Cole Custer claims protracted Xfinity victory
Published 12:01 am Sunday, February 27, 2022
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — Cole Custer persevered through four late restarts to win a protracted NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Fontana on Saturday night, claiming the title at his home track for the second time.
Custer comfortably held off Noah Gragson and Trevor Bayne in triple overtime after the final restart. Custer earned his 10th Xfinity Series victory in his SS-Green Light Racing Ford on the same track where he earned his third in 2019.
“Just an awesome car,” Custer said. “That thing was just a rocket ship all day. It was unreal how fast we were.”
Auto Club Speedway was forced to turn on its seldom-used lights for the finish because of a 23-minute red flag stoppage in double overtime. Custer was on the verge of reaching the white flag when Brandon Jones got pushed down the track and obliterated several sand barrels at the pit entrance, forcing a lengthy cleanup.
The second race of the Xfinity season featured four cautions in the final 10 laps and overtime of a race that set the new Xfinity Fontana record with 12 total cautions.
Earlier Saturday, Custer qualified in 21st in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford for the Cup Series race today. Custer won seven Xfinity races in 2020, but made just one start on the second-tier circuit in 2021.
Custer, the son of veteran racing executive Joe Custer, is from Ladera Ranch, an affluent coastal community in Orange County about 55 miles south of Fontana. The 24-year-old driver has been watching races at Auto Club Speedway since he was 5.
Custer won the Xfinity race at Fontana in 2019 when he wasn’t yet a full-time Cup Series driver, holding off Kyle Busch and postponing the star’s historic 200th victory.
Custer was in the lead with 10 laps left when a caution for debris sent the cars to the pits for what they thought was a big finish. In fact, they were just getting started.
Custer took the top spot from Gragson on the restart — but for only one lap before another caution went up. Custer and Gragson were ramping up for an overtime finish when Jones spun in the first turn, forcing yet another caution.
Custer got in front and was seconds away from the white flag when Jones was sent skidding into the sand barrels. Jones was able to get out of his car after the nasty wreck, which was caused by contact between Stefan Parsons and Sheldon Creed.
“I got halfway caught on the grass and halfway on the pavement, and the rear tires were in the grass so I could not get anything to grip up for me to get out of that grass,” Jones said. “I saw it coming. I never have hit the sand before. A ton of impact there, and I really didn’t feel much of anything, which is surprising, so good job by those guys.”
Creed is married to Parsons’ twin sister, Cami.
Landon Cassill’s car caught fire on the eighth lap and burst into an unusually bright-orange ball of flames, but Cassill pulled over and easily got out.
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