By Adam Carabine and Crystal Clay
In his first full-time Xfinity Series season since 2019, Cole Custer came away victorious at Phoenix Raceway, earning his first career championship in the No.00 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing.
On November 16th, 2022 Stewart-Haas Racing announced that Cole Custer would be taking a step back from the Cup Series to return to the Xfinity Series. After some underwhelming results in the top NASCAR series, the idea was to help Custer rediscover his mojo.
“It was a calculated decision to move him back, and it was for him to gain confidence,” said team owner Tony Stewart. “When a driver makes it to the Big Show, and then has to step back one series, there’s a lot of things that could go wrong. But there was a reason we made that decision. It’s character building.
It was a very even battle between all Championship Four drivers all night.
Justin Allgaier put himself in a tough spot just two laps into the race, spinning after some very light contact with fellow championship contender John Hunter Nemechek. After the race, Allgaier said that he recognized he only had two options: “Either run right into the side of [Nemechek] - I was going to clean us both out, or spin out.”
Luckily for both drivers, there was minimal damage, and by the end of the first stage, all four of them were back in the top 10. It was a stark contrast to the “S Show,” as Tony Stewart called it, the night before for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.
The theme of clean racing was prevalent among the four contenders in all of their post-race comments.
Allgaier mentioned “We all four battled all night, but it was clean. We pushed each other to limits that I don’t know that I’ve seen, and to be that clean - that was fun [...] it was awesome!”
His teammate and fellow championship contender Sam Mayer said, “That was probably the most fun I’ve had in a racecar in a long time. It was a really cool opportunity to be able to put on a show like that.”
Despite the clean racing, it did still come down to an overtime finish, as Anthony Alfredo spun on the frontstretch with three to go in the race. In a testament to the efforts of the Championship Four, they all took the final green flag together in the top four.
It looked like Cole Custer was at a disadvantage early, as he came into turn one in third place. But in a move that baffled even Tony Stewart, he was able to focus on corner exit, and take over the lead.
Custer held on until the checkered flag to take home his first career championship in the Xfinity Series.
After the race, Custer’s team owner and boss Tony Stewart pulled him aside, “and I told him - this is why we did what we did. The steps that you’re making and the progress you’ve made this year, is exactly what we were hoping for.”