Cole Custer secures Xfinity Series title after Phoenix win

Cole Custer secures Xfinity Series title after Phoenix win

Cole Custer won the season-ending race at Phoenix Raceway on Saturday, securing the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.

Cole Custer won the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in Phoenix in the face of a few late restarts to mark his first series victory. All the Championship 4 contenders had all moved up to the front by the end of the race and all four drivers engaged in a battle to the finish.

Custer returned to full-time Xfinity Series racing this year following a disappointing three-year run in the NASCAR Cup Series that resulted in just one victory. This was his third victory of the season.

However, just moments after the last restart, Custer showed his mettle by falling from first to third in the running order. John Hunter Nemechek who was contending in the Championship 4, had a brief lead but lost it to Just Allgaier when he was unable to maneuver his No. 20 Toyota in Turn 1.

On lap 195 of the scheduled 200, Anthony Alfredo spun, causing the race to be extended by means of an overtime restart. On the final restart, the race winner and championship contenders went four wide.

The front-runners for the championship took the four top spots; John Hunter Nemechek started the race in second place while JR Motorsports duo Sam Mayer and Justin Allgaier restarted third and fourth, respectively.

Custer maneuvered his No. 00 Stewart Haas Racing Ford to the inside of Allgaier’s Chevrolet as the three contenders for the championship ran side by side down the backstretch and Custer eventually took the lead. After a lap, Custer secured his first win at Phoenix and the thirteenth in his career, finishing 0.601 seconds ahead of Sheldon Creed, who was gaining ground, and an additional 0.007 seconds ahead of Allgaier.

“I thought it was over,” said Custer. “I mean, went from first to third, and I was able to shift the car all night and Doug Yates horsepower worked out, pulled me off the corner.

“I can’t believe we won that thing after going back to third on that restart.

“Man, I can’t say enough about these guys (his Stewart Haas team). We started the year off and it was a struggle, and we had to kind of dig deep with each other, really talk about how to get better and to see how much this group has grown through the year.

“I’ve been waiting to hear (congratulations from Xfinity Series director) Wayne (Auton) on the radio for a few times now, so I’m pumped.”

By lap 202, Sheldon Creed had moved up to second place. Mayer came in fifth, Riley Herbst in fourth, and Allgaier in third. Nemechek finished 28th at the finish after crashing into the wall on the last lap.

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A lap-102 caution for J.J. Yeley was immediately followed by a lap-110 restart in which Nemechek overtook Custer for the lead. On lap 127, Creed grabbed a momentary lead, but on lap 131 Nemechek recovered the coveted race lead.

Lap 137 saw another wave of the yellow flag for a spin by Myatt Snider. Nemechek maintained his lead following the pit stops, with all four championship drivers remaining in the top five joined by second-place runner Creed.

On lap 157, Custer took the lead again. Connor Mosack’s lap-181 caution resulted in a two-tire stop for Daniel Hemric, who was first off pit road. However, Custer took the lead back and on the lap-189 restart Allgaier took second place.

By the eighth and last caution of the race, Nemechek had overtaken Allgaier for second place. When the first stage came to an end on lap 45, Nemechek was in the lead, but stage points were not awarded to title contenders as Custer trailed behind.

Nemechek overtook Austin Hill for the lead on lap 33 after taking second on lap 24 and at the conclusion of the stage, Hill was running third. Following a lap-eight caution for a Kyle Sieg spin, the race restarted with Hill leading pole sitter Sammy Smith. Pit-road speeding led to a penalty for Smith after the first stage.

On lap three, Allgaier spun after making contact with Nemechek, triggering the first caution of the race. By lap 29, Allgaier was back among the top ten and after the first stage, he placed seventh and Mayer fifth.

Custer was leading on lap 90, at the conclusion of the second 45-lap stage. Mayer came in third, followed by Nemechek while Allgaier had dropped back to ninth.

Derek Kraus’s crash on lap 86 brought the second stage to a caution finish. With Nemechek leading the way, the championship four were in the top four spots following the first stage of pit stops. At the restart on lap-53, Custer took the lead and led the race for the remainder of the stage.

Stage two got started with a restart penalty aimed at Creed. He had returned to within the top-10 in eighth place by the end of the stage.

After the second stage, Custer continued to lead through pit stops, as Hill placed third among the top four contenders for the championship ahead of Nemechek while Creed resumed in the top five. Meanwhile, Allgaier got started from ninth.

Josh Berry joined teammates Allgaier and Mayer after finishing sixth, ensuring that JR Motorsports had three cars inside the top-10 at the finish. Hill came in seventh, followed by Chandler Smith in eighth, Sammy Smith in ninth and Kaz Grala in tenth.

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