DARLINGTON, S.C.—Cole Custer won the consolation prize at Darlington Raceway on Saturday.
After Denny Hamlin’s No. 18 Toyota was disqualified for being low in post-race inspection, the victory was awarded to Custer, who crossed the line second in the Sports Clips VFW 200.
This is the fifth time this season that NASCAR has rescinded a win in one of its top series.
“It’s a really strange feeling, honestly—obviously,” Custer said after his sixth win of the season. “You don’t want that way, but it is what it is. We all play by the same rules. Was that the deciding factor? No, with everything he won the race.
“But it is what it is. We get the points. We get the money. We get everything including the trophy. So we’ll take it.”
Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Briscoe, Brandon Jones, Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier and Austin Cindric rounded out the top 10.
Custer wasn’t the class of the field, but he started third and remained in contention throughout the 147-lap contest. Reddick led a race-high 70 circuits and the first stage. Blaney, who started from the pole, regained the lead from Reddick on Lap 85 and won the second stage. Custer finished sixth in Stage 1, fourth in Stage 2, restarted second for the final segment and held his own as Hamlin carved through the field.
Custer never fell lower than fourth in the field. He restarted on the second row following the fifth and final caution after Josh Williams and Landon Cassill tangled on Lap 133. The No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford restarted second with 10 laps to go and finished .602 behind Hamlin’s illegal ride.
“This last month has been really tough on us, so I think having a solid run and having a shot to win really means a lot and we can take that,” Custer said. “We’ve obviously had really fast cars. I mean, Mike (Shiplett, crew chief) has given me really fast cars to work with at these tracks and pretty much every single weekend.
“I think our pit crew did an awesome job today and everybody at Roush Yates Engines, and everybody at the shop, it was just a perfect day, really.”
Reddick extended his points to 51 over Bell. Although Hamlin initially took the checkered flag, Earnhardt won the popularity contest. Shouts of “Junior” rang out as the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet walked down pit road.
“I made such a bad qualifying run—man, you just can’t get in these things and expect to do well,” said Earnhardt, who started 14th. “It’s so hard. I figured in the race maybe I could get going. I thought we did pretty good. I was pretty happy with it. I don’t know how much better we could have done running every single week—maybe we could have finished a little better but I don't think much better. The whole process and plan was perfect for me to get acclimated with the car, get comfortable. I stayed off the fence. We rubbed it a little bit but didn’t hit it hard enough to mess up the car or anything.
“Really, really had some fun racing those guys out there. Got to race with some of those guys who run up front all the time which is what I wanted to do, what I hoped to do. About halfway through the race, I remembered all the reasons why I don't do this anymore. It’s hot. It’s hard. What I’m reminded of every time I get to do these races is how much we ought to respect the drivers that do it every single week because it’s so hard. Not just driving the race but all the grind during the week, the testing, the debriefs, studying, watching film, there’s so much to it.
“It starts to pop in my head and I remember why I’m glad I’m not in that grind any more, but just going and practicing, qualifying and running the race, that’s fun. That’s always fun.”