After spending three years in the NASCAR Cup Series, Cole Custer was brought down to the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2023, and presumed by many to be the championship favorite.
The path to get there wasn’t exactly as expected, but the 25-year-old driver is a champion of the NASCAR Xfinity Series nonetheless, scoring the victory in Saturday’s 200-mile contest from Phoenix Raceway.
Leading a race-high 96 of 200 laps, Custer looked to be strong in the race’s closing laps, but a late-race caution for a mechanical issue with Connor Mosack left the field to be shaken up for a pair of late-race restarts.
The defining moment of Saturday’s event for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver came in NASCAR Overtime though, when Custer was able to get back to the inside of both Allgaier and Nemechek exiting the second corner, after both drivers had moved around him.
At one point, for a split-second, each of the Championship 4 drivers found themselves in a four-wide situation for the lead, which when the field got to the other side of the track, ended up allowing Custer to slide into the top spot.
“I thought it was over. I mean, went from first to third, and I was able to shift the car all night and Doug Yates horsepower worked out, pulled me off the corner,” said Custer. “I can’t believe we won that thing after going back to third on that restart.”
Then it came down to hold back the angry mob behind him, as they all looked to make major moves, in hopes of any desperate shot at capturing the NASCAR Xfinity Series title, all of which didn’t pan out.
“Man, I can’t say enough about these guys. We started the year off and it was a struggle and we had to kind of dig deep with each other, really talk about how to get better and to see how much this group has grown through the year,” continued Custer. “To be a part of something I knew I loved, wanted to work with J.T., I knew he was the guy that could make it happen, and I would not want to do it with anybody else.”
At the start-finish line, it was Custer who had managed to build a six-tenth of a second advantage over the race’s second-place finisher, with the top-five flashing under the stripe within a second of the leader.
After leading four laps in the middle portion of Saturday’s event, Sheldon Creed recorded his seventh runner-up finish in the No. 2 for Richard Childress Racing, the ride he’ll depart at season’s end.
Justin Allgaier came back to the start-finish line in third place, giving him second place in the final NASCAR Xfinity Series driver point standings. Riley Herbst somehow shoved his way into the top five, again, finishing in fourth.
Sam Mayer, the third-highest of the Championship 4 in Saturday’s event, came home in fifth place, scoring another top-five result for JR Motorsports, but ending up third place in final points.
In his final race with JR Motorsports, Josh Berry finished in sixth place, while Austin Hill, Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith, and Kaz Grala completed the top-10 finishes in Saturday’s season-finale at Phoenix Raceway.
John Hunter Nemechek finished in 28th, after being caught up in an accident during NASCAR Overtime, when he was put into the outside wall by Rajah Caruth, cutting down the right-front tire on the No. 20 Toyota GR Supra.
Outside of the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship battle, Austin Hill ended up finishing fifth place in series point standings, with Sammy Smith, Sheldon Creed, Daniel Hemric, Chandler Smith, and Parker Kligerman rounding out the top-10.
The 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series campaign is now complete, and the series will return to Daytona International Speedway in February with some new faces, some returning veterans, and even more incredible action.