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Cole Custer makes statement with win at Chicagoland Speedway

JOLIET, Ill. – For the vast majority of Saturday’s Camping World 300 at Chicagoland Speedway it looked like another non-too-subtle reminder of how good the NASCAR Xfinity Series triumphant trio has been – championship leaders Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick showed the way.

Ultimately it was Custer’s time to celebrate this weekend, leading a dominant 151 of the race’s 200 laps to take his fourth Xfinity win of the season in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and the sixth victory of his career.

He earned a solid 2.917-second triumph over reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano, who was making his first Xfinity start of the season. Bell originally placed third but was disqualified after measuring too low in post-race technical inspection. Reddick ended up 10th, losing positions only in the waning laps.

Michael Annett, who led 25 laps late in the race playing a pit stop strategy, finished third, followed by Brandon Jones in fourth, and fifth-place Austin Cindric.

“I think we’re going to hit it this summer, we have some awesome cars,’’ Custer excitedly told the front grandstands. “I don’t know how to get the car any better, I’m just lucky to drive it.’’

Custer, Bell and Reddick have now combined to win 11 of the season’s 15 races, including the last nine consecutively. Custer and Bell have a series-best four wins apiece.

At times – especially following a restart – the affectionately well-worn Chicagoland Speedway surface helped sustain four and five-wide racing in a free-for-all that set the tone of the race behind Custer.

The SHR driver never seemed to have a problem retaking the lead – he passed polesitter Logano only three laps into the race, en route to the Stage 1 victory. Logano, who started from the pole position, retook the lead late in Stage 2 and held on to claim that stage victory.

But Custer’s No. 00 Ford was just too much for the field, losing the lead only briefly at times but then forcefully and easily retaking it at every opportunity. He passed Michael Annett on a restart with 22 laps to go and never looked back. It’s Custer’s second win in the last four weeks (also including Pocono) and he was runner-up to Bell in the last race at Iowa.

The effort in the oppressive 90-degree heat was impressive even to Custer’s competitors.

When asked where he was getting beat by Custer on track, Logano grinned and deadpanned, “At Chicagoland.’’

“They did a good job. They had the fastest car in practice and Cole did an amazing job.’’

Bell, who failed to lead a lap for the first time this season, was awarded one point for finishing last due to his disqualification. As a result, Bell fell from second in the standings to third. Custer ascended over Bell into second and trails leader Tyler Reddick by 71 points. Bell is 94 points behind Reddick.

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News

Last-lap pass gives Cole Custer dramatic NASCAR Xfinity win at Pocono

Cole Custer led 59 laps from the pole and, at one point in Saturday’s Pocono Green 250, held a lead of more than 13 seconds, but it took a pass through the final corner in overtime for the driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to win his third NASCAR Xfinity Series race of the season.

Series leader Tyler Reddick had grabbed the lead from Custer moments after the overtime restart on Lap 102. Custer gave chase and, one lap later, took full advantage in Turn 3 at Pocono Raceway when Reddick failed to hold the bottom of the track entering the corner.

Winning for the first time at the 2.5-mile triangular track and for the fifth time in his career, Custer crossed the finish line .226 seconds ahead of Reddick’s No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Reddick had started the race from the rear of the field because of a transmission change and later rallied from a pass-through penalty for an outside tire violation on his next-to-last pit stop to claim the runner-up spot and extend his series lead to 76 points over fifth-place finisher Christopher Bell.

On the final restart lap, Reddick pushed Custer clear of third-place finisher Chase Briscoe in the top lane, then shot to the bottom of the track and cleared Custer’s Mustang through Turn 1. The move took Custer by surprise.

“Tyler gave me a real run for my money there,” Custer said. “I have no idea how he made it stick on that restart on the bottom, passing me. But he did. He was unbelievable on the brakes at the end.”

But Custer, who hadn’t won from the pole in eight previous tries, had the winning gambit planned as the cars approached Turn 3 for the final time.

“I was just able to kind of force a mistake a little bit trying to pack air on him,” Custer said. “It was a fun end of the race. I had my downshift planned right there. I wish I didn’t have to do it like that, but it probably made it exciting.”

