FONTANA, Calif. (March 16, 2019) – When opportunity knocked, Cole Custer seized his chance at creating a sentiment of personal history while putting someone else’s NASCAR history on hold.
Ladera Ranch, Calif. native Custer (No. 00 Thompson Pipe/Haas CNC Ford) came back to his home track in NASCAR and led the final 19 laps to win the 21st Annual Production Alliance Group 300.
Custer, 21, earned his first victory of 2019 and first win in three career starts at Auto Club Speedway (his third NASCAR Xfinity Series win in 76 career starts). He finished sixth in the same race last year.
“I am pretty pumped up. This is one of the best tracks,” Custer said. “It’s unreal. I grew up racing at the Orange Show (in San Bernardino). I grew up racing in Irwindale, Ventura. To come back here racing where I grew up, it’s a big deal. I’ve never won this early in the season yet, so it’s going to be a little more relaxing than in past years.”
The first three-quarters of the race seemed headed towards a predictable result and ho-hum finish making for a not-so-typical feat.
Kyle Busch (No. 18 iK9 Toyota) was attempting to make NASCAR history at Auto Club Speedway. His next checkered flag will be his 200th career NASCAR national series win and tie him with motor racing legend Richard Petty for the all-time NASCAR national series win mark.
Busch, whose six NASCAR Xfinity Series victories at Auto Club Speedway are the most all time, started the race on the outside of Row 1 and came into Fontana’s two-mile oval riding the momentum of sweeping last week’s NASCAR Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup races outside of Phoenix.
All the more reason for Custer to take extra satisfaction in temporarily halting Busch’s charge to history.
Said Custer: “How great of a driver Kyle Busch is … he’s one of the legends of our sport. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer. It means a ton to beat guys like that and to keep him at 199.”
Given that no one else in Saturday’s 37-car field had ever won at Auto Club Speedway, Busch was the prohibitive favorite.
Busch captured the 35-lap Stage 1 and Stage 2, leading every lap in Stage 2 and 60 of the first 70 laps. After leading 98 laps in the race, it all went awry after a sloppy error by Busch’s pit crew upon making a pit stop on Lap 114.
While going through a tire change, Busch was penalized for an uncontrolled tire on pit road, moving him to the rear for the Lap 117 restart as Christopher Bell (No. 20 Rheem Toyota) assumed the lead until losing it to Custer on Lap 119.
Busch made his way back to third position on Lap 132, passed Bell on Lap 136 and only had to run down Custer, who lost the lead on lap 126 but got back out in front six laps later. It wasn’t to be as Busch finished 1.927 seconds behind Custer.
“Just a lack of grip there at the end,” Busch said. “We just didn’t have the speed to match the double-zero (Custer). It is what it is, I guess. Our Supra was fast. Just not enough there at the end.”
Added Custer: “We had a good car all day. I felt we could run right with (Busch),” Custer said. “It was just a matter of getting the track position. When he made that mistake on pit road, I knew I just needed clean air. I’m sure he was a little frustrated.”
Busch is NASCAR’s winningest Xfinity Series driver (94 wins), to go along with his 52 Monster Energy Cup and 53 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series titles. All of Petty’s wins came while racing in the Monster Energy Cup Series.
Busch will take another stab at tying Petty’s mark at 12:30 p.m. Sunday when he starts on the outside of Row 2 for the 23rd Annual Auto Club 400.
Custer was one of two California drivers entered in the Production Alliance Group 300. 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and Sunoco Rookie of the Year Tyler Reddick (No. 2 Hurdl Chevrolet), from Corning, started in the pole position and finished fourth.
Reddick, 23, gained his fourth Xfinity Series pole with a lap time on Friday of 40.031 seconds (179.861 mph) and leads the NASCAR Xfinity Series points standings by seven points over Custer.
Bell placed third in his second career start at Auto Club Speedway.
Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300 was the 30th NASCAR Xfinity Series race run at Auto Club Speedway. The race featured 13 lead changes among six drivers and five caution flags for a total of 28 laps.