For 95 laps of Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300, you could’ve said it was 2017 all over again.
Cole Custer had the dominant car, leading the field and driving away. The only difference this season is that a championship was on the line.
Unfortunately for the Ladera Ranch, California native, he wound up one spot short of his ultimate goal of a driver’s championship, finishing second to Tyler Reddick at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“What happened there at the end, I felt like we just had to make up that time,” Custer said. “Tyler just ran the top better than I could. He practiced that all weekend and I just wasn’t good enough at it I guess. That’s something to practice for next year I guess. I feel like we did almost everything right this race. Just fell a little bit short.”
Custer was attempting to run the top lane in order to make up ground on Reddick’s No. 9. He wound up behind the JR Motorsports Chevrolet after Crew Chief Jeff Meendering left Custer out for a handful of laps longer than Dave Elenz, shot caller for Reddick, did.
Custer on the radio: "Are we racing the 9 or where the hell is he?"
"Where the f*ck is the 9?"
Team calming him down. Runs P4.
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) November 17, 2018
“I don’t know if, looking back on it, it was the right thing to do,” Custer said of the pit strategy. “But if we could have run the top better, we would’ve won also. We got so far behind and once I caught him, our tires kind of equaled out and he started running the top and I couldn’t catch back up to him. Congrats to Tyler, happy for him. Just got to thank everybody at Haas Automation, Gene Haas. This year we’ve been really close, it just sucks to be second.”
Reddick began pulling away once Custer’s tires evened out. The No. 00 moved up against the wall to find speed but didn’t find enough.
“I couldn’t do it,” Custer said of running up high. “I think that’s just something I need to practice I guess. I probably could’ve stayed a little more committed to it, but the problem is if you commit more to it, you’re going to hit the wall. (Reddick) kind of did it the whole race and got a good feel for it. I didn’t have a good feel for it and didn’t get aggressive enough with it at the end. I think the car could’ve done it, I think it’s more of a driver thing that I could’ve practiced this weekend.”
The night wasn’t all negative, as the result yielded the first ever owner’s championship in the XFINITY Series to Stewart-Haas Racing.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet because you win one and you lose one,” Custer said. “It means a lot to our team to win a championship, an owners title. We only started last year, it’s unbelievable how far we’ve come and how hard everybody’s worked to get us to the point that we’re at right now. I can’t thank everybody enough. Just came up a little bit short and it didn’t play out at the end for us.”