Ultimately, a tight handling condition contributed to Reddick’s undoing and prevented him from holding the inside line in the final corner.

“I tried to really get it stopped and make sure I covered the bottom,” Reddick said. “We just fought tight over the last half of the race. Thought we had a really good restart, got by Cole, but I was too tight out front in clean air. I just got loose in Turn 3 and gave it back.”

Custer won Stage 1 wire-to-wire but lost track position in Stage 2, thanks to a variance in strategic calls by other teams. Justin Allgaier took the Stage 2 victory, but his race fell apart when he spun in Turn 1 seconds after a Lap 98 restart to force the overtime.

By then, Custer had reclaimed the lead on Lap 85 during an exchange of green-flag pit stops and had pulled away to a lead of 13.620 seconds before Austin Cindric’s Ford slipped in the Tunnel Turn and sent Jeffrey Earnhardt’s Toyota spinning.

That caution bunched the field and gave Reddick, Briscoe, Bell and fourth-place finisher Ryan Preece a chance to fight for the win.

In the end, however, it was Custer who prevailed in the fastest car—despite Reddick’s gutsy ploy in Turn 1.

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XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

While the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continues to explore different packages to make the racing better, it seems the NASCAR Xfinity Series has the right method to the madness.

The hot temperatures on the Charlotte, North Carolina afternoon produced a slick race track, in return delivering the fans a show. With drivers searching for grip through the beginning stages of the event by using the middle lane that was coated in the traction compound, to trying to run as close to the wall as possible in the later half, there was a never a dull moment during the Alsco 300.

It also seems the flange-fit composite bodies being made mandatory for the 2019 season has made a big difference. While a bit of wall contact used to end someone’s day in the past, there is now the possibility to receive repairs and make a comeback. As a result, fans were entertained with seeing whether their favorite driver would be able to drive through the field, like Jeffrey Earnhardt overcoming a spin for a third-place finish.

As the tide continued to turn, nobody was able to throw Tyler Reddick off of his game. The master of rim-riding rose to the top in dominating fashion, pacing 110 of the 200 laps en route to winning the event. The defending series champion had a rough campaign en route to surprising at the year-end with the title last year. However, it seems he is leaving nothing to chance in using the lessons learned to finish races and do so up front.

His performance only shined that much more by the struggles of his closest competitors in the title hunt – Cole Custer and Christopher Bell. Custer finished 24th after contact with the outside wall late, while Bell placed 31st after running over debris and blowing a tire.

Ideally, though, Bell could’ve made his situation better by electing to head down pit road rather than ride around under caution with the flat, allowing it to blow the fender apart as it tore to shreds. His teammate Brandon Jones made the smarter decision in pitting immediately, and was able to fight back to run top-five late in the race before fading to 10th on older tires late.

The issues for both Bell and Jones could’ve been prevented if a caution for debris on the track was thrown by NASCAR. It seems that the sanctioning body missed the boat a couple times on Saturday, as they failed to throw the yellow flag late in the first stage for the same reason, resulting in nose damage for Custer. 

Kaulig Racing also raised a couple red flags today with their decisions. Austin Dillon had to get out of the car with 40 laps to go as a result of his ribs getting too hot from the heat, and carbon dioxide from crush panels being pushed in due to wall contact. The team elected to put Daniel Hemric in the car when Dillon’s complaints began. If you know there’s an issue, why would you put a driver in that is also scheduled like Dillon to run 600 miles on Sunday? 

On the flip side, it seems that JR Motorsports knows what they are doing as they placed all four of their entries in the top-seven at the checkered flag. Justin Allgaier led the way with a runner-up after taking four fresh tires late, while Noah Gragson overcame a pit road penalty to finish fourth.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

Cole Custer Asserting Himself as Early Season Championship Favorite

While most of the competition is focused on making the playoffs, Cole Custer does not have to worry about that virtue of a pair of wins just eight races into the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.

It is a feeling that he is enjoying due to not second-guessing himself and Stewart-Haas Racing.

“Now we know that we can win and have the capability to win, it is just a matter of putting it together every weekend and having good notes when we come back to places for a second time and hitting it right,” he said. “I think we can do that; it is just a matter of more time being able to help us.”

