By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Four points were all that separated Cole Custer from a 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship bid. Custer fought hard throughout the Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix Raceway to move into the Championship Four. He was never far from his championship rival, Daniel Hemric.
In the final run to the finish, Custer and Hemric fought tooth and nail, desperately fighting for every position. At one point, it looked as if Custer’s No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang had the upper hand, pulling away from Hemric. However, as the laps clicked off, Hemric’s No. 21 Smokey Mountain Snuff Chevrolet Camaro came to life. In the final two laps, the duo leaned on each other, beating and banging around the 1-mile track. As they battled, Christopher Bell snuck by, and Blake Koch took advantage as well.
When they finally took the checkered flag, Hemric was fifth, and Custer seventh, four points shy of advancing to the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Custer had been the most consistent driver throughout the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs. However, that consistency left him simply the best of the rest.
Custer was dejected, admitted that short-tracks were his weak point,
“I knew we needed to beat him (Hemric), but I guess we needed a buffer in between us to beat him. We were all right all day. We just needed that much more really to compete with the top three guys. It sucks. The short tracks weren’t our strong suit all year, but the mile and a halves were really good for our Haas Automation Mustang team. We just had a lot of bad luck this round with the first two races. I know Daniel had some bad luck too, but if we didn’t have those two flats I think we would have transferred in there, so it sucks. I think we were really fast at Homestead when we went and tested, so we’ll try to win that race.”
Custer’s consistency showed throughout the first two stages of the race as he ended both in the seventh position. Meanwhile, Hemric finished the stages in fourth and third, gaining seven points on Custer, which made the difference. The duo were easily in contention for the final position because of unfortunate luck of Brennan Poole, who wrecked after contacting a slower car.
Despite a heroic recovery last weekend, and the intense battle in Saturday’s race, Custer will have to settle for the role of spoiler next weekend.