Custer stuns field with first Cup Series win at Kentucky

Cole Custer
Cole Custer

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Cole Custer roared to his first Cup Series victory Sunday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway, emerging from a late-race restart with a bold four-wide move just after the white flag.

Driving the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford, Custer led just five of the 267 laps in the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart. The first-year driver also won at the 1.5-mile Kentucky track in Xfinity Series competition last year.

Martin Truex Jr. wound up second, 0.271 seconds behind at the checkered flag. Matt DiBenedetto netted third place with a tire-smoking Kevin Harvick fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.

Aric Almirola led the most laps – a career-best 128 – and won Stage 1. He faded to an eighth-place result, snapping a streak of five consecutive top-five finishes. Brad Keselowski won Stage 2, leading 34 laps before coming home ninth.

Jimmie Johnson finished 18th in his first race back since he reported a positive COVID-19 test that kept him out of the series’ previous race, July 5 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Johnson continued after a late brush of the outside retaining wall with his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Even more impressive is these first-year NASCAR Cup Series drivers were able to excel with no practice or qualifying sessions — all precautions NASCAR has instituted since retuning to competition after the COVID-19 break in action.

“It’s not easy," Custer said. “You’ve got to kind of adapt as much as you can. I think we’ve gotten better and better at that. It’s just unbelievable. I didn’t think we were coming here and going to win. And now we’re gonna be in the All-Star Race.

“It’s unbelievable. We had a great car all day, one of the best cars I’ve ever driven in my life. It was hard to get to the front. Once we got there, we took advantage of it and I just can’t thank everybody at the shop."

Although obviously disappointed not to win, Custer’s SHR teammate, Harvick, was quick to praise his young teammate.

“We were in position to win, you know," Harvick said. “Made it through Turns 1 and 2, Martin just misjudged on the backstretch and got into us and I had to check up. Next thing I know we were four-wide on the front straightaway and then the 12 (Blaney) hit the drain and went back up race track.

“Just congratulations to Cole Custer. Last week he was a big part of our win (at Indianapolis Motor Speedway). To get to Victory Lane in your rookie year is a big deal. I’m really happy for Gene (Haas) and everyone at (Haas Automation) and especially for Cole. He works really hard."

The Cup Series’ next event is the non-points NASCAR All-Star Race, scheduled Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM). The NASCAR All-Star Open qualifier is set earlier Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) to round out the invitational field. The next points-paying race for the Cup Series is scheduled next Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM) at Texas Motor Speedway.

Race Results

Fin Str No. Driver Team Laps Status Led
1 29 41 Cole Custer # HaasTooling.com Ford 267 Running 5
2 9 19 Martin Truex Jr. Auto Owners Insurance Toyota 267 Running 57
3 10 21 Matt DiBenedetto Menards/Quaker State Ford 267 Running 1
4 3 4 Kevin Harvick Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford 267 Running 11
5 7 1 Kurt Busch Monster Energy Chevrolet 267 Running 0
6 11 12 Ryan Blaney Advance Auto Parts Ford 267 Running 18
7 34 95 Christopher Bell # Toyota Toyota 267 Running 0
8 4 10 Aric Almirola Smithfield Vote For Bacon Ford 267 Running 128
9 6 2 Brad Keselowski Snap-On Ford 267 Running 34
10 24 8 Tyler Reddick # Caterpillar Chevrolet 267 Running 0
11 21 24 William Byron Axalta Chevrolet 267 Running 4
12 12 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Freight Toyota 267 Running 0
13 19 3 Austin Dillon RigUp Chevrolet 267 Running 0
14 15 14 Clint Bowyer One Cure Ford 267 Running 0
15 2 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford 267 Running 0
16 33 13 Ty Dillon GEICO Chevrolet 267 Running 0
17 23 6 Ryan Newman Acronis Ford 267 Running 0
18 20 48 Jimmie Johnson Ally Chevrolet 267 Running 0
19 5 88 Alex Bowman Cincinnati Chevrolet 267 Running 0
20 13 17 Chris Buescher Fifth Third Bank Ford 267 Running 0
21 1 18 Kyle Busch M&M's Fudge Brownie Toyota 267 Running 9
22 16 20 Erik Jones Built In Kentucky Toyota 267 Running 0
23 8 9 Chase Elliott Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet 267 Running 0
24 30 34 Michael McDowell Love's Travel Stops Ford 267 Running 0
25 17 42 Matt Kenseth Clover Chevrolet 267 Running 0
26 37 96 * Daniel Suarez Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota 267 Running 0
27 18 43 Bubba Wallace Victory Junction Chevrolet 265 Running 0
28 27 32 Corey LaJoie Keen Parts Ford 264 Running 0
29 14 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Kroger Chevrolet 264 Running 0
30 36 27 JJ Yeley(i) Greenlight Ford 260 Running 0
31 31 15 Brennan Poole # Spartan Mosquito Chevrolet 259 Running 0
32 26 77 Josh Bilicki(i) Austin Hatcher Foundation Chevrolet 257 Running 0
33 25 53 Garrett Smithley(i) Victory Lane Quick Oil Change Chevrolet 257 Running 0
34 35 51 Joey Gase(i) Donate Life Life Center/Pro Master Ford 257 Running 0
35 28 0 Quin Houff # Creek Enterprise Inc Chevrolet 255 Running 0
36 22 38 John Hunter Nemechek # YANMAR Ford 248 Accident 0
37 38 66 * Timmy Hill(i) RoofClaim.com Toyota 170 Electrical 0
38 32 37 Ryan Preece Kingsford Chevrolet 159 Transmission 0

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