Cole Custer becomes youngest NASCAR winner
LOUDON, N.H.—Cole Custer had his Sweet 16 and his coming-out party on the same afternoon.
On a restart with four laps left in Saturday’s UNOH 175 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Custer surged to the front past Matt Crafton, who spun his tires approaching the start/finish line.
Darrell Wallace Jr. drove hard to the inside entering Turn 1, passing Crafton for second and challenging Custer for the lead. But with four fresh tires to Wallace’s two, Custer prevailed in Turn 3 and pulled away to become the youngest winner in NASCAR national series history at 16 years, 7 months, 28 days.
As he climbed from his No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet, Custer confessed to a surreal feeling.
“I’ve been coming to these races since I was really young,” Custer said. “I’ve looked up to this series and everybody who races in this series, and I couldn’t even imagine racing here and even winning a race. I can’t even explain how amazing this is.”
Custer, the polesitter, got his first NCWTS win in his seventh start in the series. It was also the first victory of the season for Turner Scott Motorsports.
Even though Custer led 144 of the first 147 laps, a pit-road decision by crew chief Joe Shear Jr. complicated the equation—but ultimately proved decisive.
When Custer came to the pits from the lead under caution on Lap 147 of 175, Shear opted to change four tires. Erik Jones stayed out under the yellow—the second of the race—and five other drivers, including Crafton and Wallace, beat Custer out of the pits with two-tire calls, dropping Custer to seventh for a restart on Lap 153.
“I was really worried,” Custer confessed. “It was so hard to pass, even lappers.”
But a race that had gone 101 laps without a caution—a record to start a Truck Series race at New Hampshire—saw three yellows in the final 20 laps, allowing Custer to gain positions. By the final restart on lap 172, he had worked his way to second and took the green from the front row, to the inside of Crafton.
“I couldn’t believe we got through all of those guys,” Custer said. “The air affected it so much. We had some great restarts, which helped us a lot. … I can’t believe it’s happening right now.”
Crafton started the race from the rear of the field after failing to post a qualifying time because of an electrical problem in the No. 88 Toyota. Though the defending series champion charged through the field, finished third and extended his series lead to seven points over ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter, who ran fourth, the positives in the run were of little consolation to Crafton.
“Started at the back, drove to the front, got beat at the end,” was Crafton’s terse assessment of his performance. “I spun the tires and couldn’t get it in fourth gear, to be totally honest. Once I spun the tires, I was screwed right there.
“Then I couldn’t get it in gear, and everybody had a run on me. My bad.”