Custer is no stranger to winning races as he has done that previously in his Xfinity Series career. However, the big difference is how early the victories have come this time around compared to previous. The past two seasons, he has only scored one win a year – the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2017 and race No. 31 of 33 at Texas Motor Speedway in 2018. 

This season, though, he won the fifth (Auto Club Speedway) and eighth (Richmond Raceway) events on the schedule.

“I think when you get a win earlier in the year, it takes a lot of stress off because you know your team can win and you are doing things right and it is just a matter of perfecting it,” he commented. “It just takes the stress off to be able to go out there and be aggressive and keep the momentum going and build up points for the playoffs.”

The success by Custer has been surprising, as entering the year, a lot of people expected Christopher Bell to run away with the title. While Bell has won on two occasions like Custer, he currently ranks second in the standings behind last year’s series champion Tyler Reddick with Custer in third. Reddick has yet to visit victory lane this year, but he has scored only two finishes outside of the top-five, with the worst being 14th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

“I think we are right there,” Custer said in comparison to Bell. “We need to be a little bit better and I think we are going to get better as the year goes on as me and Mike work together and we go to these tracks for a second time. We get our cars better throughout the races. We just need a little bit more but we want to beat the 20 guys.

“Christopher is a great driver and Gibbs is a great organization but we have the capability of being the best team out there, so that is our goal.”

Custer will hope to score another victory, along with another $100,000 cheque as part of the Dash 4 Cash program, this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Entering the weekend, he states that he will be aggressive throughout the MoneyLion 300.

“We have two wins now so we can kind of do what we want,” he said. “You have to be aggressive and make the big moves and save some of it for the end. Also you have to make those moves to be comfortable with it at the end. It is a matter of keeping it up front and out of trouble but on that edge of being aggressive but not too aggressive.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Cole Custer wins Xfinity Series race at Richmond, Dash 4 Cash prize

RICHMOND, Va. – Cole Custer said on Friday afternoon that his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing NASCAR Xfinity Series team might be ready to peak in time for the Playoffs.

Clearly, Custer is ahead of schedule, after a convincing victory in Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway.

After losing the lead to Austin Cindric on a restart with 26 laps left, Custer regained the top spot on Lap 231 of 250 and pulled away for his second victory of the season. In a race that dodged a persistent threat of rain, Custer crossed the finish line 2.639 seconds ahead of Cindric.

Not only did Custer win for the fourth time in his career—and for the first time on a short track—but he also claimed the $100,000 Xfinity Dash 4 Cash bonus that goes to the highest finisher of four eligible contenders.

“We had a great car,” Custer said. “(Crew chief Mike Shiplett) made great adjustments as it went… This one means a lot. We hadn’t had a short-track win yet. We’ve struggled a lot at short tracks, but this helps

“A lot of my friends give me crap for being bad at this place, but I finally won, so I’ve got a little bit of bragging rights there, so that’s night. I’m just so happy. Two wins—that’s pretty awesome.”

Custer also served notice that he expects the team to get even better as the season progresses.

“I think we’re in a great place,” Custer said. “We’re going to get better and better. I think we’ve started to figure out our cars later in the race, and I think the second time we go back (to the same tracks), we’re going to be even better—just me and Mike working together at these tracks for the first time.

“We’re just going to be a team that gets better and better as the year goes on.”

Custer led three times for a race-high 122 laps. Third-place finisher Justin Allgaier led 86 and won the first stage but had to charge to the front after contrarian pit strategy left him 16th for a Lap 161 restart.

Allgaier was second by the time caution slowed the race for the sixth time on Lap 212, but he spun his tires on the subsequent restart on Lap 219 and fell back to fifth before recovering to third at the finish.

“The pit call we made at the end of the (second) stage there, it worked out, obviously, in our favor,” said Allgaier, who had crashed out of last week’s Bristol race after leading 138 laps. “But I pushed really hard to get back up to the front, and I just didn’t quite have enough there at the end to really do anything.

“I made a mistake on that restart. It really burns me up that I made the mistake, but all in all, a great day. I hope we got the monkey off our back.”

Cindric was hoping rain would halt the race when he was in the lead, but that didn’t happen. He did, however, qualify for the Dash 4 Cash two weeks hence at Talladega, where his sponsor, MoneyLion, also holds the entitlement for the race.

