For the second straight year, as Tyler Reddick celebrated an Xfinity Series championship, his competition was left looking for answers.
Reddick led the ‘Big 3’ across the finish line Saturday evening at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Finishing over a second behind was Cole Custer, who rode the wall and swapped the lead with Reddick multiple times over the final 30 laps only to be passed for good with 18 laps to go.
“Tyler can rip the fence here,” said Custer. “I don’t know — I can match his lap time there, out there at the end, but he was just a tick better where he could be on my bumper when he was behind me and do a slide job. I could keep up with him and there at the end, but I felt like I needed to find a way to close the gap.
“I was, like, three car lengths back the whole time, so I was like, ‘I need to try and figure out a way to close the gap’, and I just got in the fence a little bit. It’s been a great year, so we have a lot to hang our hats on. It sucks running second again, but we can still stay positive about how great of a year we’ve had.”
Custer rebounded to be in contention after pitting under green flag conditions on lap 59 for a loose right rear tire. Falling a lap down, Custer was scored 32nd but drove himself back on the lead lap before a caution flew to end the second stage. He led 15 laps.
“There’s just nothing you can really change about it, so you just kind of take it how it is and make it the best you can,” said Custer. “It worked out good because we were able to get our lap back and then kind of race our way up through there, and it was still we had to adjust on the car a lot throughout the day. Freaking out is not going to help you at all, so you might as well try and take your lumps and move on.”
Finishing fifth was Christopher Bell, who led 40 laps and was over 17 seconds behind at the checkered flag. With under 40 laps to go, Bell slowed off Turn 4 to make his way to pit road but then turned right back onto the track and pitted the next lap.
“It was just a miscommunication,” said Bell. “I don’t know if my spotter didn’t get told what our cue word was, but I got told the cue word to pit, and then all of a sudden, I started pitting, and he said, ‘not now, not now.’ But that didn’t matter whenever you get beat by 17 seconds. I’m glad that didn’t have an effect on the outcome of the race.”
Despite the miscue, Bell was in command of the title race after the final round of pit stops since he came before Reddick and Custer. But he was quickly caught by Reddick and Custer and after being passed, began to fade.
“It was oddly familiar,” said Bell of the issues he fought in the race. “I don’t know; I don’t get it. For whatever reason, whenever the tires start falling off here, I just struggle. I don’t know what we’re missing to get me comfortable where we can go around here.
“But yeah, I’m OK for 10, 20 (laps), and then after that, we just all apart for some reason.”
Bell led the series with eight wins. Custer had seven wins, and Reddick finished with six.