Custer’s Bid For Victory Ends In Heartbreak

0
83
Cole Custer (00) spins after contact with Matt Crafton while battling for the lead late in Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. (NASCAR photo)
Cole Custer (00) spins after contact with Matt Crafton while battling for the lead late in Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. (NASCAR photo)
Cole Custer (00) spins after contact with Matt Crafton while battling for the lead late in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. (NASCAR photo)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Cole Custer didn’t leave Martinsville (Va.) Speedway with a grandfather clock on Saturday, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

Custer qualified second for the Kroger 250, his 10th career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start. It also marked the first Truck Series race ever for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports operation, and it could’ve ended in Victory Lane.

Instead, Custer’s black-and-red No. 00 HAAS Automation Chevrolet SS wound up 16th in what had to be the most eventful race of his brief CWTS career – even more eventful than his first win last September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

For starters, Custer was fast. He proved that in qualifying by coming up just short of eventual pole- and race-winner Joey Logano’s fastest lap. He battled with Logano early in Saturday’s race, and beat him out of pit road after the first pit stop.

Custer would have restarted second, the first car with fresh tires. But a pit-road speeding penalty knocked the 17-year-old Ladera Ranch, Calif. native to 22nd. He made his way into the top 10 over the next 125 laps before another pit stop looked to have him in sixth.

Instead, Custer was again penalized for speeding. He worked to overcome the deficit and appeared to have a top-five finish in hand as the race wound down.

But Custer isn’t one to settle. He moved up to third place with less than 10 laps to go and saw an opportunity to win his second race when leaders Joey Logano and Matt Crafton got side-by-side in turn one.

Custer aggressively charged the corner and made contact with Crafton, who slid into Logano. Both leaders saved their trucks, but Custer drove under them and took the lead.

He held it for just two laps before Crafton ran him down, nudged his No. 88 Menards Toyota to the top spot and left Custer fighting for control. He spun out on the frontstretch and was left with little to show for a solid day at the track.

“I had an idea (Custer) was coming,” Logano said. “I was trying to defend the first position. I heard he was coming (from spotter Joey Meier), but I heard he was still three or four (truck lengths) back. The next thing I know, he’s coming (closer) and he didn’t let up. My initial reaction was, I was really mad.”

Logano’s frustration turned to joy after he won the race. Custer was diplomatic in his assessment of an eventful afternoon.

“I drove in too hard,” Custer said. “It worked, and I knew (Crafton) was going to nudge me a bit (if he caught up). He did it respectfully. I was doing all I could.

“This was still a great day for us. I can’t thank Dale Jr. and Kelley (Earnhardt Miller, a co-owner) enough for making this happen.”