“Congrats to Cole and those guys,” Cindirc said. “I tried my best on that restart to hold him off, but they were obviously the class of the field. Him and the 7 (Allgaier). We had some fun and got some points and now we will move on to Talladega for the MoneyLion 300.

“That will be a big one for me. I would love to win that race and the Dash for Cash at Talladega.”

Tyler Reddick came home fourth, followed by Ryan Sieg, who has finished no worse than 12th in the first eight races of the season. Zane Smith, John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Briscoe, Riley Herbst and Justin Haley completed the top 10.

Making the first of two planned starts this season, Elliott Sadler ran 12th in an emotional return to his home track.

Note: The No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Reddick had one lug nut found to unsecure. Any potential fine will be announced next week by the sanctioning body.

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News

Cole Custer holds off Kyle Busch for home state win

FONTANA, Calif. – Thanks to Cole Custer, Kyle Busch will have to wait at least one more day.

With a determined run to the finish in Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway, Custer kept Busch at bay after a restart with 20 laps left and thwarted Busch’s march toward 200 victories across NASCAR’s top three national series.

In winning for the third time in his career and the first time at his home track, the Ladera Ranch, Calif., native grabbed the lead from Christopher Bell on Lap 132 of 150 and pulled away to beat Busch to the finish by 1.927 seconds, after Busch passed Bell for second on Lap 136.

For his part, Busch fell one spot short of win No. 200 after a self-inflicted wound by his pit crew sent the No. 18 Toyota to the back of the field for a restart on Lap 118. Four circuits earlier, under caution, a problem with the jack on the left side of the car cost Busch 10 spots on pit road.

But the coup de grace was a penalty for an uncontrolled tire that forced him to restart at the tail end of the field and gave Custer a chance out front in clean air.

“It means a ton,” said the 21-year-old Custer. “As great a driver as Kyle Busch is, he’s going to be one of the legends of our sport. To keep him one race more from getting 200 means a lot. I’m sure he’s a little bit frustrated, but we have a great time racing him.”

Once Custer passed Bell for the lead, his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford took off.

“We had a pretty good car all day,” said Custer, who led four times for a total of 29 laps. “It was just a matter of getting out front. We got our car to turn a little better, and that was kind of the difference.”

After restarting sixth on Lap 131, Busch, who won the first two stages and led 98 laps, couldn’t match Custer’s speed over the last 20 circuits.

“Lack of grip there at the end,” said Busch, who will have his next shot at his 200th win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “We just didn’t have the speed we needed with the No. 00.

“Earlier in the day we were two tenths (of a second) better than some of the guys, and there at the end, we weren’t. It is what it is, I guess… Our Supra was fast, just not enough at the end. At the end there, he (Custer) 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.”

Bell held third despite fighting handling issues throughout the afternoon. Pole sitter Tyler Reddick recovered from several brushes with the outside wall to run fourth. Chase Briscoe was fifth in the No. 98 Ford.

Austin Cindric, Brandon Jones and Ryan Preece all recovered from spins to come home sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively. Justin Allgaier and Justin Haley completed the top 10.

Asked how he planned to celebrate the victory, Custer had a ready reply.

“This year, I can drink,” he quipped.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series has a weekend off before heading to Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, March 30 for the My Bariatric Solutions 300 (1 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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XFINITY

ASHLEY ASKS…… Cole Custer

After coming up just one spot shy of winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship, Cole Custer will be back full-time in 2019 with Stewart-Haas Racing to try once again. The driver of the No. 00 Mustang recently shared his thoughts with POPULAR SPEED entering his third season of competition.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on the season ahead?

COLE CUSTER: I’m looking forward to it. I think we have a really strong team. We obviously showed last year that we compete for championships, and I think it’s just a matter of me learning a little more as a driver and growing what we had last year. I think we have fast cars, and a great team, so there’s no reason we can’t go win races.

PS: What’s the biggest thing that you’re able to take away from last year that you will feel will help you in 2019?

CUSTER: For me, it was just the racing part of it. I feel like the first year, my rookie season, I learned how to go fast. Then last year, I learned how to race with the guys in the top-five and compete for wins. Now it’s just about closing the deal and winning more races.

