Custer Steals Win at Kentucky

Photo: Jared C. Tilton|Getty Images

Cole Custer took the checkered flag to win Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway. This was his first career NASCAR Cup Series win and the first win for a Cup rookie since Chris Buescher won a weather shortened race at Pocono in 2016.

Seizing the Moment

Custer was far from the best car during the race, but he took full advantage of being in the right place at the right time. 

On the final restart with two laps to go he found himself restarting third on the top line behind Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. Custer cleared Keselowski by the time they got to the backstretch and it looked like he had a shot to take second from Martin Truex Jr. going down the backstretch, but was unable to do so. 

As Truex and Harvick took the white flag side by side, Ryan Blaney dove to the bottom in a last ditch effort to take the lead. Unfortunately for Blaney, he hit the drainage ditch on the apron and it shot him up the track into Harvick which sent Harvick towards Truex who proceeded to cut to the right to avoid being hit. Custer seemingly never lifted and went by all three in the outside and secured the lead going into turn one the final time. From there he just had to be mistake free and cruise to his first win. Mission accomplished.

An Almost Perfect Comeback

Last weekend’s Brickyard 400 was the first Cup Series race without Jimmie Johnson in it since the 2001 series finale at New Hampshire. Johnson’s 663 consecutive starts came to an end after testing positive for COVID-19 in the days leading up to Indianapolis. Earlier this week he cleared NASCAR protocol by testing negative two times in a row and thus was able to return at Kentucky. He was enjoying a solid day and made his way into the top 5 as the race neared its end. 

On a restart with less than 20 to go, Johnson was lined up in the second lane on the inside. This position could have easily provided him a chance to take the lead and run away to victory, but alas it was not meant to be. Coming through the tri-oval to take the green, Johnson went to block Keselowski who was lined up behind him and the two hooked hooked fenders and the 48 was sent spinning. He would finish 18th. 

7-time will have to wait yet another week to try and bring his three year winless drought to an end. 

Work to be Done

The final two laps of today’s race will be remembered for a long time to come, the prior 265 not so much. As is often the case, clean air was king and the leader was rarely challenged during long green flag runs. Despite putting generous amounts of PJ1 adhesive in the turns, the track never saw a solid second groove come in which resulted in a lot of single file racing. I understand that NASCAR plans to address the aero deficiencies currently plaguing the Cup Series with its Next-Gen car in 2022, but man I’d love to at least see some tweaks to the Gen-6 in the meantime. 

Not So Sweet

Kyle Busch’s frustrating 2020 season continued as despite starting on the pole, he would be a non-factor for the win and finish 21st. 

Busch apparently broke a shock sometime towards the end of stage 2 and nearly spun out exiting turn 4 because of it. 

Busch finds himself 11th in points without a single victory or stage win on the season. There’s nine races left until the playoffs start which still gives him time to get hot, but the clock is ticking. 

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