Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer knows what it’s like to win at Homestead as his first career win came at the track last fall.
If Custer is able to repeat that feat later this month, it’ll net him a championship after he survived a crash-filled O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday to lock himself into the championship round with his first victory of 2018.
The driver of the No. 00 Ford made a last-lap pass and survived contact with Tyler Reddick in Turns 3 and 4 in the final lap and beat Reddick to the finish by .162 seconds, the third-closest Xfinity race at the track. The finish capped a race that saw 13 cautions come out, shattering the old Xfinity Series mark at the track of 10 set in 2003.
Custer restarted first but didn’t know if he’d had enough to hold off Reddick.
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“I thought it was going to be tough,” Custer said. “I knew I had to make it happen in turns 1 and 2. I turned into Turn 1 five car lengths deeper than I did all day. We side drafted in the backstretch and it just worked out I guess. I was put in a situation to make something happen and it worked out.”
Custer came to TMS in seventh in points, 23 behind the final transfer spot. Now with the series heading to Phoenix he’s the only driver locked into the championship.
“This win feels a lot better than the first one because it was so close,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had to pass somebody on the last lap. I feel like I did my job today.”
Custer, who started third, had a car capable of winning throughout the race as he finished second in the first stage and won stage two.
But that didn’t matter because the way the cautions shifted the field around throughout the race. He still had to hold off Reddick during a two-lap dash after a six-car accident brought out the final caution on Lap 195.
They were side-by-side on the final lap with Custer dipping inside to clear Reddick despite contact.
“It’s part of racing,” said Reddick, who is still in good shape heading to Phoenix as he’s second in points and 20 ahead of fourth place. “It’s how it goes. It’s worked in my favor. It’s worked against me. I was really in position where I needed to be on the last lap.”
Reddick led a race-high 54 laps on a wild day. Austin Cindric finished third as he watched Reddick and Custer fight on the last lap while hoping caution No. 14 would come.
“I’m almost happy,” said Cindric, who was involved in two of the cautions. “I was hoping Tyler would go crazy and try to win the thing. I was literally screaming down the backstretch. What a day. What a race. I hope that was entertaining. It was really stressful.”
The tone of the race was set on the first turn of Lap 1 as polesitter Christopher Bell spun and started an incident that involved nine cars. It was that kind of day for Bell, who has won a season-high six races but will now need a Hail Mary in Phoenix as he finished 32nd and is 34 points out of a championship spot.
Elliott Sadler finished eighth and is third in points while 10th-place finisher Daniel Hemric sits fourth.