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Cole Custer Advances to Xfinity Series Championship 4

O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway
Saturday, November 3, 2018

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Cole Custer Wins at Texas
Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

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."

RACE RESULTS

Finish Start # Driver Sponsor/Make Laps Led Points Status
1 3 0 Cole Custer (P) Autodesk Ford 200 16 59 Running
2 4 9 Tyler Reddick # (P) BurgerFi Chevrolet 200 54 50 Running
3 8 22 Austin Cindric # (P) Discount Tire Ford 200 0 34 Running
4 10 42 John Hunter Nemechek ROMCO Equipment Co. Chevrolet 200 6 35 Running
5 5 7 Justin Allgaier (P) Suave MEN Chevrolet 200 37 45 Running
6 14 19 Brandon Jones Interstate Batteries Toyota 200 4 33 Running
7 7 2 Matt Tifft (P) Anderson's Maple Syrup Chevrolet 200 0 39 Running
8 13 1 Elliott Sadler (P) OneMain Financial Chevrolet 200 0 40 Running
9 12 23 Spencer Gallagher Allegiant Chevrolet 200 0 28 Running
10 9 21 Daniel Hemric (P)South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet 200 42 40 Running
11 23 4 Ross Chastain teamjdmotorsports.com Chevrolet 200 0 26 Running
12 17 39 Ryan Sieg ETBU Chevrolet 200 0 25 Running
13 38 60 Ty Majeski Ford Ford 200 0 24 Running
14 18 51 Jeremy ClementsRepairableVehicles.com Chevrolet 200 0 25 Running
15 22 38 JJ Yeley Sinclair/Raging Wire Chevrolet 200 0 22 Running
16 16 5 Michael Annett Pilot Flying J Chevrolet 200 0 21 Running
17 19 40 Chad Finchum # Smithbilt Homes/The Preserve Toyota 199 0 20 Running
18 21 90 Brandon Brown Coalition to Salute Americas Heroes Chevrolet 199 019 Running
19 29 8 Ray Black II ISOKERN Fireplaces & Chimneys Chevrolet199 0 18 Running
20 24 0 Garrett SmithleyEquipment World Chevrolet 198 0 17 Running
21 34 45 Bayley Currey(i) Prevagen Toyota 197 0 0 Running
22 30 35 Joey Gase Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency 197 0 15 Running
23 2 3 Shane Lee Childress Vineyards Chevrolet 197 6 14 Running
24 32 52 David Starr Whataburger Chevrolet 196 0 13 Running
25 33 76 Spencer Boyd # Grunt Style Chevrolet 195 0 12 Running
26 26 15 Quin Houff teamjdmotorsports.com Chevrolet 193 0 11 Running
27 36 78 Vinnie Miller #CorvetteParts.net Chevrolet 193 0 10 Running
28 37 74 Mike Harmon The Journey Home Project Chevrolet 192 0 9 Running
29 15 16 Ryan Reed Drive Down A1C Lilly Diabetes Ford 186 0 8 Accident
30 20 36 Alex Labbe # AlphaPrimeUSA.com Chevrolet 176 0 7 Running
31 6 18 Ryan Preece Rheem/Johns Mansville Toyota 139 0 17 Accident
32 1 20 Christopher Bell # (P) GameStop NBA 2K19 Toyota 133 35 18 Accident
33 11 11 Ryan Truex LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet 120 0 4 Accident
34 35 66 Bobby Earnhardt Copeland Insurance Toyota 104 0 3 Accident
35 27 13 Timmy Hill OCR Gaz Bar Toyota 56 0 2 Vibration
36 25 1 BJ McLeod teamjdmotorsports.com Chevrolet 44 0 1 Electrical
37 28 99 Stephen Leicht Chevrolet 32 0 1 Fuel Pump
38 31 93 Jeff Green RSS Racing Chevrolet 10 0 1 Brakes
39 39 89 Morgan Shepherd Vizone RV Chevrolet 4 0 1 Electrical

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