PS: You obviously had a really strong year – but what do you feel that you and SHR need to do to be even stronger?

RUSSELL LABOUNTY | NKP

CUSTER: I feel like we became a well-rounded team last year, but I feel we still have room to grow there. I think superspeedways and some of the short tracks we struggle a little bit, so there’s room to grow there. I think it’s just a matter of being consistent at every track in the top-five and competing for the wins.

PS: It was announced that you will have Chase Briscoe as a teammate full-time. What is that going to be like for you?

CUSTER: It’ll be good. I think me and Chase work good together, we’re great friends, and he’s a great driver with a lot of natural talent. So I think being able to bounce ideas off of him driving-wise and being able to bounce set-up ideas off of each other with help a ton because the more information you have, the better.

PS: What track are you most looking forward to?

CUSTER: First, I think I’m really looking forward to Fontana (Auto Club Speedway). There’s so many grooves, well wore out, and it’s really fun to drive.

PS: What track do you wish was on the schedule that currently isn’t?

CUSTER: That’s a tough question. I’ve never raced there, but I was always a huge fan of ORP (O’Reilly Raceway Park) when the Busch (now XFINITY) and the trucks used to run there, so I’d like to go run there. I also think Road Atlanta is a good road course that we should go to.

BARRY CANTRELL | NKP

I don’t know. There’s so many different tracks out there and it’s just a matter of selecting which ones to go to. I think the Nashville Fairgrounds would be a cool track to go to. Hopefully we get to go to more tracks in the future.

PS: If you were in charge of NASCAR for one day, what is one change you would make?

CUSTER: I think it comes down to affordability of it, but it’s tough because I’m not in charge of that and I shouldn’t be. I think those people make the decisions that they do and it’s way more above my pay grade. I think everybody looks at the sport and thinks that could be better.

PS: We’ve seen a lot of talk recently about drivers wanting to try different series and cars. Is there anything on your wish list?

CUSTER: I got to go down and run the Continental Tire Challenge event at Daytona – the race before the 24 Hours of Daytona, and honestly, I really want to try and run the 24 Hour race. It’s a really fun, pretty laid back; I think that style of racing is interesting and fun, so it’s something that I would like to do.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

Saturday’s Ford Ecoboost 300 Set to Make Another Name

Miami Beach, FL – Since 2016, NASCAR has used the current playoff format in the XFINITY and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

The format has helped emphasize a welcome change. Before the 2011 season, the XFINITY Series was dominated by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars and from 2006 until 2011, the champions of the second tier-level were all Cup regulars.

That left many with an uneasy feeling, especially fans that wanted to see the young guys coming up in the ranks race for something valuable and important in their careers. A championship for an XFINITY Series regular would not only put their names on the spotlight but may very well lead them to a future opportunity in the Cup Series. I mean, isn’t that what we have seen since 2011?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the championship two straight years and ended up with a full-time ride in the Cup Series. We can keep naming drivers because every title holder has ended u at the premier level.

NASCAR’s effort to focus on the XFINITY Series stars has set up drivers to showcase their talent. This weekend, four competitors coming from different backgrounds will battle with one common goal – their first XFINITY Series championship.

Cole Custer was the first to lock his spot into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He put himself in position to race for a title when he won at Texas Motor Speedway a few weeks back. Last year, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver won the season finale at Homestead-Miami, but will that give him an advantage on Saturday?

“It definitely helps because we have good notes to rely on and stuff like that but also Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell came here and tested so they’ve got to be a lot better where they were last year,” Custer said. “Well see there’s always the little differences like the bodies, the tires are a little bit different, so you have to adjust for that and do your homework.”

23-year-old Christopher Bell comes from a successful dirt racing background before transitioning over to asphalt. Last season, Bell won five races and took home the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.

We can say that his season in the XFINITY Series has been dominant. Bell has scored seven victories, five poles and has an average finish of 11.1. Although he seemed like the favorite to take home the championship, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver had to overcome a devastating Round of 8.

After having accidents at Kansas Speedway and Texas, Bell’s only choice to advance was by winning at iSM Raceway. The Norman, Oklahoma native started from the rear of the field after failing inspection but was still able to secure the victory last Saturday.

