Cole Custer said on Friday afternoon that his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing NASCAR Xfinity Series team might be ready to peak in time for the Playoffs.
Clearly, Custer is ahead of schedule, after a convincing victory in Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway.
After losing the lead to Austin Cindric on a restart with 26 laps left, Custer regained the top spot on Lap 231 of 250 and pulled away for his second victory of the season. In a race that dodged a persistent threat of rain, Custer crossed the finish line 2.639 seconds ahead of Cindric.
Cindric battled, but lost the lead to a charging Custer with 19 laps remaining. Image by Kinrade/LAT
Not only did Custer win for the fourth time in his career — and for the first time on a short track — but he also claimed the $100,000 Xfinity Dash 4 Cash bonus that goes to the highest finisher of four eligible contenders.
“We had a great car,” Custer said. “[Crew chief] Mike [Shiplett] made great adjustments as we went along. This one means a lot. We hadn’t had a short-track win yet. We’ve struggled a lot at short tracks, but this helps.
“A lot of my friends give me crap for being bad at this place, but I finally won, so I’ve got a little bit of bragging rights. I’m just so happy.”
Custer also served notice that he expects the team to get even better as the season progresses.
“I think we’re in a great place,” Custer said. “We’re going to get better and better. I think we’ve started to figure out our cars later in the race, and I think the second time we go back [to the same tracks], we’re going to be even better.
“Now it’s just me and Mike working together at these tracks for the first time. [But] we’re going to be a team that gets better and better as the year goes on.”
Custer led three times for a race-high 122 laps. Third-place finisher Justin Allgaier led 86 and won the first stage but had to fight back to the front after contrarian pit strategy left him 16th for a Lap 161 restart.
Allgaier was second when a caution slowed the race for the sixth time on Lap 211, but he spun his tires on the subsequent Lap 219 restart and fell back to fifth before recovering to third at the finish.
“The pit call we made at the end of the (second) stage there, it worked out, obviously, in our favor,” said Allgaier, who had crashed out of last week’s Bristol race after leading 138 laps. “But I pushed really hard to get back up to the front, and I just didn’t quite have enough there at the end to really do anything.
“I made a mistake on that restart. It really burns me up that I made the mistake, but all in all, a great day. I hope we got the monkey off our back.”
Cindric was hoping rain would halt the race when he was in the lead, but that didn’t happen. He did, however, qualify for the Dash 4 Cash two weeks hence at Talladega, where his sponsor, MoneyLion, also holds the entitlement for the race.
“Congrats to Cole and those guys,” Cindric said. “I tried my best on that restart to hold him off, but they were obviously the class of the field — him and the No. 7 (Allgaier). We had some fun and got some points, and now we will move on to Talladega for the MoneyLion 300.
“That will be a big one for me. I would love to win that race and the Dash for Cash there.”
Tyler Reddick came home fourth, followed by Ryan Sieg, who has finished no worse than 12th in the first eight races of the season. Zane Smith, John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Briscoe, Riley Herbst and Justin Haley completed the top 10.
Making the first of two planned starts this season, Elliott Sadler ran 12th in an emotional return to his home track.