Cole Custer won the pole and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Talking Stick Resort 75 race at Phoenix International Raceway on Thursday, gathering up his first win in the series in Bill McAnally Racing’s No. 00 NAPA Auto Parts/Haas Automation Chevrolet.
Brennan Newberry finished second in the No. 24 car, and Custer’s teammate, Nick Drake, finished third in the No. 55 Napa Auto Parts Toyota. The BMR team missed a podium sweep when Brandon McReynolds suffered damage to his No. 16 Napa Auto Parts Toyota in the final laps and faded from second to finish eighth.
Custer, of Ladera Ranch, Calif., returned to the track where he dominated the competition last November in one of his two K&N West starts. The then-15-year-old won the pole and led 49 of 50 laps before contact from another car left him to finish sixth. As a rookie in the K&N East last year, Custer captured two wins, two poles and finished eighth in the overall championship standings. In addition to competing in select events in the East and West divisions of the K&N Pro Series this year, Custer will make his debut in a limited schedule making in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this year.
Custer’s win in the Talking Stick Resort 75 came in just his third series start. The 16-year-old driver was fast in practice and turned a fast-lap of 131.536 mph in qualifying to win his second straight pole at Phoenix. He went on to lead the most laps in the race and pulled away from the field in a green-white-checkered finish, due to a late-race caution that extended the event distance.
“I can’t thank my guys enough for giving me a great car and all the people at Bill McAnally Racing and Napa Auto Parts and Gene Haas and Haas Automation,” Custer said. “We have a great group of guys that keep working and making things better and better.”
Asked about how this race felt with a late restart coming at the end Custer said, “It almost felt like the same thing (the K&N race at PIR in November), because our car wasn’t very good on the short runs so I knew that I had to do everything right so he (Newberry) wouldn’t get past. There were so many restarts which render so many opportunities to make a mistake, that I guess we got lucky a little bit that we didn’t make a mistake.”
In addition to this K&N West win, Custer had two victories as a rookie last season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, as well as two poles. In addition to competing in select events in the East and West divisions of the K&N Pro Series this year, Custer is set to race a limited schedule in making his debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
When the green flag flew for the start of the race, Custer got the jump on the No. 26 Greg Pursley driven Gene Price Motorsports/Star Nursery Chevrolet going in to turn one. After a caution on lap two, the field restarted and Custer again got a good start, but Pursley hung with him and on lap 11 took the lead from Custer in turn four.
On lap 24, Custer edged closer to Pursley in turn three. Then on lap 28, when Pursley tried to get by a lap car on the inside, the lap car pinched down on him and caused Pursley to spin.
On a restart on lap 3, Custer led No. 61 Brett Thompson in to turn one, then Thompson went high in one and two and No. 83 Kelly Admiraal passed him for second. On lap 34, the No. 6 Sunrise Ford driven by James Bickford, hit the outside wall in turns three and four and suffered right side damage.
On lap 38, Custer again led the restart with Admiraal and Thompson fighting for second. Brandon McReynolds, driving the No. 16 Napa Auto Parts Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing, made it three-wide in the dogleg. When it was all sorted out, Custer was still leading with Admiraal in second and McReynolds in third. Bickford, after a lengthy pit stop, was back out after making repairs to his car, but had to pit again on lap 51 to make further adjustments.
The field restarted on lap 62 with Custer in the lead and McReynolds in second. With 10 laps to go Custer kept a half second lead over McReynolds. It was Custer, McReynolds, Newberry, Drake, and Pursley the top five. After another caution on lap 75, McRenolds had some damage on his left front. Newberry was now in second and Drake in third.
It would be a green-white-checkered finish with Custer getting a good jump on Newberry in turn one. Newberry tried to challenge Custer for the lead, but Custer held on and took the checkered flag.
The Talking Stick Resort 75 is scheduled to be broadcast at 10 a.m. Friday, March 7 on Fox. The next NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race will be at Toyota Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale on Saturday, March 22.