The Finish Order: Custer Scores First Truck Win At New Hampshire
BY DAVE GRAYSON.
It was a highly charged emotional moment when young Cole Custer parked his Chevrolet Truck in the New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s victory lane after winning the September 20th UNOH 175. Custer, who started the day by setting the fast time in qualifying, led a race high 148 of the scheduled 175 laps on the way to his first series’ win in only seven starts. At 16 years, seven month and 28 days, Custer also became the youngest winner in series’ history.
The young driver’s margin of victory was 1.148 seconds over runner up Darrell Wallace Jr. Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter finished third and fourth while John Hunter Nemechek impressed racing observers with his top five finish. Completing the top ten were: Cameron Hayley, Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick, Joey Coulter and Ryan Blaney.
At first it appeared that the UNOH 175 was going to be a lengthy, high speed, green flag race. The teams ran an unprecedented 101 laps under green before the first of five yellow caution flags appeared.
However, it was the second caution flag of the race that eventually became a very pivotal moment in the outcome of this race. The sequence of events began on lap 147 when J R Heffner crashed hard into the turn four wall. It took Heffner more than a few seconds to release his window net but, fortunately, he eventually emerged from the wrecked truck without injury.
The race leaders came to pit road for a final splash of fuel with the majority of the teams taking on two tires. That’s when Joe Shear, the race winning crew chief, made a surprise call to take on four tires, a move that even the Fox Sports broadcast team questioned. The loss of track position dropped Custer from first to seventh.
The ensuing restart had Erik Jones, in the Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, in the lead because he remained on the track when the leaders pitted. However, that move never made it past the first turn before Crafton and three others passed him and that move lasted two laps before Herman Quiroga’s spin out brought out the third caution.
On the restart, with 16 laps remaining, Crafton and Wallace were on the front row. Custer, now in fourth, literally pushed Crafton back into the lead. That restart only lasted one lap when light contact between Ryan Blaney and Timothy Peters sent Blaney spinning across turn two which produced the fourth caution flag.
The green flag was presented with 11 laps remaining. Custer now in third made a dive bomb move to the low side of the track and took Crafton and Wallace three wide heading into turn one. The net result was Custer taking over second and setting sail towards Crafton. However, with seven laps remaining, Brennan Newberry was racing Wallace for third when he spun out in turn two creating the fifth and final yellow of the race.
The final restart came with four laps remaining with Crafton and Custer in the front row. That’s when the unexpected happened. In a very rare miscue, Crafton had a poor restart and fell to third. Custer made a strong move going into turn one to complete what would turn out to be the racing winning move.
After the race, a dejected Crafton quietly explained that he spun his tires on the final restart and then several seconds went by before he could get his Toyota Truck into fourth gear. “We just got beat, my bad,” he said. While the race certainly did end the way he wanted it to, the fact of the matter is: Crafton and his team’s determination led to a top five finish to cap off a day that began all wrong from the very beginning. Due to a reported electrical issue, the truck never once made it to the track for the qualifying session. Crafton had to employ a champion’s provisional and start the race dead last-in this case 30th.
Meanwhile, in victory lane, an emotionally charged 16 year old said: ” I’ve been coming to these races since I was really young. I’ve looked up to this series and everybody who races in this series. I couldn’t imagine racing here and even winning a race. I can’t even explain how amazing this is.”