The Big 3 swept the podium at Kentucky Speedway on Friday night but it was Cole Custer coming out on top.
Custer, 21, won his fifth race of the season—and his third in the last six races.
Custer dominated the second half of the Alsco 300. He led a race-high 88 laps and held off Christopher Bell by 1.651-seconds for his seventh career NASCAR Xfinity Series win and his first in the Blue Grass State.
“This one just goes to my team,” Custer said. “The car was unbelievable at the end. They knew exactly what to do with it when the track changed and I was just lucky to drive it there at the end. I can’t thank Gene Haas and everybody at Haas Automation enough. You don't get cars like that very often.”
Tyler Reddick, Michael Annett and Chase Briscoe rounded out the top five and were the only other cars to finish on the lead lap. Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex, Ryan Sieg and Justin Haley completed the top 10.
Austin Cindric led the field to green, but Bell quickly secured the point. Bell won the first two stages of the Alsco 300. Stage 1 was slowed by JA Avila’s wreck in Turn 4 which destroyed the back end of the No. 99 Chevy. The yellow flag was displayed at the end of the stage and again on Lap 55 when Cindric spun in Turn 4. He recovered to finish 14th. Ronnie Bassett Jr. triggered the fourth caution on Lap 68 when he lost control of his car in Turn 1. The driver of the No. 90 Chevy finished 29th.
Despite leading twice for a total of 72 laps, Bell couldn't catch Custer over the final 104 laps.
“We just kind of got worse there,” said Bell who led 72 laps. “My car was driving really good. Probably just got a little too comfortable there, needed to free it up a little bit. But our Ruud Supra was really fast. We were able to win the two stages, so we got a couple more playoff points. Just have to work on a couple more things and we’ll be good.”
Bell remains second in the Xfinity Series standings—67 points behind Reddick. Although Custer sits third in points, clearly his third season on the NXS tour has been his best, particularly with the addition of crew chief Mike Shiplett to the No. 00 Stewart Haas Racing team.
“It is pretty unbelievable to win once the last two years and then this year we have won five. It is a testament to our team and the guys made great adjustments throughout the night and knew exactly how the track was going to change. I just can’t thank them enough. Gene Haas, Tony Stewart, Ford Performance, it is just unbelievable.”
A solid day for Ford Performance
While Custer was the big winner on Friday night, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup side of Stewart-Haas Racing was solid during Quaker State 400 qualifying earlier in the day.
Daniel Suarez bumped his teammate Aric Almirola off of the provisional pole with a lap of 184.590 mph (29.254-seconds).
For Suarez, the pole marked the second of his Cup career and his first since taking over the No. 41 Ford. He also won the pole for the July Pocono race last year.
“The 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang has been pretty quick,” Suarez said. “We haven’t done a lot to it. It is big when you unload the car from the hauler and the car is fast out of the box. I feel very good about it. My crew chief and my engineer have done an amazing job. My entire team building this race car. We showed speed today so hopefully we can keep up that track position.
“Track position will be huge tomorrow. Hopefully we can keep it all night long and make a good clean race. I feel like we have everything it takes to make it happen so why not. We have had a lot of first time winners lately, why not have a third one here.”
All four SHR Mustangs qualified in the top seven—Kevin Harvick was fifth and Clint Bowyer posted the seventh fastest lap. Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski rolls off third, accounting for five Fords in the top seven.