FONTANA, Calif.—The California Kid pulled off the upset to win at Auto Club Speedway.
Cole Custer, 21, who grew up 60 miles south in Ladera Ranch, said on Friday he’d be disappointed if he didn’t leave the track with the trophy.
Not only did Custer win the Production Alliance Group 300, but he also stopped Kyle Busch’s quest to reach 200 national series victories while accomplishing the task.
“You look in the mirror and see that black car and hope it doesn't get bigger,” said Custer, who led 29 laps, including the last 19, en route to his third-career Xfinity race win. “You just have to keep telling yourself to hit your marks, don't overdrive it. Everything you have learned in the race you need to perfect it and focus on yourself and not what is behind you.
“I think it just worked out that we had a better car than he did at the end of the race and I was able to hit my marks and pull away a little bit.”
Busch finished second, followed by Christopher Bell, polesitter Tyler Reddick, rookie Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Brandon Jones, Ryan Preece, Justin Allgaier and Justin Haley.
Busch won the first two stages of Saturday’s contest. He led an event-high 98 laps and appeared on course to win his 95th Xfinity Series race. Then Austin Cindric spun on Lap 111 to trigger the fourth caution. When Busch came to pit road on Lap 114, the No. 18 team suffered a double whammy a problem with the jack on the left side and an uncontrolled tire during the stop.
Busch lined up 14th with Christopher Bell in the lead and Custer running second with 34 laps remaining. Custer captured the lead on the next lap. By the time the fifth and final caution occurred on Lap 124, following contact between Brandon Jones and Ryan Preece, Busch was running fifth behind Custer, Bell, Allgaier and Briscoe.
Michael Annett and Noah Gragson remained on the track while the rest of the leaders pitted. Bell was the first off of pit road followed by Allgaier, Custer, Busch, Reddick and Briscoe. On fresh tires, Bell easily gained the lead on the restart. One lap later, Custer returned to the point.
Busch passed Bell for second on Lap 136 but was unable to catch the No. 00 Thompson Pipe Ford, as Custer wheeled to a 1.927-second lead at the finish.
“I just wasn’t fast enough,” Busch said. “At the end there, he was really good and really fast and had a good car. They got better throughout the day and got closer to our rear bumper there on that second-to-last run before we had our pit road problems and dropped us back in the pack.
“Obviously, we were able to rebound, but when you have a fast guy out front and a fast guy in second, they run the same times and they stay the same distance apart. We just weren’t quick enough there at the end to chase them down. Hate it for all the iK9 Supra guys and everybody that supports us and supports our program. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Reddick retained the points lead but now just has a seven-point lead over Custer who is enjoying a breakthrough season under the direction of veteran crew chief Mike Shiplett. In five starts, Custer has posted two poles, three top fives and four top 10s.
“Having Mike, I think that has been huge,” Custer said. “They had won a lot of races at Ganassi last year and has a lot of experience over the years with different drivers and he brings a new mindset to our organization from where we started.
“It helped a lot. It came together pretty late, right when Ganassi shut down their Xfinity team. I think it has been a gain for our team.”
Before the weekend began, Custer said he’d be disappointed if he left Auto Club Speedway without the trophy. To beat Busch in the process, was a dream realized for the Stewart-Haas racer.
“It means a ton,” Custer said. “Obviously, he will be one of the legends in our sport. He will be a Hall of Famer. It means a lot to race with those guys and beat them. It means a ton to come out on top and keep him at 199.”