AVONDALE, Ariz. – It’s not easy to lose a Cup game. Disappointment is inevitable but the three eliminated fighters left Phoenix in peace after giving everything they had.
Ross Chastain, the uncredited driver, won the season finale in Phoenix. Ryan Blaney finished second and celebrated his first Cup win. Contestants for the title Christopher Bell, William Byron and Kyle Larson both failed to win the title.
None of these drivers made the big mistakes that put them out of contention on lap 312. Bell finished 36th but only to explode a brake rotor and send him off the wall. Larson and Byron finished third and fourth.
“I’m at peace knowing that’s all I had today,” Larson said. “I know it didn’t look like the last race but that’s all I got. The team did a great job putting us in that position.
… At the same time, maybe – I’m coming close – maybe I’m really looking forward to next season. “
Larson started fourth. He did not lead any laps but in the evening he was inside the top 10. Part of this was the speed of his car. Some of them were pit crews who got him spots on the pit road.
“The only reason we were in the hunt, was the pit road, the pit crew obviously,” Larson said. “The way we did our street lights, the engineers and everybody who was filming and everything, I felt like, yeah, I just wanted to keep going down.”
Byron had the biggest car in the beginning. He led 95 times and became the second driver this season to surpass 1,000 times leading in 2023. Larson was the first.
Things changed completely for Byron in the middle of stage 2.
The song changed when more rubber was placed. That put Byron out of contention for the championship, until he fell more than two seconds behind Blaney and Larson after the final restart. He became the first driver to lose a race at Phoenix after winning first place.
Byron: ‘It stinks to come up short’
William Byron’s No. 24 was very tight when the track hit and it changed a lot especially after losing the steering wheel, but he wants to think he will be back in the Cup title race next season.
“I mean, it’s a little disappointing considering how we started the tournament,” Byron said. “Once we get into phase 2, trying to figure out how to run what we have, maybe make it better if we can. But we just need more on the short runs. We just struggled as a team on the short runs.
“We had a good season, a lot to be proud of, a lot of solid races, good bonding as a team. I feel like it can all go up a little bit, just having more speed on some tracks that we know are important. Of course down here it was difficult. We didn’t really have what we needed, but that’s okay.”
Bell, who made his second consecutive Championship 4 appearance, did not have a chance to compete in the championship. He started 13th and ended up ninth at the end of stage 1 but eventually finished on the final day.
Larson: ‘The pit crew kept us in the game’
Kyle Larson talks about the respect he and Ryan Blaney showed each other in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship after finishing victorious in the battle.
Bell failed to win a championship for the second time in two seasons. He expressed frustration with the results and was unable to compete with Blaney, Larson and Byron. The disappointment did not overshadow his joy of future opportunities.
“I’m very proud of the effort our team put in to get to the Championship 4, but I feel like we gave up a lot in different competitions throughout the year,” Bell said. “I’m excited about the future. We haven’t reached our potential yet.