NASCAR Cup rookie Cole Custer roared from sixth place on the final restart with two laps to go to earn his first career Cup win Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.
“I’m surprised, yes,” Custer said after the race. “We’ve done a better job putting things together. It was just putting the whole picture together. But I think we’re now at the point where we can race with these guys and go to the front.”
He then added with a chuckle, “I started yelling (coming to the white flag and taking the lead) but I didn’t want to jinx it.”
Custer becomes the first Cup rookie of the year contender to win a race since Chris Buescher did so in a rain-shortened event at Pocono Raceway in 2016. Justin Haley scored his first career Cup win last year at Daytona but was not running for rookie of the year honors.
The California native came into Sunday’s race 25th in the Cup standings, the lowest ranked of the five full-time Cup rookies. He’s the first Cup rookie this season to be locked into the playoffs.
“We were so good, our car was so good,” Custer told FS1. “That was the best car I’ve ever driven in my life. Unbelievable car. It definitely was not the start of the year we wanted, we were off in some places.”
But Custer has scored his two best finishes of his Cup career in the last eight days. He was fifth at Indianapolis last Sunday and followed that up with Sunday’s win, which also earns him a berth in Wednesday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“Everything lined up perfectly for us, we had our shot and took advantage of it,” Custer’s crew chief, Mike Shiplett, said after the race. “We put it all together today and gave it our best shot.”
Not only was it Custer’s first Cup win, it also was Shiplett’s first Cup win as a crew chief, having done so previously in both the Xfinity and Truck Series.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Aric Almirola (second stage win of season)
STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski (fourth stage win of season)
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Third-place finisher Matt DiBenedetto earned his second-best showing of the season (was second earlier this year in Las Vegas). Much like Custer, DiBenedetto roared through the pack on the last lap and got past Harvick and almost caught Truex.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Jimmie Johnson tried to block Brad Keselowski on a restart with 19 laps left and Keselowski spun Johnson out of the way. Johnson finished 19th. After the race, Keselowski said of the incident: “They launched together, the inside lane Blaney and Jimmie, and they stretched and then they started to slow down and as they slowed down I just had a huge run and I made a move to the inside. I was turning down towards the grass. I might have had a foot or two, but I couldn’t go much lower, and I don’t know if he was trying to turn down to block me or if he was trying to turn down to get underneath Blaney, but he turned down and I was too far forward. There was kind of unavoidable contact at that time. I don’t know. I hate that it ruined his day. I don’t really necessarily know what to do different.”
NOTABLE: FS1 reported before the race that Zach Price, Ryan Blaney’s tire changer, suffered a fractured leg after being struck by a car on pit road last weekend at indy. Price will be sidelined indefinitely but will not require surgery, FS1 reported.
WHAT’S NEXT: NASCAR All-Star Race, Wednesday, July 15, 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1), at Bristol Motor Speedway. Will be preceded by the All-Star Open at 7 p.m. ET (FS1). The next points race is Sunday, July 19, at Texas Motor Speedway at 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN).
— Cole Custer (@ColeCuster) July 12, 2020