NASCAR has a new “Big 3,” and it’s not in the Monster Energy Cup Series.
Look no further than the Xfinity Series to find a trio of racers in a league of their own. Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Saturday’s Pocono Raceway winner Cole Custer have separated themselves from the competition—and it’s not even close.
Those three drivers occupy the top three rungs of the series, but that's not all. When it comes to winning—and, ultimately,that’s what the series champion must do at Homestead-Miami Speedway—Reddick, Bell and Custer collectively have accumulated eight victories in the first 12 races.
The common thread between these drivers is not only their ability to win, but their teams' recurring ability to find a way to overcome adversity. The Pocono Green 250 was no exception.
After the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing team changed the transmission in Reddick’s car, the driver was forced to start the race at the tail end of the field. By Lap 5, Reddick had worked his way back into the top 10.
Bell spun on Lap 17 while running in the top five. By Lap 31, the No. 20 was at the point.
Just for good measure, NASCAR threw a questionable penalty at Reddick’s pit crew after one of his tire carriers dropped a tire on a green-flag stop on Lap 79. Reddick served a pass-thru penalty on Lap 83 and once again came from the rear to the lead when the race restarted in overtime 19 laps later.
Custer, who led a race-high 58 laps, took advantage of Reddick brushing the wall in Turn 1. Once the No. 2 Chevrolet got loose out of the final corner, Custer capitalized for his third win in 2019.
“I just had no idea how he stuck the bottom because I drove it in there the same as I did the other restarts and I barely felt like I made it,” Custer said of Reddick's short-lived pass for the lead after the final restart on Lap 102. “He drove in there like three car lengths deeper, and somehow still made the corner. I thought he was going to blow the bottom and I was going to drive right under him. I don't know. I was really shocked by that. I guess I will know that for the future.
“He was driving really hard there at the end and actually hit the wall in Turn 1 (on the final lap). I knew he was giving it his all, and I was going to have a shot. I just needed to hit my marks and try to get on his bumper to try to pack some air on him. I was able to just kind of make it happen there on the last corner.”
When Custer was asked whether he felt like a championship favorite, the driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford did not hesitate.
“I think it's a toss-up between us, the 2 (Reddick) and 20 (Bell),” Custer said. “I think any of us could win it right now. We are all pretty even. We are going to get better and better as the year goes on. As we go back to tracks a second time, with me and (crew chief) Mike (Shiplett) working together again, it’s going to help. The second half of the year we will get better and better.”
Under Shiplett’s direction this season, Custer has established himself as a weekly contender. The 21-year-old racer has been consistent throughout his NXS career and has always benefitted from competitive equipment under the SHR banner. Saturday marked the first time he’s won from the pole—and he’s accumulated nine-career poles, including three this season. His three victories and 464 laps led in 2019 are personal bests for Custer, and there are still 21 races remaining.
Custer, who sits third in the standings, barely carved into Reddick’s series lead. He currently trails second-place Bell by 22 points and Reddick by 99. But as Bell and Custer both discovered last year in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it doesn’t matter how many races a driver wins in the regular season or how many points were earned. The title will be decided over 200 laps.
“It all still boils down to one race at Homestead,” Shiplett said. “And he is very good there.”
Bell and Custer were co-favorites entering Homestead last year, Bell because he amassed seven victories in the first 32 races. Custer was the defending race winner. He led 182 of 200 laps in the 2017 Eco Boost 400 to score his first Xfinity Series victory.
But Reddick surprised both drivers by rim-riding his way to the title, and like Custer and Bell, he’s just getting better. No doubt watching this Big 3 over the next six months will be scintillating. May the best man win at Homestead.