By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Pole sitter Cole Custer backed up his runner-up effort at Charlotte last Saturday with a fifth-place finish in Saturday’s Pocono Green 250 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
It’s Custer’s first ever consecutive top-five finish and his third this season.
“We had a really fast Haas Automation Mustang, we just didn’t have really good long run speed. That was our biggest problem. We just got too tight at the end of a run,” said Custer. “It was interesting to run the package and try to learn it throughout the day. I just think we needed a little more there. We were close, we just needed a little more long run speed.”
Throughout the 100-lap contest, Custer stayed among the race leaders and ended up being the only driver outside of race winner Kyle Busch to lead more than five laps with 23.
With three laps to go in the opening stage, Custer pulled into the pits and tried a different pitting strategy, hoping it’ll throw off Busch’s game later on.
Eventually, Custer progressed his way back in front on Lap 28 after the rest of the field pitted. Custer led the next 21 laps until Paul Menard crashed the party and quickly became an intense battle for the stage win.
Then it shifted into a game of who will get the better push. Menard was getting drafting help by Penske teammate Austin Cindric, while Custer received assistance by Justin Allgaier.
Custer and Menard continued side-by-side until Menard put his name on top of the leaderboard entering Turn 3, going by the lapped car of Mike Harmon with ease and cleared Custer before reaching the frontstretch and head on to win the stage.
The last 50 laps remained relatively quiet for Custer as he wasn’t a serious threat for the race win as Busch went on to win his 92nd career Xfinity Series win.
As far as the championship battle is concerned, it was a huge day for the 20-year-old. He entered fifth in points and will leave the “Tricky Triangle” in second, trailing points leader Elliott Sadler by 62 points.
Custer’s mindset now shifts to his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start, where he’ll roll off 28th for tomorrow’s Pocono 400. In his only start at Las Vegas, he finished 25th for Rick Ware Racing.