With this being the last round, those struggles are now an afterthought. Bell finished second at Homestead last season when he won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.

“I don’t know if winning the championship gives me an advantage but the fact that I was in the championship 4 and understand the process and what the pressure is like racing for a championship,” Bell told POPULAR SPEED. “So, just being in that situation I think has its advantages and hopefully I can use that. The only thing different going into this weekend is that we are only racing three cars. Instead of going out there trying to win the race all I have to do is beat three competitors.”

Tyler Reddick is another one of those guys with a dirt racing background. He began the season pulling off the victory at Daytona International Speedway with his new team, JR Motorsports.

His consistency in the Round of 8 put him in position to run for the championship. Last month, it was announced that Reddick would be switching to Richard Childress Racing for the 2019 season in the XFINITY Series.

“It would be fantastic,” Reddick said. “This year didn’t really go as planned like we were wanted it to. We had speed most of the year at certain race tracks and just didn’t capitalize on the moments that we really should of. This playoff system and format has been really nice to us, we were able to kind of reset and the last six races and almost wanted to rip our heads up in practice, but we found a way to perform and make it to the next round.”

This last guy in the running is still winless, surprisingly. Coming from the heart of stock car racing, Daniel Hemric grew up competing on asphalt in his home state of North Carolina. Scoring 15 top-five finishes is as close as it gets to winning a race; now on Saturday, he chases not only  a win, but also a championship.

“I’ve been fortunate to win championships in so many different levels but every time you make a step in your career you never know what you’re going to be like until you are in that situation,” Hemric told POPULAR SPEED. “I know whatever it is I’d be elated to know that we accomplished something that we’ve set out to do since last November and the heartbreak we experienced 12 months ago at Homestead.”

It may very well come down to that. Fans are hoping to see all four cars contending for a title duke it out until the finish. Thanks to the changes NASCAR has made throughout the years, the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway has become an event any die-hard NASCAR fan should experience in person.

No, that does not mean you can compare it to the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, or the Monaco Grand Prix. It is just a unique weekend full of excitement because we know only four drivers from each series will race for a championship.

EMAIL BRANDON AT: brandon.rivero@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MrBrandonRivero

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Nigel Kinrade Photography XFINITY

GALLERY: NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship 4

Youth is the name of the game in the NASCAR XFINITY Series as four of the sports’ growing stars will fight it out for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday afternoon.

NKP

Cole Custer

Season Statistics: One race win, Two stage wins, 13 top-five’s, 25 top-10’s

After a slow start to the Round of 12, Cole Custer did what he needed to do in the Round of 8, scoring the victory at Texas Motor Speedway to lock himself into the Championship 4. He then backed it up with a solid eighth at ISM Raceway.

Custer scored his first career series victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year, to go along with a 17th-place finish in 2016.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Christopher Bell

Season Statistics: Seven race wins, Six stage wins, 18 top-five’s, 20 top-10’s

Christopher Bell was hot through the Round of 12 with a pair of victories at Richmond Raceway and Dover International Speedway in the midst of an impressive rookie campaign. However, the first two races of the Round of 8 saw him spin on the opening lap, forcing him into a must-win situation at ISM. Despite having to start from the rear of the field due to failing pre-qualifying inspection three times, he was able to score the victory. 

He qualified third last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, before finishing 36th following a blowing an engine.

BARRY CANTRELL | NKP

Tyler Reddick

Season Statistics: One race win, One stage win, Six top-five’s, 19 top-10’s

Consistency paid off for Tyler Reddick as a sixth-place finish at ISM Raceway for his fifth playoff top-10 allowed him to transfer into the Championship 4. While he hasn’t reached victory lane since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, he has challenged for victories, including leading until the last lap at Texas Motor Speedway before being passed by Custer. 

He finished fourth in his first trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway last year after starting pole.

MATTHEW T. THACKER | NKP

Daniel Hemric

Season Statistics: Zero wins, Nine stage wins, 15 top-five’s, 22 top-10’s

Daniel Hemric has been solid through the playoffs with six straight top-10 performances, including a runner-up this past Saturday at ISM Raceway. Despite not winning a race this year, he has led 440 laps.

