Cole Custer Stuns the Field with Win at Kentucky

Prior to Sunday, Cole Custer’s best finish in the NASCAR Cup series was a fifth at Indy the week prior.  And prior to Sunday the rookie driver had never led a lap in the Cup series.  Sunday, at Kentucky Speedway however Custer led the most important lap on his young Cup career, the final one.

Custer charged from sixth to first in a green-white-checkered flag finish, beating Martin Truex Jr. to the line to win the Quaker State 400.  The Stewart-Haas Racing driver, in his first full year in the NASCAR Cup Series rocketed up the outside and made it four wide for the lead coming to the white flag. He was able to take control going down the backstretch and held off Truex to win by .271 of a second.

“It’s unbelievable,” Custer said.  “We had a great car all day, one of the best cars I’ve ever driven in my life.  It was really hard to pass.  It was hard to get to the front.  Once we got there we took advantage of it and I just can’t thank everybody at the shop.  That’s probably the best car I’ve ever driven in my life — no lie or anything. “

Matt DiBenedetto was third.

“Man, it was crazy,” DiBenedetto said.  “We had a really good car.  I mean, we could have contended for the win.  It was really fast, but lost track position when things shuffled around and we had to do the wave around.  Me and my spotter, I’ve got to give him a lot of credit, Doug Campbell, I told him we should win some sort of restart award.  We were 18th because of track position how it cycled out with like seven to go.  We had two monstrous restarts and then pushed Cole to the win there, which kind of felt cool.  Good for him.  Congrats, but this is a big race for us.”

Kevin Harvick with smoke trailing due to a tire rub was fourth and Kurt Busch in the top five.

“We were four-wide on the front straightaway here and the 12 hit the drain and came up and hit the side of the car and then I couldn’t see,” Harvick said. “So, yeah, it got wild and that’s what you’re supposed to do.  I’m just really happy for Cole Custer and everybody on the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang.  That’s pretty cool to get your first win.  As much as I would have loved to win, I’m glad that we kept it in the company.”

Up until the closing laps, the race was an almost sedate affair. The only cautions in the first Stage were a scheduled competition caution at lap 27, and the end of the stage at lap 82.  Aric Almirola, who led a race high 128 laps on the day, won Stage 1 but faded near the midpoint.

A bizarre round of green flag pit stops had Brad Keselowski in the lead on lap 154. Keselowski was pitting under green from the lead having stayed out in hopes of catching a caution.  He got a lucky break when Matt Kenseth spun on track and the caution waved. By virtue of his pit stall, Keselowski crossed the start-finish in the pits just ahead of Ryan Blaney who was leading on the track.  With the field frozen at the moment of caution, Keselowski was able to keep his lead.  He would go on to win Stage 2 when the stage ended on lap 161.

Truex Jr., who started the day in the rear of the field after failing pre-race inspection twice, took the lead for the first time on lap 181. He would keep the lead until lap 249 when on a restart for a spin from John Hunter Nemechek, Keselowski spun Jimmie Johnson as the field charged into turn 1. Johnson in his first race back after being cleared from a COVID-19 positive test and missing Indy, was running inside the top five at the time. Johnson would end the day 18th.

Harvick who had not led a lap all day, grabbed the lead on the restart while Truex fought back.  The two dueled until five to go when Kenseth was sent spinning after contact from the Ryan Newman.

The final caution set up the green-white-checkered finish won by Custer after the four-wide fight at the white flag.

“I knew I just had to get to the top,” Custer said. “The top rolled pretty good and once I got past and I was like in third I was like, ‘I’ve just got to take a shot and do whatever I can here.’  And it ended up the 4 and the 19 got together a little bit and I was able to take advantage of it. “

Blaney, who was nursing a broken gear shifter most of the race, finished sixth. Christopher Bell, Almirola, Keselowski and Tyler Reddick rounded out the top 10.

With his win, Custer will be part of not only NASCAR’s Playoffs, but will be part of the field for NASCAR’s All-Star Race this Wednesday at Bristol Motor Speedway.  The next points-paying race will be at Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday.

“Hopefully, I even make it to Bristol because I’m gonna party pretty good,” Custer said.  “This is unbelievable — first win.  I didn’t think we were gonna come here and win.  I was looking for a solid run — pretty unbelievable.”

NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart
Kentucky Speedway
Sparta, Kentucky
Sunday, July 12, 2020

1. (29)  Cole Custer #, Ford, 267.

2. (9)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 267.

3. (10)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 267.

4. (3)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 267.

5. (7)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 267.

6. (11)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 267.

7. (34)  Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 267.

8. (4)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 267.

9. (6)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267.

10. (24)  Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 267.

11. (21)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 267.

12. (12)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267.

13. (19)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.

14. (15)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, 267.

15. (2)  Joey Logano, Ford, 267.

16. (33)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.

17. (23)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 267.

18. (20)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267.

19. (5)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 267.

20. (13)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 267.

21. (1)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267.

22. (16)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 267.

23. (8)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 267.

24. (30)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 267.

25. (17)  Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 267.

26. (37)  Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 267.

27. (18)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 265.

28. (27)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 264.

29. (14)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 264.

30. (36)  JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 260.

31. (31)  Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 259.

32. (26)  Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 257.

33. (25)  Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 257.

34. (35)  Joey Gase(i), Ford, 257.

35. (28)  Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, 255.

36. (22)  John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, Accident, 248.

37. (38)  Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Electrical, 170.

38. (32)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, Transmission, 159.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  133.636 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 59 Mins, 49 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .271 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 42 laps.

Lead Changes:  13 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   K. Busch 1-9;A. Almirola 10-137;R. Blaney 138-149;M. DiBenedetto 150;B. Keselowski 151-180;M. Truex Jr. 181-219;B. Keselowski 220-223;C. Custer # 224-227;W. Byron 228-231;M. Truex Jr. 232-248;R. Blaney 249-254;K. Harvick 255-265;M. Truex Jr. 266;C. Custer # 267.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Aric Almirola 1 time for 128 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 3 times for 57 laps; Brad Keselowski 2 times for 34 laps; Ryan Blaney 2 times for 18 laps; Kevin Harvick 1 time for 11 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 9 laps; Cole Custer # 2 times for 5 laps; William Byron 1 time for 4 laps; Matt DiBenedetto 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 10,9,22,21,12,4,88,1,14,19

Stage #2 Top Ten: 2,12,41,22,19,88,3,48,21,20

Greg Engle