Cole Custer knew what he needed to do on the final restart at Kentucky Speedway, and it worked to perfection.
“I just knew I had to get to the top, and I knew I didn’t want to get put three-wide,” said Custer. “My spotter Andy Houston did a great job of making sure he kept me in the right spots and everything. Those few restarts before I had gone to the top, and it worked really good, and you’re able to keep so much momentum up, so I was like, I have to get to the top here and see what happens.
“The 4 [Kevin Harvick] and the 19 [Martin Truex Jr.] got together, and it kind of opened the door for me to get a lot momentum on them, and it played into our favor.”
Restarting sixth in the outside lane, Custer was shoved into Turn 1 by Matt DiBenedetto, which put him outside of Brad Keselowski and into the fourth position. He then had a full head of steam down the backstretch and was able to use the outside lane further as leader Kevin Harvick battled with Martin Truex Jr.
Off Turn 4, Custer went to the farthest outside lane on Harvick and Truex, as Ryan Blaney tried to use the apron. Custer cleared the other three drivers going into Turn 1 and earned his first win in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I had just cleared the 4 [Harvick], and just as I got off (Turn) 4 and got straight, the 41 [Custer] was to my outside,” said Truex, who finished second. “I just didn’t expect him. I don’t know if my spotter saw it coming, but by the time he told me, (Custer) was already next to me, so there was no way I could even try to block. At the same time, I think he had so much momentum I don’t know I could even have blocked him anyway without crashing us both. … Not much I could have done differently there.”
Truex was second on the final restart with two laps to go. However, the inside lane had not been the strongest all day, and Truex was resigned to likely finishing second to Harvick had things gone differently.
“I didn’t have the control of the restart on the last one, so really for me, I was most probably going to run second just because the way the restarts are here,” said Truex. “When you’re on the bottom, it’s just not that good. Again, it was unfortunate the way we lost the lead just based on the timing lines and when the cautions flew … when you have control of the restart on the outside, it’s definitely the best place to be, and he was probably going to win the race if I didn’t screw up and get into his left rear off of 2, which I apologized to him for and he understands.
“But it’s the nature of these races. It’s all momentum, and you’ve got to be in the right lane on restarts.”
Harvick finished fourth, while Blaney slid to sixth. The two collided after Blaney went down on the apron and got loose going over the bumps, which gave Harvick a tire rub.
“I had a couple of good restarts there and got the car better, but still just not where we needed to be — but the restarts worked out in our favor, and we were able to get the lead and Martin just misjudged there on the backstretch and got me sideways,” said Harvick. “I got out of the gas, and that just brought everybody into the picture, and then we were four-wide on the front straightaway here, and the 12 [Blaney] hit the drain and came up and hit the side of the car and then I couldn’t see.
“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.”
Custer goes from 25th in the standings to clinching a playoff berth. He led five laps in his first career, which comes in his 20th start.
“I’m surprised, yes,” said Custer. “We have definitely done a lot better job these last few weeks, we started putting the whole picture together, and you have to have the whole thing working together. Whether it’s pit stops and restarts, me doing my job, or having the car perfectly right, and when you’re just a little bit off in this series, you are going to pay for it big time. You can’t be off in one area too much, you have to perfect all those areas and work at it, and it’s a lot of days when your eyes are sore looking at film and trying to figure everything out.
“I think we still have a ways to go, we can do a lot better for sure, but I think we’re to the point now where we can race with these guys, and we can take advantage of it when we’re near the front.”