COLE CUSTER – 2018 NXS Homestead Race Report

Date:  Nov. 17, 2018
Event:  Ford EcoBoost 300 (Round 33 of 33)
Series:  NASCAR Xfinity Series
Location:  Homestead Miami-Speedway (1.5-mile oval)
Format:  200 laps, broken into three stages (45 laps/45 laps/110 laps)
Start/Finish:  1st/2nd (Running, completed 200 of 200 laps)
Point Standing:  (2nd with 4,035 points)

Race Winner:  Tyler Reddick of JR Motorsports (Chevrolet)
Stage 1 Winner:  Cole Custer of Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner:  Cole Custer of Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-45):

Custer started first after securing his sixth career NASCAR Xfinity Series pole and finished first.
● Custer dominated Stage 1 by leading all 45 laps.
● At the end of the stage, Custer said his Haas Automation Ford was loose on the restart and became tighter as the race wore on.
● Custer pitted for four tires and fuel and won the race off pit road.

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 46-90):

● Custer started first and finished first.
● The driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford held the lead during the restart, where he ran for the entirety of Stage 2.
● At this point, Custer had led every lap at Homestead since lap 61 in 2017.
● Custer pitted for four tires, fuel and air pressure adjustments at the conclusion of the stage.
● Caught in traffic on pit road, Custer exited in the third position.

Final Stage Recap (Laps 91-200):

Custer started third, finished second.
● On lap 98, Custer advanced to second and regained the lead over the other Championship 4 competitors.
● On lap 146, Custer pitted under green-flag conditions for four tires and fuel. He returned to the track in fifth place.
● Climbed all the way back to second, but leader Tyler Reddick established an insurmountable lead.
● Finished 6.902 seconds behind Reddick in second place.

Championship 4 Notes:  

● Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste (SHR) won the Xfinity Series owners’ championship, its first in the series.
● Custer finished second among the Championship 4 contenders for the Xfinity Series drivers’ title.
● Custer was the highest finishing Ford driver in the 2018 Xfinity Series championship.
● This was Custer’s first time participating in the Championship 4 in his two-year Xfinity Series career.

Race Notes:         

Custer led twice for a race-high 95 laps in the Ford EcoBoost 300.
● In Custer’s two career Xfinity Series starts at Homestead, he finished first (2017) and second (2018).
● Custer earned his 14th top-five of the season and second top-five at Homestead.
● Custer’s 26 top-10s this season are the most among full-time Xfinity Series drivers.
● Custer earned the most points at 1.5-mile tracks this season (369 points).
● Both Custer and his SHR teammate in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Kurt Busch, earned the most pole awards among competitors in their respective series. Busch earned a total of five poles this season.
● Only two cautions slowed the race for a total of10 laps.
● Reddick’s victory in the Ford EcoBoost 300 was the third of his Xfinity series career, his second of 2018 and his first at Homestead.

Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste:   

“First off, congrats to Tyler. I’m happy for him. He could run the wall better than I could at the end there and we were so far back from our pit stop with their strategy that once I got to him it seemed like our tires kind of equaled out and then he started running the top and I couldn’t keep up with him. It is what it is. It was a solid day. We had a fast car, we just didn’t have it play out right at the end. I’ve just got to thank everybody at Haas Automation, Gene Haas, Tony Stewart – everybody that’s been behind us all year. We were really close, it’s just sucks to be second.

“It means a lot being through this scenario. I thought we kept our calm all day. We did a great job it’s just that it didn’t play out right at the end. We still have something to hang our hats on. We still won the owner’s championship, which is really awesome, but I still wanted the driver’s one too.

“The strategy wasn’t all of it. Tyler could just run the top better than I could at the end, but looking back on it I don’t know if the call that we made, I think we would have rethought things, but you don’t want to be caught a lap down. There’s a lot of risk involved with pitting early, so it is what it is. If I could have run the top better, we probably would’ve won also.

“They (the tires) weren’t done, it’s just that you reach a certain point on tires where everything just starts to level out, and once I caught him I feel like everything just kind of leveled out and then he could run the top better than I could.

“Within my means I did as good as I could do as a driver at this point in my career. Maybe down the road if I could drive the top better we would have probably been better, but I couldn’t run the top. I don’t know. It is what it is. You run consistent and you do what you can and it just didn’t play out.

“I think I got way better as a driver this year just because I think I got way better at racing, so now it’s just a matter of kind of closing it out. That’s the biggest thing for me, but we’re really close. We’re one step away.

“We’ve come a long ways and everybody has worked really hard. It means a lot, but it’s still bittersweet when you finish second.”

Tony Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste:    

“Like Cole said, we all think it is bittersweet. We are proud as an organization to get the owners’ championship, but we wanted to do it with our driver winning the drivers’ championship. Cole did an awesome job. The whole team did an awesome job all year. That is the hard part about the last race is that it is down to a one-race deal and we just fell a little short. We might have made a mistake on the strategy on pitting too late.

“We will just come back next year and try to get him one. I am excited that we were able to get Ford their first one for the weekend and, hopefully, get another for them tomorrow. I’m excited about our Xfinity program – in such a short amount of time to have cars and the personnel that can put these cars up front each weekend and excited about having a second full-time car next year. More resources for Cole and another young driver and we are excited about the program.

“It is an awesome day for us, but it would be a hell of a lot more exciting if Cole was out there hoisting the trophy over his head for winning the drivers’ championship. We came up short but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. I am proud of Cole as a driver. He has come a long way and keeps getting better and better.”