HOMESTEAD, Fla. – A second-place finish wasn’t quite enough for Cole Custer to capture a driver’s championship Saturday night, but it did give Stewart-Haas Racing its first NASCAR Xfinity Series owner’s title following the Ford EcoBoost 300.
Custer started on the pole, swept the first two stages and led a race-high 95 of 200 laps en route to what he called a “bittersweet” result for team co-owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas.
“It’s just … you win one (title) and yet you lose another one,” lamented Custer. “But you know, it means a lot to our team to win a championship and take this owner’s title. We only started last year, so it’s really unbelievable how far we’ve come and how hard everybody has worked to get us to the point that we’re at right now, so I can’t thank everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing enough.
“We just came up just a little short and things just didn’t play out right there at the end for us to win the driver’s title, but we’ll celebrate the championship we got and look ahead to next season.”
Saturday night’s result marked the first Xfinity Series owner championship for Stewart-Haas Racing in just its second full season of competition in the series. The team also has two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series titles, coming in 2011 with Stewart and 2014 with Kevin Harvick.
“It’s so impressive to see what this group has done in three years, to get us in a position just to contend like we did tonight,” said Stewart. “We were excited about this race tonight, obviously, after what Cole did here last year and how dominant he was. He ran an awesome race today. I’m not so sure we didn’t get him behind the 8-ball on pit strategy, but he drove his tail off and I’m proud of him and this team.”
“It’s always nice to win a trophy,” added Haas. “It takes 52 weeks to get here and now everyone in our shop has to wait another year before they can come back and try to do this again. Yes, it’s disappointing to not win (both championships), but it’s good to still leave here with something and this is a great way to celebrate and thank our crew members for all their hard work through the season.”
After the race, Custer noted that he felt his car was capable of running as high on the race track as eventual race winner and champion Tyler Reddick’s could, but that the driver didn’t quite measure up.
“I probably could have stayed a little bit more committed to it, but the problem is that when you try and commit more and more to it, you’re going to hit the wall,” Custer said. “It’s just a balance that he (Reddick) kind of did for the whole race and got a feel for it, where I tried to run a lane off the wall, so I just didn’t have the feel for it there.
“I think I just wasn’t aggressive enough with it at the end. I think the car probably could have done it. I think it’s more of a driving thing that I probably could have practiced a little bit more this weekend.”
As for Stewart, the three-time Cup Series champion had nothing but praise for Custer and the job the 20-year-old did all season long, confirming that he will be back in the No. 00 Ford again next season.
“Cole has done a great job, and we’re excited about his progress and excited to see what he can do again next year for us,” Stewart said. “We plan to keep that side of the program the way it is right now.
“Like I said, we’re excited about the championship on the owner’s side, but the goal was to win Cole a driver championship and then we would get ours that way. We’ll just come back next year and try again to get him one, but I’m excited that we were able to get Ford their first title for the weekend here and hopefully we can get them another one on Sunday, as well.”