MADISON, Ill. – Cole Custer took advantage of a five-lap shootout at Gateway Motorsports Park to score his second career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win in Saturday night’s American Ethanol presents the Drivin’ for Linemen 200 brought to you by Ameren.
When race leader Tyler Reddick missed his second shift of the night on the final restart, Custer attacked and cleared the field to cruise to a 0.871-second triumph over Spencer Gallagher. It was the 17-year-old NASCAR Next driver’s first win of the year and second for JR Motorsports, which won last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Kasey Kahne.
“I was just trying to tell myself ‘no excuses,’” said Custer, who won in his third start of the year. “I think we were a little bit better than the 19 (Reddick). We struggled a little bit all day. I don’t know, I’m just tired. I gotta thank Haas Automation, Gene Haas, Kelley (Earnhardt-Miller), Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) for giving me this opportunity and Hendrick engines, the pit crew for coming out.
“We put everything together, we didn’t have the best truck, but we ran a great race.”
After Matt Crafton and Erik Jones, who had the two strongest trucks of the night, endured problems late in the race, the revolving door opened with Custer answering.
For Gallagher, late-race strategy played into his hands – which ultimately led to his second career top-five finish.
“(We) didn’t have the speed in our No. 23 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet that we wanted all day, but we started 14th, so pretty far back there and a track where track position is such a huge deal, that was kind of a cloud hanging over our head to begin with. My GMS Racing guys played the game right all night. We were able to hold off Sauter at the end there. I told my crew chief, better be lucky than good sometimes, I’ll take it.”
Mother Nature played her hand early at Gateway, cancelling qualifying after a brief, but heavy shower a few minutes into round one of knockout qualifying. The field was set per the rule book, putting Erik Jones on the pole after turning the fastest lap in practice earlier in the day.
Quickly, the track dried, but the start of the eighth race of the season was delayed nearly two hours after a heavy shower soaked the 1.25-mile oval shortly before pre-race ceremonies. Drivers were called to their trucks at 9:25 p.m. CST, with the command to fire engines less than 10 minutes later.
From the start, Jones kept the lead and held the point until the first caution waved on Lap 53 for a two-truck accident in Turn 1.
Matt Crafton won the race off pit road ahead of Erik Jones, Matt Tifft, Johnny Sauter and Tyler Reddick.
Racing resumed, but Crafton’s lead would be short-lived as Jones, a NASCAR Next alum, made the pass on the outside and retook the lead from the defending series champion. Despite being chased by Crafton, Jones kept the lead until the second yellow flag waved on Lap 80 for debris.
While Jones elected to pit, Crafton stayed out, while Tyler Reddick, Johnny Sauter, Brandon Jones and Austin Theriault played strategy and took two tires. Jones was the first truck that elected for four tires and exited pit road sixth.
Crafton held the lead through Lap 91 when Tifft crashed in Turn 1.
Under the third caution of the race, Crafton pitted, handing the lead to his ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter with Custer second.
Restarting with 64 laps to go, Sauter found himself unable to hold off Custer, who ventured out to a half-second lead by Lap 100. Ten laps later, Custer had company in the form of Jones, who made the pass to reclaim the lead on Lap 112.
Six laps later, a stalled truck brought out another yellow, sending the lead lap trucks to pit road for service. A flawless stop by Crafton’s team sent him back to the top ahead of Spencer Gallagher, who took two tires. Jones exited third, followed by Ray Black Jr. with no tires, and Reddick.
On the restart, Crafton was able to stay ahead, but Jones, hungry for his first win of the season, was quickly closing. Ultimately, Jones spun on the frontstretch 17 laps from the finish while trying to pass a lapped truck.
With Jones out of the mix, Crafton found Reddick, Custer and John Hunter Nemechek looking to deny him of his fourth win of 2015.
The green flag resumed with 10 laps remaining and Reddick wasted no time making his move and surging to the lead. Crafton’s strong night would take a dramatic turn after Nemechek broke loose in Turn 3 and sent the No. 88 Toyota hard into the outside wall, yielding the sixth caution of the night.
Custer jumped out to the lead on the final restart and cruised the rest of the way to Victory Lane.
Behind Custer and Gallagher, Sauter, Nemechek and Cameron Hayley rounded out the top five, while Timothy Peters, Ben Kennedy, Reddick, Daniel Hemric and Austin Theriault comprised the top-10.
“I always knew that we had trucks capable of winning,” Custer said. “We just had to put everything together for a race.”
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race – American Ethanol presents the Drivin for Linemen 200 brought to you by Ameren
1. (2) Cole Custer, Chevrolet, 160, $45121.
2. (14) Spencer Gallagher #, Chevrolet, 160, $30147.
3. (4) Johnny Sauter, Toyota, 160, $23559.
4. (12) John H. Nemechek #, Chevrolet, 160, $21400.
5. (9) Cameron Hayley #, Toyota, 160, $18346.
6. (13) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 160, $17162.
7. (15) Ben Kennedy, Toyota, 160, $16306.
8. (6) Tyler Reddick, Ford, 160, $15757.
9. (7) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 160, $15701.
10. (10) Austin Theriault #, Ford, 160, $16596.
11. (11) John Wes Townley, Chevrolet, 160, $15591.
12. (5) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 160, $15451.
13. (18) Ray Black Jr. #, Chevrolet, 160, $15396.
14. (20) Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, 160, $15340.
15. (17) Tyler Young, Chevrolet, 160, $15601.
16. (21) Tyler Tanner, Chevrolet, 159, $15262.
17. (28) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 157, $14952.
18. (23) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 157, $14813.
19. (27) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, 156, $13452.
20. (25) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, 156, $13897.
21. (3) Matt Crafton, Toyota, Accident, 151, $13230.
22. (24) Korbin Forrister #, Chevrolet, 148, $12119.
23. (1) Erik Jones #, Toyota, Electrical, 145, $11980.
24. (26) Tommy Regan, Chevrolet, Electrical, 108, $11897.
25. (8) Matt Tifft, Toyota, Accident, 92, $12019.
26. (29) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, Brakes, 56, $11841.
27. (19) Justin Boston #, Toyota, Accident, 51, $11786.
28. (16) Mason Mingus, Chevrolet, Accident, 51, $11539.
29. (22) Justin Jennings, Chevrolet, Brakes, 26, $11511.
30. (31) Michael Affarano(i), Chevrolet, Brakes, 13, $11011.
31. (30) Adam Edwards, Chevrolet, Brakes, 6, $9511.
32. (32) Joey Gattina, Chevrolet, Engine, 0, $8511.
Chris Knight – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images