By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Championship 4 Contender Cole Custer swept all three rounds of knockout qualifying and will lead the field to green in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Custer’s final round lap at 165.598 mph in the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford bested fellow championship competitor Christopher Bell in the No. 20 Gamestop Transformers Toyota.
“Sure it gives you a little bit of confidence but it doesn’t pay anything to win the pole, so we still have to do what we have to do, Custer told Motorsports Tribune regarding the dominance in qualifying. “I’ve done my homework going into the weekend and now we just need to check every box.”
Custer missed the Championship 4 in his rookie season in 2018, but finished fifth in the championship standings. The 20-year-old punched his ticket to Miami by earning his only victory of the season in the Round of 8 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Custer earned his Xfinity Series career win at Homestead-Miami Speedway last season in dominating fashion. After qualifying second, he led 182 of the 200 scheduled laps, a race record and set the record average speed for an Xfinity Series race at the track (136.140 mph).
“I don’t know if it gives you any blind confidence but it gives you solid notes to go back on,” Custer said of the performance in 2018’s race. “That’s what gives me the confidence.
“You need to treat it like a normal race and be there at the end. I’ve tried to treat it like a normal race weekend, but have maybe paid more attention to checking every box and making sure you do everything right, but nothing drastically different.”
Bell looks to cap a record-breaking rookie season by becoming the fourth driver to win both the Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in his career, joining Austin Dillon, Johnny Benson Jr. and Greg Biffle. The Norman, Oklahoma native recorded a rookie record seven wins wins (Richmond, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Iowa-2, Richmond-2, Dover-2 and ISM Raceway-2).
Bell qualified third for last season’s XFINITY race at Homestead-Miami, but fell victim to an engine failure and finished 36th. In three Truck starts at the south Florida track, Bell has a runner-up finish and an average finish of 11.7.
Tyler Reddick qualified fourth in the No. 9 BurgerFi Chevrolet as he looks to bring the championship to JR Motorsports.
Reddick won the season-opener at Daytona and has ridden the consistency of 19 top-10 results in 32 races to be a championship contender. The 22-year-old’s Round of 8 included fifth (Kansas), second (Texas) and sixth-place results (ISM) to punch his ticket to the Championship 4. The Corning, California native won the pole last season at Homestead-Miami and led 18 laps, finishing fourth. In three Truck Series starts at the 1.5-mile track, he sports an average finish of 3.7.
Starting last of the Championship 4, Daniel Hemric will start 10th in the No. 21 South Point Hotel and Casino Chevrolet.
Hemric is already set to advance to the top level of the sport as he will drive the No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2019. For the second consecutive season, Hemric has raced his way into the Championship 4 round despite not making a trip to victory lane. Last year at Homestead-Miami, the 27-year-old qualified fourth but finished 13 laps down in the 34th position due to a battery issue. Hemric has made three Truck Series starts at Miami with one top-five and an average finish of 8.3.
If Hemric were to win the championship this weekend without winning the race he would become the first NASCAR national series champion to win a title without ever winning a NASCAR race at any level (0-for-2 in Cup; 0-for-66 in Xfinity [after Homestead]; 0-for-50 in Trucks; 0-for-3 in K&N Pro Series; 0-for-12 in NWMT/NWSMT and also 0-for-1 in ARCA).
Five cars did not qualify, which included: Josh Williams, Stephen Leicht, Josh Bilicki, Bayley Currey and Tim Viens. The field will feature 28 Chevrolets, six Toyotas, five Fords and 1 Dodge.
Coverage of Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with radio coverage on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Stages 1 and 2 will be 45 laps each with the final stage distance of 110 laps.
The full starting lineup for the Ford EcoBoost 300 can be found here.