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NASCAR Cup at Kentucky: The rookie Custer’s amazing last-lap dash takes the win

NASCAR Cup at Kentucky: The rookie Custer’s amazing last-lap dash takes the win

NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway
Custer steals the win in a last gasp final restart

Sparta, KY, July 12/20 (GRW): Who would have picked the rookie Cole Custer to win this race? Nobody. Even accepting that NASCAR’s restart rules are designed to produce unexpected results, no one who knew the ways things worked, would ever have thought of Custer. He was restarting from the top of the third row with just two laps to the checker. We have all seen this before. One of the two drivers in the front row would charge out in to a lead and hold on to the finish or another driver from the front row or the second row might force his way past and take the win. But a rookie? From the third row? Never.

But it happened. When the green waved with two laps remaining, the two out front – Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex – surged forward – but Custer turned up above them and he was coming with a little help from Matt DiBenedetto. As the two leaders battled side-by-side, Ryan Blaney took a low line – too low as it turned out – and he bumped over a culvert and slid up into the side of Harvick. This damaged Harvick’s car and he slowed in a cloud of smoke. Meanwhile, Custer was up near the wall charging forward and he took the checker by a 0.3-second margin ahead of Truex.

DiBenedetto was third ahead of a crippled Harvick. Kurt Busch was fifth ahead of Blaney, whose mad rush to an imaginary lower line had cost him positions.

Frankly, I have never seen Custer, the son of an executive at Stewart-Haas, as ever being more than a good journeyman driver – but now he has a genuine Cup win and he will be in this week’s All-Star race at Bristol rubbing elbows with the established stars. Maybe I have been wrong about him and this will be the start of a great career for him and I will have to revise my opinion of him. I wish him well in the spotlight.

PHOTO NCS Kentucky VL 071220Cole Custer with the spoils of victory, having won his first NASCAR Cup Series race (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“We were so good all day, our car was so good,” a beaming Custer said. “Obviously it wasn’t the easiest track to pass on so we were kind of stuck back there, but that was the best car I’ve ever driven in my life.”

Early in the race, Aric Almirola had taken over the lead and he remained dominant for the next 128 laps of the 267-lap race, winning the first Stage which came on lap 80. The race was running caution-free until Matt Kenseth spun on lap 154, just a few laps before the end of the second Stage.

Given that there had been a round of green-flag pit stops only a few laps earlier, few cars came into the pits during this end-of-Stage yellow.

The jumble created by cars making pit stops under green had resulted in Brad Keselowski, who had not been a factor up to then, being declared the leader the end of the second Stage. But things soon got sorted out with Truex leading over Keselowski and Blaney until the next and final round of green-flag pit stops began on lap 206 when Jimmie Johnson came in.

Then, in the middle of this cycle of green-flag stops, Brendan Poole cut down a tire and brought out the yellow flag. This created a bit of a shuffle in the race order at the front but it was still Truex taking the green alongside Blaney. At this point it was looking like the race winner would be one of these two.

Then John Hunter Nemechek crashed on lap 244 producing another yellow and another restart – again Blaney and Truex in the front row – ahead of Harvick and Johnson. But, on the restart, Johnson spun, producing another yellow.

Once more it was Blaney and Truex in the front row but Harvick was lined up alongside Kurt Busch in the second row. On the restart, which came on lap 255, Harvick shot out past the front row cars and took the lead. Now he was looking like the favourite to win the race. But Kenseth spun for a second time and we had yet another yellow. This produced the final restart with Custer in the third row – a position he was able to turn into a win in those frantic final two laps.

• Click HERE for the results of the Quaker State 400.

• The next regular NASCAR Cup Series race will be run at Texas Motor Speedway, next Sunday, July 19. However, the annual NASCAR All-Star race will be contested this coming Wednesday, July 15 at Bristol Motor Speedway – a change from the long-established Charlotte home for this non-championship race.

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