By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Dirty air plagued Cole Custer’s aspirations of being a true contender for the win after leading 47 out of the first 48 laps, and settled for a ninth-place result in Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, highlighted by a late-race run-in with Brandon Jones.
Just like at Atlanta, rain cancelled qualifying and the grid was set by last season’s owners points. This meant Custer would start in first for the second straight race. Once the green flag dropped, Custer right away, but the action was quickly halted after after Joey Gase plowed into the spinning car of Donald Theetge in Turn 3 on Lap 2.
As a result, he led the opening eight laps until Austin Cindric took the lead on the restart. That wouldn’t last as Custer’s No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang went back on top of the leaderboard a lap later, and completely set the pace earlier on.
Custer took the green-checkered flag in first with ease over Brandon Jones, and it appeared he was going to be the man to beat after stronger competitors such as Kyle Busch had wheel bearing issues and a lap down.
During pit stops, Custer didn’t have the best pit time and exited out in fourth to start Stage 2. Once the stage got going, Custer wasn’t able to replicate his early run when he had clean air, and quietly ran inside the top-five before taking fourth.
In addition of struggling under dirty air, Custer was battling a loose car early into the final stage, and had to make a track bar adjustment in one of his pit stops. Once changes were made, Custer remained within the fourth and fifth-place spots until Junior Avila spun in Turn 4 on Lap 189, ending a 92-lap green flag run.
Custer restarted in fifth and was reeling in fourth-place runner Brandon Jones, who was one of three drivers to have scored top-fives in the first two-races, until those two tangled on Lap 199, which sent the race into overtime.
Down the backstretch, Custer ran into the back of Jones, and it sent the No. 19 Menards Toyota Supra into the Turn 3 wall at full force, completely destroying the front end of his car.
Fortunately for Jones, he got out of his car unharmed. Meanwhile, Custer told his Stewart-Haas Racing team over the radio that Jones came across his nose down at the bottom lane. Others indicated that Jones was dealing with car problems that may have factored into his late retirement.
After the race, Custer stated that Jones was in the position of blocking his fourth-place position instead of the aforementioned issue.
“I felt like I had a fender on him, and he was just trying to block me into the infield,” said Custer. “I held my ground, but I hate that it had to happen and that was my take on it.”
Jones said that he saw Custer trying to get by him on the bottom that led into the contact, but doesn’t put the blame on either parties.
“I hate what happened at the end there,” said Jones. “I saw in my mirror that he was trying to get to my inside and I tried to chase him down a little bit and I guess he just got into us getting into three. I wish we could have finished it out, I really think we had a shot to at least run top-three. All in all, these guys did a great job and it was no one’s fault there at the end and we’re going to go to Phoenix and be even better.”
On the restart, Custer was shifting into third gear when he lost motor and dropped from fifth to 12th. Seconds later, Custer would get another chance at redemption after a four-car crash in Turn 3.
Those involved were Cindric, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Xfinity Series debutant Zane Smith, easily prompting him back into the top-10 hunt for the next overtime restart after pitting for four new tires.
Custer restarted in 10th and gained one spot to finish behind teammate Chase Briscoe in the ninth position, scoring his 49th career top-10 and leaves Las Vegas tied second in points with Reddick, just 18 markers behind Bell after three races.