Custer Captures Phoenix Win
February 27, 2014 | 9:24 P.M. EST
It was Custer’s first K&N West victory in just three starts. (Photo: Getty Images)
Cole Custer had the checkered flag in sight four months ago at Phoenix International Raceway, but had to wait until Thursday night to get the win.
Custer, 16, won the Talking Stick Resort 75, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season opener in the Arizona desert. The Ladera Ranch, Calif., driver started from the pole position and first had to deal with three-time Phoenix race winner Greg Pursley and then with a hard-charging Brennan Newberry on a green-white-checkered finish.
“We had a great car tonight. The guys at Bill McAnally Racing and Haas Automation have really put a lot of time in to get these cars better and better,” said Custer.
In the November 2013 K&N Pro Series West season finale, Custer had a dominant car in leading practice, winning the pole position and leading every lap in the race – except for one. Gray Gaulding used a bump-and-run move on the white-flag lap to claim the win and send Custer spinning to a sixth-place finish.
On this night, Custer led the first nine laps before succumbing to the pressure of Pursley and surrendering the lead. However, on Lap 28 Custer regained the lead from Pursley, who tangled with lapped traffic, and was able to drive his No. 00 NAPA Auto Parts/Haas Automation Chevrolet to victory from there.
He built a lead of more than a second in the closing laps, but a late caution flag flew when Greg Rayl made contact with the Turn 4 wall on Lap 72 to set up the overtime finish, and was able to edge a persistent Newberry at the line by .376 seconds.
“We weren’t very good on the short runs and I had to do everything to hold (Newberry) off,” Custer said. “He stuck his nose in there, but I was able to stay in front. After that, it was pretty smooth sailing.”
It was a homecoming of sorts for Newberry, who hails from Bakersfield, Calif., and will compete fulltime this season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, as well as, in a dozen or so NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events.
“Phoenix is my favorite track,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of speed in the cars this year and came in with a lot of confidence. At the end, though, I wanted to race Cole clean, so we’re fine with second tonight.”
Sixteen-year-old Nick Drake, who competed in sprint cars on dirt last season, scored a third-place finish for Bill McAnally Racing in his K&N West debut after making his K&N Pro Series East debut at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway on Feb. 16.
“This was really just my third stock car race and to come to a big track like Phoenix and run in the top three is pretty incredible,” he said.
Pursley rebounded from the early trouble to finish fourth while two-time NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion D.J. Kennington came home in the fifth position. Dylan Lupton, Giles Thornton, Brandon McReynolds, Brett Thompson and Taylor Cuzick completed the top-10 finishers on the night.
It was Custer’s first K&N West victory in just three starts. He collected a pair of K&N East wins last season in August at Iowa Speedway in Newton and in September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
“It’s huge to get wins in both series,” said Custer. “Not very many people can say they’ve done that.”
Earlier in the day, Custer won the 21 Means 21 presented by Coors Brewing Company Pole Award. It was his second in the K&N Pro Series West to match the two he has in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
Gaulding experienced engine problems in the early going and wasn’t able to mount a challenge.
The Talking Stick Resort 75 will be telecast by FOX Sports 1 on Friday, March 7 at 1 p.m. ET.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West is in action next on Saturday, March 22 in the NAPA 150 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. It’s the first series race at the Southern California half-mile oval since July 2011.