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FONTANA, Calif. – Thanks to Cole Custer, Kyle Busch will have to wait at least one more day.
With a determined run to the finish in Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway, Custer kept Busch at bay after a restart with 20 laps left and thwarted Busch’s march toward 200 victories across NASCAR’s top-three national series.
In winning for the third time in his career and the first time at his home track, the Ladera Ranch, Calif., native grabbed the lead from Christopher Bell on lap 132 of 150 and pulled away to beat Busch to the finish by 1.927 seconds, after Busch passed Bell for second on lap 136.
For his part, Busch fell one spot short of win No. 200 after a self-inflicted wound by his pit crew sent the No. 18 Toyota to the back of the field for a restart on lap 118. Four circuits earlier, under caution, a problem with the jack on the left side of the car cost Busch ten spots on pit road.
But the coup de grace was a penalty for an uncontrolled tire that forced him to restart at the tail end of the field and gave Custer a chance out front in clean air.
“It means a ton,” said the 21-year-old Custer. “As great a driver as Kyle Busch is, he’s going to be one of the legends of our sport. To keep him one race more from getting 200 means a lot. I’m sure he’s a little bit frustrated, but we have a great time racing him.”
Once Custer passed Bell for the lead, his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford took off.
“We had a pretty good car all day,” said Custer, who led four times for a total of 29 laps. “It was just a matter of getting out front. We got our car to turn a little better, and that was kind of the difference.”
After restarting sixth on lap 131, Busch, who won the first two stages and led 98 laps, couldn’t match Custer’s speed over the last 20 circuits.
“Lack of grip there at the end,” said Busch, who will have his next shot at his 200th win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (3:30 pm ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “We just didn’t have the speed we needed with the No. 00.
“Earlier in the day we were two tenths (of a second) better than some of the guys, and there at the end, we weren’t. It is what it is, I guess… Our Supra was fast, just not enough at the end. At the end there, he (Custer) was really good and really fast and had a good car. They got better throughout the day and got closer to our rear bumper there on that second-to-last run before we had our pit road problems and dropped us back in the pack.
“Obviously, we were able to rebound, but when you have a fast guy out front and a fast guy in second, they run the same times, and they stay the same distance apart. We just weren’t quick enough there at the end to chase them down.”
Bell held third despite fighting handling issues throughout the afternoon. Polesitter Tyler Reddick recovered from several brushes with the outside wall to run fourth. Chase Briscoe was fifth in the No. 98 Ford.
Austin Cindric, Brandon Jones and Ryan Preece all recovered from spins to come home sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively. Justin Allgaier and Justin Haley completed the top-ten.
Asked how he planned to celebrate the victory, Custer had a ready reply.
“This year, I can drink,” he quipped.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race – 21st Annual Production Alliance Group 300
Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, March 16, 2019
1. (3) Cole Custer, Ford, 150.
2. (2) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 150.
3. (4) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 150.
4. (1) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 150.
5. (6) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 150.
6. (11) Austin Cindric, Ford, 150.
7. (9) Brandon Jones, Toyota, 150.
8. (7) Ryan Preece(i), Chevrolet, 150.
9. (8) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 150.
10. (12) Justin Haley #, Chevrolet, 150.
11. (14) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 150.
12. (5) Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 150.
13. (16) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 150.
14. (13) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 150.
15. (18) Brandon Brown #, Chevrolet, 150.
16. (17) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 150.
17. (21) Ray Black II, Chevrolet, 148.
18. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 147.
19. (25) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 147.
20. (23) Tommy Joe Martins, Toyota, 146.
21. (28) David Starr, Chevrolet, 146.
22. (29) Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, 145.
23. (30) Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 145.
24. (27) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 143.
25. (33) Vinnie Miller, Chevrolet, 143.
26. (36) Mike Harmon, Chevrolet, 142.
27. (20) Joey Gase, Toyota, 141.
28. (10) John Hunter Nemechek #, Chevrolet, Accident, 82.
29. (22) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, Vibration, 79.
30. (35) John Jackson, Toyota, Vibration, 50.
31. (34) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Handling, 43.
32. (24) Chad Finchum, Toyota, Axle, 39.
33. (19) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, Engine, 37.
34. (26) Timmy Hill, Toyota, Transmission, 34.
35. (31) Bayley Currey(i), Chevrolet, Overheating, 14.
36. (32) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, Brakes, 10.
37. (37) Caesar Bacarella, Chevrolet, Vibration, 1.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 130.703 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 17 Mins, 43 Secs. The Margin of Victory: 1.927 Seconds.
Caution Flags: Five for 28 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among six drivers.
Lap Leaders: T. Reddick 0;K. Busch(i) 1;T. Reddick 2-11;K. Busch(i) 12-86;N. Gragson # 87-89;C. Custer 90-91;K. Busch(i) 92;C. Custer 93;K. Busch(i) 94-114;C. Bell 115-118;C. Custer 119-125;M. Annett 126-130;C. Bell 131;C. Custer 132-150.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch(i) four times for 98 laps; Cole Custer four times for 29 laps; Tyler Reddick one time for ten laps; Christopher Bell two times for five laps; Michael Annett one time for five laps; Noah Gragson # one time for three laps.
Stage #1 Top-Ten: 18,2,00,7,9,1,22,8,20,39
Stage #2 Top-Ten: 18,2,7,00,19,20,8,22,1,98