After a dominant regular season, JR Motorsports had the field asking who would be able to contend with the organization’s four cars in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs.
Cole Custer answered that question by having his best performance of 2017 in Saturday’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver won the first two stages, led 49 laps, and finished fifth.
While it didn’t mark Custer’s best finish of the year, the performance put him in contention throughout the race, and similar runs are often rewarded in the Playoffs.
It also tied him for the driver’s standings lead with Justin Allgaier.
Entering the post-season, Allgaier accumulated 23 playoff points while Custer collected just five. However, because of Custer’s success in the stages on Saturday night, he gained enough points to make up the difference.
This advantage will likely ease the rookie into the Round of 8 where he will again need to overcome a points deficit.
A lack of experience compared to the more seasoned drivers such as Allgaier and Elliott Sadler and fewer bonus points in each round could also serve as a challenge for Custer.
However, the next two tracks on the circuit have been where he has excelled after scoring a career-best finish of fourth at Dover in June and placing in the top-10 in both of his Charlotte starts.
Once the series heads to Kansas where Custer crashed and finished 35th last October, starting the second round similarly to Kentucky will be crucial.
Texas may be his best bet to position himself for the Championship 4 as he finished fifth there in April while a 21st-place day at Phoenix in the spring isn’t a confidence booster for the penultimate race.
If he’s able to make it to Homestead-Miami, showcasing similar speed to Kentucky could put Custer in position to upset JRM.
After a year of building, the SHR XFINITY Series team is showing significant gains in the performance department at the perfect time heading into the final stretch of the season.
Not many knew what to expect out of this team in the Playoffs, but a strong start to the title battle sent a strong message.
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