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Cole Custer glad to not make any headlines in Cup debut

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One of the more surreal moments of Cole Custer‘s Cup debut came in the middle of Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Looking out the windshield of his No. 51 Ford, Custer bore down on none other than seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

“It was definitely kind of surreal racing against some of those guys out there,” Custer told NBC Sports two days after his 25th-place finish in the Pennzoil 400.

When Johnson made his Cup debut in October 2001 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Custer was 3 years old.

Now 20, Custer is the latest member of NASCAR’s youth movement at the Cup level, albeit one race for now. Custer’s full-time job is driving Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 00 Ford in the Xfinity Series.

After starting 30th, Custer quickly found out his level of aggression in the lower series won’t cut it in the premier series.

Cole Custer pits during his Cup debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

“The restarts are always pretty crazy so it’s hard to just jump right in there and be really aggressive when you don’t really know what the car’s going to be doing around 10 other cars,” Custer said. “Just getting used to that and what it felt like and everything. That was probably the biggest thing and really just trying to get used to the track bar adjuster and just really the whole weekend. I’ve never had to do a qualifying trim setup. Just the whole weekend in general was a new experience.”

It wasn’t his first time in a Cup car. Custer took part in a Jan. 31 – Feb. 1 organization test at the 1.5-mile track. Then he drove the No. 32 Ford owned by Go Fas Racing.

“I was definitely pretty nervous, just trying to get used to not really knowing what to expect,” Custer said. “You do all the preparation you can leading up to it, watching a lot of video and looking at data and stuff like that. But it still really isn’t enough because you still have to try and get a feel for the car and what it feels at the end of the straightaways and the corners and the motor. It’s just a lot to take in.”

On Sunday, he drove the No. 51 owned by Rick Ware Racing with support from SHR.

Custer attempted to approach the race like it was any other, despite the fact he was racing against drivers like Johnson for the first time on their level.

With his parents, sister, aunts and uncles present, Custer outran Daniel Suarez, rookie William Byron and AJ Allmendinger. Custer took the checkered flag in one piece while veterans Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray wrecked.

“For a first race I think it’s acceptable that we brought our car home,” Custer said. “Didn’t really have any scratches on it or anything.”

But it took until last November for Custer to be convinced he was worthy of competing in the Cup Series.

It came when he put together the most dominating performance of his young career in the Xfinity Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

After earning seven top 10s in the previous eight races, Custer led 182 of 200 laps and beat Sam Hornish Jr. by 15.4 seconds.

“When I was going into Xfinity last year I didn’t have the highest confidence or anything,” Custer said.

He attributed it to a lackluster final season in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016. He failed to win in 23 races and had five top fives. He had won one race in each of the previous two seasons as a part-time driver.

“By the end of (2017) I felt I had a decent amount of confidence and we won that race and that kind of makes you feel like you can kind of do it,” Custer said.

Custer believed a good day for his first outing would have been a top-20 finish. But he still managed to give Rick Ware Racing its best finish at a non-restrictor-plate track in 33 Cup starts (Justin Marks finished 12th in the Daytona 500).

Custer was surprised by one thing.

“It was actually not the hardest race in the world,” Custer said. “I thought it was going to be a lot harder. I thought the Xfinity race was actually a little harder than the Cup race, just because Saturday I was running around a lot more and had practices and qualifying and the race. So there was a lot more going on. The Cup race wasn’t too bad, I was surprised by that.”

As a native of Ladera Ranch, California, there was only one downside to his busy weekend.

He didn’t get the chance to enjoy his favorite fast food chain, In-N-Out Burger.

“I didn’t have any in Vegas because I was doing double duty, but I’m definitely going to get something next week in Fontana,” Custer said. “That’s always my No. 1 place to go.”

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NASCAR America: Scan All from Las Vegas

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Another race, another dominating Kevin Harvick performance.

The latest edition of NASCAR America’s “Scan All” looks back at Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Harvick earned his second win of 2018.

Here are some highlights.

Watch the above video for more.

Ryan Blaney leads historic day for Team Penske in Las Vegas

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Team Penske has been fielding entries in the Cup Series off and on since 1972 and on Sunday it still found something new to accomplish.

The Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway ended with three Team Penske cars in the top 10 for the first time.

The Fords of Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano finished fifth-sixth-seventh in the race after spending most of the day in the top 10.

This is Penske’s first year fielding three full-time cars since 2010.

The day was made better by Wood Brothers Racing’s Paul Menard finishing ninth. The Wood Brothers have a technical alliance with Team Penske.

Blaney, who started from his third Cup pole and his first with Penske, led only the first lap before eventual race winner Kevin Harvick took the lead.

Blaney’s top five is his first with Penske in five starts (he made his first two Cup starts with Penske in 2014).

“I thought it was a solid day for us,” Blaney said. “We had a pretty decent Ford all day. The first run we weren’t great and we got better. I thought our strongest run was right before the last green flag pit stops. We lost a little speed the last run there. Overall it was a good weekend for us. That is what we need to do, just have good, consistent weekends like that.”

Logano was the only other Penske driver to lead the race. He led twice for 25 laps. He took the lead the second time early in the final stage following a caution on Lap 177. When the field came to the pits, Logano was only driver to take two tires.

The No. 22 took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. on the restart. Truex had stayed out under the caution.

Logano led 12 laps before Harvick reclaimed the point position.

“We were better than seventh,” Logano said. “We were the only car that took two (tires) and the run went really long and we lost a lot of track position there as we fell back on the two tires. We never got a caution to kind of reset and get those spots back. We faded back to seventh, a little further back even, but were able to get a couple spots back. Overall we have been solid with the Pennzoil Ford all season.”

With his result, Logano is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in the first three races of the season. He trails Harvick by three points in the standings.

It’s a good start for a team that missed the playoffs last year after Logano’s only win was disqualified for failing post-race inspection.

“We have okay speed in the car,” Logano said. “We aren’t anywhere close to (Harvick), but we are competitive with the rest. We will keep working toward that. … We are running hard and running strong right now. We just have to find a bit more to be able to beat Kevin.”

Keselowski earned his second top 10 of the year after placing second last week at Atlanta.

“We had really good short-run speed, and I thought we would be really good on the long runs today, but it turned out we were really good on the short runs,” he said. “That wasn’t at all what I was expecting. The short-run speed was really strong, but I just couldn’t get anywhere to capitalize on it.”

Las Vegas has proven to be kind to Team Penske’s drivers over the last few years.

Blaney earned his third consecutive top-10 at the 1.5-mile track. Keselowski has six top 10s in a row and Logano has five in a row.

Menard, in his first season with the Wood Brothers after replacing Blaney, earned his fourth top 10 at the track, but his first since 2014. He has two top 10s in the first three races of the year. He earned three in each of his last two seasons with Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick takes Cup points lead with Las Vegas win

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Kevin Harvick assumed the Cup points lead following his dominating win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After two consecutive wins, Harvick has a three-point lead over Joey Logano.

They are followed by Ryan Blaney (-4), Martin Truex Jr (-20), Kyle Busch (-31) and Kyle Larson (-31).

Click here for the full standings.

Race results for Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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Kevin Harvick won the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after leading 214 laps.

It’s his second consecutive win and his 100th national NASCAR victory.

Harvick beat Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr and Ryan Blaney.

The victory is Harvick’s 39th in the Cup Series. He’s tied with Matt Kenseth and Tim Flock on the all-time wins list.

Click here for the race results.