 clipped the back bumper of the Discount Tire Ford, but he managed to regain control by the entry of turn three to hang on to the lead as the intensity began to pick up. An untimely caution flag on lap 324 saw teams opt for varying strategies on pit road as Hassler called for a four-tire stop in hopes of stretching the fuel run the rest of the way. Despite restarting 13th, Hassler's call proved to be pivotal as the race stayed green the rest of the way, allowing Blaney to charge his way back into the top-five with 70 laps to go. Fresh tires and enough fuel to go the distance ultimately prevailed as Blaney got to the bumper of the leader with 26 to go before making his way around the No. 10 with 23 laps remaining. Blaney took care of the rest, wheeling his Ford Mustang to the checkered flag for his 10th-career win and punching his ticket to the Championship 4 in the process.

BLANEY'S THOUGHTS: "It's awesome. I grew up in High Point, not too far from here. High Point is closer to Martinsville than it is to Charlotte, so it's really cool. I've been wanting to win here for a long time. We've been super close for many years and awesome to close it out."

"I thought we put together a really strong playoffs, especially the Round of 8. We had a good Round of 8, so just really proud of the whole effort. Proud to have Discount Tire on the car, Menards, Ford, Advance Auto Parts, BODYARMOR. [Roger Penske] couldn't be here unfortunately, but I know he's watching and this is awesome stuff. I can't wait to get to Phoenix next week."

START: 15TH     

RACE RUNDOWN: Joey Logano and the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil team attacked Sunday's short track showdown at Martinsville Speedway from start to finish, making steady progress throughout the duration of the 500-lap event to bring home a top-five finish in the penultimate race event of the season. Logano opened the event from the 16th position and made some initial gains in the race's opening circuits, although a free handling Ford Mustang prevented him from making enough forward progress to crack the field's top 10. A caution late in the first Stage gave the No. 22 team a chance to bring Logano to pit road for service, and after four fresh tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment, he returned to the track to finish the opening Stage from the 13th position. Logano capitalized on the restart to overtake multiple spots, catapulting to ninth before the initial green-white-checkered waved to close out the race's first segment. Stage 2 began with another opportunity to advance his position, and Logano stayed focused on moving forward with a car that continued to improve its handling on the long run. A timely caution towards the end of the Stage allowed for another stop on pit road, and quick work by the No. 22 placed Logano in an advantageous spot for the final laps of Stage 2, with the Shell-Pennzoil Ford Mustang crossing the line fourth to secure more valuable points and near closer to the lead. Logano and his Team Penske teammates elected to forgo pit road service during the final stage break and stayed out to resume the race while occupying three of the top-five positions. Logano continued to stay up front as the laps ticked, until another caution mid-stage opened a chance for teams a chance to refresh their cars, and that included four tires and fuel for the No. 22. The varying pit strategies resulted in Logano ultimately restarting from the 18th position, but with nearly 150 laps still remaining on fresh tires and a full tank of fuel, the opportunity to advance remained: by lap 100 he was in 11th, and the final 50 lap run saw him reach 8th and progressing forward. Logano would confidently navigate the remaining laps and lapped traffic to advance to fifth when the checkered flag flew for his 11th-career Martinsville top-five finish.

LOGANO'S THOUGHTS: "It was absolutely a long day, but I'm proud of the team with a top-five and [Ryan] Blaney getting into the Championship 4. You've got to be proud of that as well. He had a great car and a great weekend, so good for him and we'll go to Phoenix for one more race."

WHAT'S NEXT: The NASCAR Cup Series will crown the 2023 champion at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 5 as Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, William Byron, and Christopher Bell make up the Championship 4 contending for the title. Coverage of the NASCAR Cup Series Championship begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN Radio and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.

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