For the fourth year in a row, at least one driver qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Four for the first time.
For the second year in a row, multiple drivers will qualify for it for the first time.
Ryan Blaney won Sunday at Martinsville Speedway and earned his Championship Four berth.
Although he led fewer laps than Denny Hamlin (156 vs. 145), he admitted Ryan Blaney had the upper hand on him.
The 12 (Ryan Blaney) car was the best car today, so congrats to them,” Hamlin said. “The 12 showed up this round, right? He deserves to be in that Final 4. The performance they had today was phenomenal. I’m just happy for those guys.”
Hamlin showed respect for Blaney post-race but they nearly came to blows with their cars while racing for the lead.
Both drivers emerged from the mid-race chaos and finished first and third, with Blaney securing the elusive berth and win.
“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,” Blaney said.
William Byron finished 13th and joined Ryan Blaney in the Championship Four with an eight-point advantage over Denny Hamlin.
Byron started 16th and battled an ill-handling racecar. He only managed to place 12th in stage one but dropped as low as 22nd in stage two.
While he placed 20th in stage two, he improved to 13th by the final caution and finished there once pit strategies cycled out.
When Byron exited the car, he was exhausted.
“It felt like a hair dryer blowing in my helmet all day,” Byron said post-race, adding the team missed the setup during testing in the sim.
Blaney made the Round of 8 in 2017, 2019 and the last two years but never the Championship Four. Meanwhile, Byron was a Round of 8 contender last year.
The odds are in favor of either Byron and Bell to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship. Excluding the inaugural Championship Four in 2014, six of the nine lineups have had a newcomer in it.
In four instances, a newcomer won the championship:
- Kyle Busch (2015)
- Jimmie Johnson (2016)
- Chase Elliott (2020)
- Kyle Larson (2021)
Last year, Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell qualified for the Championship Four for the first time but lost to Joey Logano.
In 2017, newcomer Brad Keselowski lost to Martin Truex Jr.