KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Despite Cole Custer’s best efforts to keep his mile-and-a-half hot streak going at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, a late-race tire issue foiled a strong finish and led to heartbreak in the Heartland for the NASCAR XFINITY Series rookie.
Custer’s Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang entered the first race in the Round of 8 with a run of four-straight top 10 finishes, including three on 1.5-mile ovals, and the California teenager looked to keep the momentum up as he chased a more secure place among the championship favorites.
Starting seventh, he was able to stay around the top 10 for most of the race, scoring points in both of the first two stages.
That meant that all eyes were on the No. 00, including team co-owner Gene Haas, who was watching alongside Custer’s father Joe from Circuit of the Americas as Haas F1 prepared to qualify for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
However, a late-race issue resulting in a tire blowout plagued what was set to be a phenomenal day for the 19-year-old.
“We were a solid car, but we could have done better. We fought hard to keep it in the top 10 and we got good stage points,” Custer said. “There was just nothing we could do at the end of the race … we ran over something late in the race and it crippled the right front. It’s just how it goes. There was a big cut in the tire and we had to pit.”
That pit stop relegated Custer to an eventual 19th-place finish, two laps in arrears to the leaders at the checkered flag.
But despite the lackluster finish, Custer admitted he was able to come out of Kansas having learned quite a bit about the track in his first race as an XFINITY driver at the facility.
His knowledge base, he said, gives him confidence about the races to come.
“We didn’t race here all year so it was hard to know what to expect. We got our car better all day. This place isn’t our strong suit, and we made the best of our day,” Custer admitted. “I think we have some good tracks coming up for the (No.) 00 team.”
Custer leaves Kansas eight points back of the elimination line, sitting last among the playoff drivers in the standings with two races to go before the Championship 4 is set for Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
However, the damage could have been much worse had it not been for the five stage points Custer earned early on.
If not for them, he might well have been in a near-must-win situation for the next two races at Texas and Phoenix.
“I thought (the pit strategy we employed) was great,” Custer said. “I thought that it got us a lot of stage points, more than if we would have stayed out. It was a great call. The stage points saved us today. The good news is, we’ve still got two races to make up some ground.”
Custer and the rest of the XFINITY Series will have a week off to rebound before the Round of 8 resumes at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 4, with the running of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM).
About the Writer
Chris Murdock is an aspiring journalist and an avid racing fan, currently serving as a Midwest and NASCAR correspondent for Race Chaser Online. Murdock is in his final semester at Ohio University, finishing a degree in Broadcast Television.
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