Kentucky’s The Place of Custer’s First Stand

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 13 2020

Cole Custer scored a rare victory for a NASCAR Cup Series rookie on Sunday. (Photos courtesy of NASCAR)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

NASCAR Cup rookie Cole Custer kept using the words “unbelievable” and “unimaginable” when describing his first-ever series victory in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

And why shouldn’t he? Until a week ago at Indianapolis the 22-year-old Custer had never finished in the top-five and he possessed only one top-10 in the strange 2020 season that has been void of practice sessions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with Sunday’s victory at the 1.5-mile Kentucky track Custer possesses a playoff berth and a position in Wednesday’s All-Star race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“It’s just unbelievable, said Custer, who became the first rookie to win a non-weather shortened Cup race since 2007 when Juan Pablo Montoya accomplished the feat at Sonoma. “I just came into this race hoping to get a solid finish and get us pointed in the right direction going towards the playoffs. To come out of it winning is just unimaginable.

“To be in the All-Star race right now takes a lot of stress off. It’s unbelievable.”

Custer noted it’s difficult for a rookie to know what to expect without practice, qualifying and testing. 

“You kind of go in there with some ideas of what to expect,” Custer continued. “Until you get a real feel for the car, you’re just kind of guessing, really. You can look at as much data or film as you want, but when you don’t have the feel for it or what these guys are actually doing when they’re out there, it’s kind of tough.”

  This year’s NASCAR season has been filled with surprises since the sport returned to action in mid-May and the final two laps at Kentucky were no exception. 

Driver Cole Custer is rushed by his team after they won at Kentucky.

The stage was set by the eighth and final caution flag that occurred when Matt Kenseth spun on lap 261. When the field headed for the restart the top five, respectively, were Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch. Custer sat sixth with Matt DiBenedetto directly behind him in eighth. 

When the green flag waved with two laps remaining in the 267-lap event, Custer shot to the outside of Keselowski and received a tremendous push from DiBenedetto. Blaney remained behind Truex, who was forced to restart on the inside lane when leader Harvick elected the outside groove. Harvick and Truex remained side by side as they speed off turn two. Truex then slid up behind Harvick, but Custer had a tremendous run in the outside lane thanks to the push from DiBenedetto. When Harvick moved down, Truex used the high groove to pull alongside him in turns three and four. With Blaney on the inside, Harvick in the middle and Truex on the outside, they received the white flag running three wide. 

However, the young Custer never lifted in the high groove and his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford made it four-wide as they raced into turn one. Blaney bumped Harvick, knocking him up and into Truex as Custer shot into the lead. A tire rub from the incident relegated Harvick to a fourth-place finish, while DiBenedetto claimed third behind Custer and Truex.

Custer cited his three years in NASCAR’s Truck Series as providing him with the confidence he needed to make the winning move.

“I think our restarts are very similar to the Truck Series,” said Custer, who led twice for five laps in the event. “You just got to keep momentum up, make three-wide moves.

“Overall, it’s a combination of everything, everything you learned throughout your career, trying to time the restarts right, get momentum on people, get to their outside. Once you’re up front, you got to take advantage of it.” 

  The Ladera Ranch, Calif, native has now won in all three of NASCAR’s national touring series. He recorded nine victories in the Xfinity Series and two in the trucks. His first-ever NASCAR victory came in the Truck Series at Loudon, N.H., at age 16. 

This also is crew chief Mike Shiplett’s first Cup victory, thus giving him wins in NASCAR’s three national touring series. He moved into Cup from the Xfinity Series with Custer and has seen him mature as a person and a driver.

“He talks a lot more. He’s vocal in meetings,” Shiplett said about Custer. “He tells us what we need in the car.”

Last year, Custer won the Kentucky Xfinity race and Shiplett noted that provided his driver with a great deal of confidence at the speedway. 

“He knows what it takes to get out front and lead races, to put himself there,” Shiplett said. “We had the right amount of downforce for the track conditions. Everything just worked perfectly.”


NASCAR Cup Series Race

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


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 13 2020
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