By Adam Carabine
Cole Custer thought he had it made when he qualified 2nd - just behind pole-sitter Sheldon Creed. In a race without live, competitive pit stops, track position was going to be key. Starting the race from the front row should have been extremely important... but it wasn’t meant to be.
Unfortunately, Custer’s #00 Ford needed some (unapproved) adjustments before the race, and he was forced to start in the rear. With non-competitive pit stops at each stage break, the onus was on Custer to make his way back to the front – no strategy calls were going to save the day.
However, whatever adjustments his team made paid off quickly. Custer made his way back through the field effortlessly, finishing Stage One in P7. The fireworks were just beginning.
Sheldon Creed looked unstoppable, as he maintained the lead for most of Stage One and Two. But on the final corner of the second stage, John Hunter Nemechek had finally had enough of second place, and hit the rear bumper of Creed’s #2, sending him spinning. Nemechek looked to have the Stage Two win under wraps, but Cole Custer had something else to say about it.
“We had a fast car that I think could compete with anybody out there. That last lap [of Stage Two], I was like, man, they’re close! In that last turn they’re probably going to lay the bumper to each other, it worked out good and I was able to side-draft [Nemechek] back to the line, and just in the nick of time get ahead of him," Custer said.
Sheldon Creed was not pleased with Nemechek about the spin, yelling on his radio: “We’re destroying his car when we get back to him.” While he didn’t end up destroying it, he did follow through on his promise, spinning Nemechek later in the final stage.
Justin Allgaier, coming off a win last week in Charlotte, took the lead and stretched it out for a long time. Unfortunately for him, Riley Herbst’s #98 car was overheating, and caught fire, bringing out a late caution. Allgaier’s 4-second lead went up in smoke.
In the final restart, during NASCAR Overtime, Parker Kligerman tried to beat the leaders in the first turn, and wound up sliding into both Allgaier and Creed out of the way, and putting them out of contention.
Just like at the end of Stage Two, Cole Custer was in the right place at the right time. He capitalized on the drama ahead of him, took the lead, and never looked back.
After what many considered a demotion after three years as a full-time Cup Series driver, Custer won his first race of this full-time Xfinity Season.
When asked about what this sort of confidence boost can do for him and his team, Custer said: “It’s huge. To be able to come here and win races, that’s what we expect of our team. But it doesn’t happen overnight, I mean, this is a new group. Trying to get where we needed to, I haven’t driven these cars for a while, figuring out what we needed to do to the cars... It took a few weeks to get going, but now we’re starting to hit our stride, and I think we’ve really proved what we can do when we have everything working.”
Custer’s spot in the Xfinity Series playoffs is now locked in, and he’ll hope to carry this momentum on to next week’s race at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California.