He placed 34th in his first trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2017 after starting fourth.

All Photos Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Cole Custer locks up championship berth with last-lap pass at Texas

FORT WORTH, Tex. – In a race that produced a last-lap pass for the win, a record 13 cautions and an unmitigated disaster for favorite son Christopher Bell, Cole Custer moved past Tyler Reddick on the backstretch to win Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Custer’s first victory of the season gave the driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford an automatic berth in the Nov. 17 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Custer dominated last year in winning for the first time in the series.

Reddick led the field to green with two laps left, after the 13th caution, and held the top spot until Custer mounted a strong run off Turn 2 on Lap 200. The cars made side-to-side contact on the backstretch before Reddick surrendered the position, and Custer held on to win by .162 seconds, the third closest finish in an Xfinity Series race at Texas.

With his first victory of the season and the second of his career, Custer is the first of the Round of 8 drivers to clinch a chance at the championship in the season finale.

“I can’t believe it,” Custer said. “I did all I could and drove in deeper than I had all weekend into Turn 1 (on the final lap) trying to get on (Reddick’s) bumper, and it worked out.

“We’re going to Homestead, and I think we have a great chance to win it. It’s just awesome. We haven’t won this year, but we’ve been so close. It’s been frustrating, but we’ve kept going. There’s no better time to do it.”

Bell’s stunning run of ill fortune continued at Texas. Two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway, in the first race in the Round of 8, Justin Allgaier wiped him out in Turn 2 of the first lap. On Saturday, after winning the pole, Bell spun out of control-again in Turn 2 of the first lap.

Though Bell recovered to finish fourth in Stage 1 and fifth in Stage 2, his recovery was short-lived. The coup de grace came on Lap 133 when eventual third-place finisher Austin Cindric pushed up the track slightly, clipped the back-left quarter of Bell’s No. 20 Toyota and sent it sliding into the outside wall.

Resulting suspension damage knocked Bell out of the race in 32nd place at the speedway closest to his Norman, Oklahoma, home.

“It caught me off guard,” Bell said of the Lap 1 spin. “You saw the same thing from the No. 7 (Allgaier) at Kansas. I didn’t feel like I was up to speed at all. The next thing I knew, I spun out.

“I don’t know, it has to be the tire combination. It’s tricky. There wasn’t much room for error.”

With the Playoff field to be cut from eight drivers to four next Saturday at Phoenix, Bell Faces a 34-point deficit to Daniel Hemric (10th Saturday), who holds fourth place in the standings. A six-time winner as a Sunoco rookie this season, Bell, for practical purposes, must win again.

“This format, it’s very tough and it creates a lot of drama,” Bell said. “I’ve always been proud of myself for winning races, and I’ve won six races this year, and I’ve got a chance to win two more.

“I’m going to go out there and try to win races. I’ve never been a points racer, and my results show for that. I’m either up front or crashing. I’m going to go out and try to win two more races.”

In a race in which fortunes changed radically with differing pit strategies, Hemric won the first stage. But his luck soon took a turn for the worse. Hemric fell back after a Lap 194 restart and was knocked sideways when Richard Childress Racing teammate Shane Lee lost control underneath Hemric’s Chevrolet in Turn 3.

Aside from Custer, no one in the top eight has much breathing room heading to Phoenix. Reddick has a 20-point edge over fifth-place Allgaier, who came home fifth on Saturday. Veteran Elliott Sadler, who ran eighth, is 13 points ahead of Allgaier, his JR Motorsports teammate. Hemric has a 12-point cushion.

But even huge leads can evaporate in a single corner, as Bell has discovered in the last two races.

Last in the Playoff standings and 61 points out of fourth, Cindric must win at ISM Raceway at Phoenix to advance. That’s nothing new for the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, who finished .316 seconds behind Custer.

“I’ve been in a must-win position since Kansas,” Cindric said. “For me, that hasn’t changed.”

Notes: Kansas winner John Hunter Nemechek finished fourth… The 13 cautions broke the previous mark of 10 set in 2003… The closest Xfinity Series finish at Texas came in 2007 when Matt Kenseth beat Denny Hamlin to the finish line by .128 seconds.