Cole Custer makes statement with win at Chicagoland

JOLIET, ILLINOIS - JUNE 29: Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Camping World 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 29, 2019 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

For the vast majority of Saturday’s Camping World 300 at Chicagoland Speedway it looked like another non-too-subtle reminder of how good the NASCAR Xfinity Series triumphant trio has been – championship leaders Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick showed the way.

Ultimately it was Custer’s time to celebrate this weekend, leading a dominant 151 of the race’s 200 laps to take his fourth Xfinity win of the season in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and the sixth victory of his career.

He earned a solid 2.917-second triumph over reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano, who was making his first Xfinity start of the season. Bell was third and Reddick ended up 10th, losing positions only in the waning laps. Michael Annett, who led 25 laps late in the race playing a pit stop strategy, finished fourth. Brandon Jones was fifth.

“I think we’re going to hit it this summer, we have some awesome cars,’’ Custer excitedly told the front grandstands. “I don’t know how to get the car any better, I’m just lucky to drive it.’’

Custer, Bell and Reddick have now combined to win 11 of the season’s 15 races, including the last nine consecutively. Custer and Bell have a series best four wins apiece.

At times – especially following a restart – the affectionately well-worn Chicagoland Speedway surface helped sustain four and five-wide racing in a free-for-all that set the tone of the race behind Custer.

The SHR driver never seemed to have a problem retaking the lead – he passed polesitter Logano only three laps into the race, en route to the Stage 1 victory. Logano, who started from the pole position, retook the lead late in Stage 2 and held on to claim that stage victory.

But Custer’s No. 00 Ford was just too much for the field, losing the lead only briefly at times but then forcefully and easily retaking it at every opportunity. He passed Michael Annett on a restart with 22 laps to go and never looked back. It’s Custer’s second win in the last four weeks (also including Pocono) and he was runner-up to Bell in the last race at Iowa.

The effort in the oppressive 90-degree heat was impressive even to Custer’s competitors.

When asked where he was getting beat by Custer on track, Logano grinned and deadpanned, “At Chicagoland.’’

“They did a good job. They had the fastest car in practice and Cole did an amazing job.’’

Bell, who failed to lead a lap for the first time this season, kept the championship competition honest and seemed to consider the race a good learning experience for the championship finale on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway finale – a venue similar to Chicago.

“Our car was really good, really balanced,’’ Bell said. “Felt really good in practice, just lacking a little bit on that double zero car (Custer). They were the class of the field at Homestead (a similar track to Chicagoland) and were here today too.’’

Bell’s Toyota later failed post-race inspection and he was disqualified.  A NASCAR spokesperson said the No. 20 car did not pass inspection after it was found to be too low in the Chicagoland Speedway garage. Bell was demoted to a last-place result in the 38-car field.

Additionally, NASCAR officials announced that the race-winning Stewart-Haas Racing No. 00 Ford of Cole Custer was found with one lug nut not safely secured after a post-race check. NASCAR Rule Book guidelines call for a fine issued to the crew chief for such an infraction, but the results for the No. 00 will stand.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Race Results Camping World 300
Chicagoland Speedway
Joliet, Illinois
Saturday, June 29, 2019 1. (2)  Cole Custer, Ford, 200.

2. (1)  Joey Logano(i), Ford, 200.

3. (16)  Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 200.

4. (6)  Brandon Jones, Toyota, 200.

5. (7)  Austin Cindric, Ford, 200.

6. (10)  Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 200.

7. (14)  Justin Haley #, Chevrolet, 200.

8. (3)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 200.

9. (9)  Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 200.

10. (8)  Riley Herbst(i), Toyota, 200.

11. (15)  John Hunter Nemechek #, Chevrolet, 200.

12. (12)  Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 200.

13. (19)  Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 200.

14. (17)  Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 200.

15. (11)  Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 199.

16. (21)  Jeffrey Earnhardt, Toyota, 199.

17. (13)  Zane Smith, Chevrolet, 199.

18. (22)  Shane Lee, Toyota, 199.

19. (20)  Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 199.

20. (25)  Ray Black II, Chevrolet, 199.

21. (30)  Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, 199.

22. (31)  Brandon Brown #, Chevrolet, 198.

23. (18)  BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 196.

24. (26)  Chad Finchum, Toyota, 195.

25. (35)  Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 195.

26. (34)  Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 195.

27. (24)  Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 195.

28. (28)  Tommy Joe Martins, Toyota, 194.

29. (37)  Vinnie Miller, Chevrolet, 194.

30. (33)  Ronnie Bassett Jr, Chevrolet, 193.

31. (29)  Camden Murphy(i), Chevrolet, 192.

32. (4)  Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, Accident, 127.

33. (27)  Joey Gase, Toyota, Engine, 111.

34. (32)  Timmy Hill, Toyota, Electrical, 71.

35. (23)  Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, Vibration, 55.

36. (36)  David Starr, Chevrolet, Engine, 52.

37. (38)  Jeff Green, Chevrolet, Electrical, 11.

38. (5)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, 200.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  128.068 mph.
Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 20 Mins, 33 Secs. Margin of Victory:  2.917 Seconds.
Caution Flags:  6 for 30 laps.
Lead Changes:  10 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders:   J. Logano(i) 1-2;C. Custer 3-14;J. Logano(i) 15-19;C. Custer 20-79;J. Logano(i) 80-92;C. Custer 93-111;Z. Smith 112-114;J. Earnhardt 115;C. Custer 116-154;M. Annett 155-179;C. Custer 180-200.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Cole Custer 5 times for 151 laps; Michael Annett 1 time for 25 laps; Joey Logano(i) 3 times for 20 laps; Zane Smith 1 time for 3 laps; Jeffrey Earnhardt 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 00,1,10,12,19,2,20,22,7,98
Stage #2 Top Ten: 00,10,11,12,19,2,20,22,7,8

Greg Engle