Here is how Cole Custer scored his first NASCAR Cup victory

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The seeds of Cole Custer’s first Cup victory were sown before anyone could have imagined it would be him celebrating Sunday at Kentucky Speedway and not Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr.

Custer’s rise from 13th to first in the last 20 laps was a study in acuity by a driver who said he’s had days where “your eyes are sore trying to look at film, trying to figure everything out.”

He also had some good fortune. The key, though, was taking advantage of those situations, which he did.

He was 13th on the restart on Lap 249 of the 267-lap race. He restarted on the inside lane in the seventh row back. Many drivers on the inside line lost positions on restarts throughout the race but Custer moved up to 12th when Jimmie Johnson, restarting third, spun after contact with Brad Keselowski.

While the contact ruined Johnson’s race, it set Custer’s dramatic finish in motion. By gaining one spot, he was in the outside lane in the sixth row for the next restart.

When the race’s final caution waved on Lap 262 for Matt Kenseth’s spin, Custer was sixth, having gained six spots in six laps. A key move came when he went to the outside and was four-wide. Matt DiBenedetto pushed Custer past those cars.

Heading into the final restart, Custer was in the outside lane in the third row behind Harvick, who was leading, and Keselowski.

Truex started on the inside lane on the front row and had Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch behind him.

The field heads to the green flag for the final restart. Cole Custer is on the outside of the third row. (FS1)

Keselowski explained the dilemma he (and Blaney) faced in the second row.

“All race long, not just that restart, the third- and fourth-place guys while they’re pushing if you don’t push, your lane doesn’t go  then the car behind you gets a huge run on you, and that makes it tough,” Keselowski said.

“That’s what happened to me on the last restart. I was fourth and I was pushing Kevin and Cole used his run to get to the outside.”

Keselowski said another key was what happened between he and Harvick.

I was just out of sync with Kevin on the final restart,” Keselowski said. I probably should have communicated a little better with him and that’s my fault, and that put us in a spot vulnerable to the lane behind us and they ultimately won the race.”

Custer closed to Keselowski’s rear bumper on the restart. Past the start/finish line, Custer pulled out to the right as Keselowski was no longer connected to Harvick.

Cole Custer (41) gets a push from Matt DiBenedetto (21) on the final restart and makes his move around Brad Keselowski (2) at the beginning of the final restart. (FS1)

DiBenedetto followed Custer when Custer pulled to the right.

“Cole is always a smart racer,” DiBenedetto said. “He’s one of those guys, even though he’s a rookie, he doesn’t make silly moves. He puts himself usually in pretty good spots.

“When we restarted, we made a pretty big power move on the restart before that. I got a good restart. I was curious basically what he was going to do. When he pulled to the top, I was like, Yeah, that was a good move right there.

“I just decided to shove him since I couldn’t go around him on the outside.”

The next key moment came in Turn 2. As Truex and Harvick ran side-by-side for the lead, Blaney was third and moving off the bottom lane as Custer charged on the outside. Blaney couldn’t get in front of Custer in time and was stuck watching Custer roll by.

In Turn 2 on the next-to-last lap, Ryan Blaney (12) could not move up in front of Cole Custer (41) quick enough, allowing Custer to motor by for third place. (FS1)

“Those decisions, you have to make them really quick, and it’s really hard to just hook a right right in the middle of the corner and try to get up there and things like that,” Blaney said. “So, yeah, I look back on that and will probably be kicking myself probably a little bit on that if there was time to get up. I probably wasn’t really aggressive enough on that, but I have to look. But it is really hard. 

“Sometimes your spotter will say, ‘clear,’ but it’s really hard to just let go of the wheel and just turn right because you’re going to lose speed going up the hill and if you’re six inches clear, you might close up quick … you learn from things like that and see what you do for next time.”

Harvick took the lead on the backstretch. Truex came up the track to tuck in behind Harvick but he hit Harvick in the left rear. Both cars lost momentum.

Custer charged and was squeezed between the wall and Truex’s car. They made slight contact. That slowed Custer’s momentum. Truex recovered and got beside Harvick in Turn 4, creating a draft for Custer, while Blaney raced on his inside.

“I tried to slide up behind (Harvick) off of (Turn) 2 there so I didn’t get freight trained,” Truex said. “I clipped his rear enough to turn him sideways.”

Said Harvick: “Martin just misjudged there on the backstretch and got me sideways. I got out of the gas and that just brought everybody into the picture and then we were four-wide on the front straightaway.”

Cole Custer, aided by the draft, tucks in behind Martin Truex Jr., who is running beside Kevin Harvick as Ryan Blaney runs on the bottom coming to take the white flag. (FS1)

Blaney tried to stay away from Truex, Harvick and Custer and ran low on the track before he cut through the apron on the frontstretch.

“I was just trying to get way from those three guys,” Blaney said. “I was just trying to get some room between us and not get side drafted or slowed down. I couldn’t necessarily see them, but I was told I was bottom four (wide) and that was for the lead, so obviously I’m just going to get away from (them) as much as possible because I felt like they were all going to slow each other down and maybe I’d have an edge.

“People do that all the time, cut to the apron on every type of racetrack that’s available, just none of the other ones have ramps on them.”

Or a drain. One Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran over in the 2016 race there

“I don’t understand how you can repave a place a handful of years ago and there’s a jump bigger than any track we go to, but, yeah, I didn’t even know it was there,” Blaney said. “We don’t run on it. You never run down there, and I didn’t really know it was gonna be that bad. I was lucky it didn’t wipe out all of us.” 

With the momentum from the draft, Custer darted outside of Truex. As they came to the start/finish line to begin the final lap, Blaney was on the apron with Harvick, Truex and Custer all together. The top four cars crossed the line four wide.

That’s when Blaney hit the drain. His car launched off the track and darted to the right, hitting Harvick’s car. The contact caused Harvick’s car to move up the track and forced Truex higher. That came just after Custer cleared them. At that point, Custer was focused on his first Cup win.

“I just wanted to start yelling honestly,” Custer later said of that moment.

“I was like, man, I got to wait till I get to the start/finish line because I’ll jinx this thing. At that point I kind of knew I had it.”

He did.

“It was a wild last lap,” Blaney said, “a wild last couple of laps to be honest with you.”

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great organizations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”