By David Morgan, Associate Editor
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Cole Custer’s return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series after a three-year stint in the Cup Series may have been a “demotion,” per se, but the driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford took the move in stride and now can call himself a champion.
“You get knocked down a little bit and you just want to prove that you can go out there and do it,” Custer said. “I think these guys have just really always believed in me all year and I just can’t thank them enough for giving me really fast race cars and still believing in me when things weren’t going great.”
The 25-year-old native of Ladera Ranch, Calif. picked up right where he left off in 2019 during his last full-time season in the Xfinity Series, winning on two different occasions and putting himself back in position to race for a championship.
After starting the night in seventh-place, Custer made his presence clear on the one-mile oval in the Arizona desert, leading four different times for a total of 96 laps. With a clear lead over fellow title contender John Hunter Nemechek in the closing laps, the championship was his to lose.
The came the dreaded yellow flag with five laps to go, pushing the race into overtime, and giving Nemechek, Justin Allgaier, and Sam Mayer one more shot and surpassing him for the trophy.
Starting on the outside of the front row for the restart, Custer ceded ground to both Nemechek and Allgaier through the dogleg, but when both drivers washed up the track in Turn 2, he was able to pull into a three-wide tie with them heading into Turn 3.
By the time the field was back around to the finish line to take the white flag, Custer had pulled clear of his championship rivals and from there he was able to keep them in his rear-view mirror for the final lap, crossing the line to score the win and the title.
Justin Allgaier, who was making his sixth Championship 4 appearance and like Custer seeking his first championship, finished the race in third place to once again fall short of an elusive Xfinity Series title.
Allgaier’s JR Motorsports teammate, Sam Mayer, making his first appearance in the Championship 4, finished the race in fifth. Last, but not least was Nemechek, who was Custer’s most fierce rival in the race, leading 66 laps, cut a tire on the last restart and came home in 28th place.
“I thought it was over,” Custer said of the late caution and the restart. “I…