While NASCAR calls North Carolina its home, Dale Jarrett was the last driver raised in the state to win the highest honors in the motorsport.
Until Ryan Blaney faced off in one of the most spirited Championship Four battles in the NASCAR Cup Series and won.
Blaney became the first North Carolina-raised Cup Series champion since Jarrett in 1999.
While Blaney calls High Point, N.C., home, he was born in Ohio. That makes him the first Ohio-born Cup Series champion.
Blaney passed Kyle Larson for the championship with 30 laps to go after Larson’s crew captured lightning in a bottle on pit road.
Even after Blaney made the pass, Larson tried several times to pass him. The 2021 Cup Series champion even got alongside Blaney and nudged into him.
However, Blaney and Larson upheld a tone of respect and the faster car and driver – Blaney – won.
TOP-10 FINISHERS (LAP 312): Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, William Byron, Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, Bubba Wallace
In his final full-time race, Aric Almirola finished 13th, on the lead lap.
Byron finished third in the championship after leading the championship for 215 of 312 laps. He began the day leading the race for the first 92 laps, solidly clinching stage one.
STAGE ONE (LAP 60): William Byron, Kevin Harvick, Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney
Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney lagged behind in stage one. However, adjustments during the stage caution put them on rails in stage two.
Blaney took the championship lead on lap 105 from Byron who took it back the following lap. Then, Blaney led for a few laps before misfortune struck.
Christopher Bell exploded a brake rotor on lap 110 and brought out a caution. That ended his championship chances and kicked him back to a last-place finish.
Meanwhile, William Byron took control of the championship lead while Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney battled each other.
STAGE TWO (LAP 185): Buescher, Chastain, Harvick, Byron, Truex, Blaney, Larson, Wallace, Brad Keselowski, Jones
Blaney and Larson may have finished behind Byron in the stage but they didn’t lose much ground to him.
An adjustment during the stage caution allowed Blaney to get by Byron 18 laps into the subsequent run.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Blaney. Blaney caught Ross Chastain and swapped the lead with him four times in five laps, between lap 258 and lap 262.
That angered Blaney as he even bumped Chastain going into the corner.
“Well f-cking right I bumped him on purpose, I had to go. I saw he was struggling and knew the 5 was coming. If I didn’t get by him, he was going to back me up to the 5,” Blaney explained post-race.
A caution for Kyle Busch spinning in turn one on lap 276 let Blaney calm down. Then, a lightning pit stop by Kyle Larson’s pit crew and two drivers taking two tires posed a challenge to Blaney.
“I was bummed we lost the lead. We didn’t have a bad stop, they just had lightning-fast stops. Then you shift to ‘Alright this is my task, let’s go,'” Blaney said.
Blaney passed William Byron and tracked down Kyle Larson. Blaney and Larson battled hard – Larson even getting sideways on the apron – but Blaney got by.
“It’s been a long career in motorsports. This is by far the biggest moment in my career. This is what you strive for, this is what you run 35 races for. You have to run a perfect race and it’s something way bigger than I am,” Blaney described.
Blaney is the 36th NASCAR Cup Series champion in the 75-year history of the series. He allowed Roger Penske to earn back-to-back titles as an owner and his fourth as an owner (Joey Logano – 2022, ’18; Brad Keselowski – 2012).
“I think the sky is the limit for Ryan. He’s in a class with [Rick] Mears. He’s like Joey. When he gets the helmet on, get out of his way,” Roger Penske said.
Ford has now won back-to-back Cup Series titles for the first time since Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch clinched the Cup in 2003 and 2004, respectively.
CHAMPIONSHIP 4 LEAD CHANGES (8): William Byron (0-104), Ryan Blaney (105), Byron (106), Blaney (107-111), Byron (112-210), Blaney (211-276) Byron (277) Kyle Larson (278-292), Blaney (293- 312)