DARLINGTON, S.C. – Cole Custer may not have been able to get past Denny Hamlin on the final restart of Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts/VFW 200, but he still walked out of Darlington Raceway with the trophy.
Custer was the beneficiary of a ride-height infraction on Denny Hamlin’s No. 18 Toyota Supra that disqualified the apparent winner at the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval from the final results.
Though Custer crossed the finish line .602 seconds behind Hamlin at the checkered flag, following the confirmation of technical inspection, it was the Ladera Ranch, Calif., native who received the spoils of victory at The Track Too Tough To Tame.
Hamlin had come from the last row of the grid – 37th, to be exact – and passed Ryan Blaney for the lead with 27 to go after a Friday practice crash sent him to a backup car and seemingly out of contention.
But Hamlin methodically worked his way through the field throughout the day, finally finding himself inside the top five with a shot when the final stage went green with 50 laps to go.
It took him around 20 of those laps for the speed in his car to show as the run drug on, but when the 30 to go benchmark ticked up on the scoreboard, Hamlin hit the jets and took off. He disposed of Custer to take second before driving inside Blaney on the approach to turn one on lap 121, quickly driving away.
However, a caution with 15 laps left closed the field back up and made for a scramble to the checkered flag, after Josh Williams spun exiting turn four, clipped Landon Cassill’s nose and tapped the inside wall.
That led to a final round of pit stops for fresh tires and a 10-lap shootout to the checkered flag, where Custer could stay with Hamlin by running the middle groove of the race track but could not get enough momentum to fully pull alongside the five-time Darlington Xfinity Series winner.
Hamlin’s disqualification erased that defeat, however, and elevated Custer to his sixth win of the year.
“It’s a wild ending, for sure. It’s one way to win it; it’s just not the way you want to win it,” said Custer, who carried a Buckshot Jones throwback scheme on his No. 00 Ford Mustang on Saturday. “It’s a strange feeling, definitely I wish I could have passed him, because him being low is not why he won that race. That’s the rules that we live by, though, and everyone plays by the same rulebook.
“You’ve seen several guys this year get bitten by it, so of course we’ll take this one,” he added. “We needed some additional momentum and some more playoff points and this certainly gave us that.”
Hamlin becomes the first Xfinity Series winner to have his victory stripped since Dale Jarrett, who was triumphant at Michigan Int’l Speedway in 1995 before an illegal carburetor was discovered in tech.
After coming in and going through what he thought was the customary winner’s press conference, the news filtered out and Hamlin quickly reacted to the disqualification on social media.
Car was a handling mess and had to put a boatload of rounds in RR to help it. This is the result. Damnit!! Nice job @ColeCuster
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) August 31, 2019
Tyler Reddick, who originally finished third, rose to the runner-up position in the adjusted results.
Ryan Blaney, who led 50 laps down the stretch, Christopher Bell and Dale Earnhardt Jr. filled out the top five.
Joe Gibbs Racing has the option to appeal the disqualification, and must make the decision whether they will do so or not by Monday.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.