Cole Custer entered Saturday’s Alsco 300 as one of the favorites to win. However, an unusually rough day saw him end up finishing 24th, four laps down, after multiple encounters with the SAFER barrier.
Even with a number of issues, Custer was still in position to bring home a decent finish. Then, the wall came out and bit him.
“I was just… pushing [the car] too hard,” Custer told Frontstretch after the race. “I was in [Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s] dirty air and I just couldn’t get [the car] to turn. I just messed up. Made too many mistakes at the end, but we had a great Thompson Pipegroup Mustang.”
The trouble started on lap 43 when Custer (along with leader Christopher Bell) hit a piece of metal debris in turn 4. The debris, which had been on the track for a couple of laps prior and NASCAR chose not to throw a caution for, damaged the nose of Custer’s Ford and negatively affected his handling for the remainder of the race. Custer dropped to the back of the lead lap while the Stewart-Haas Racing team made repairs to the front end of his Mustang.
While trying to drive back up through the field, Custer had his first brush with the SAFER Barrier in turn 2. This hit did not damage the No. 00 all that much, but it did curtail his charge.
The struggles continue for @ColeCuster. 😫
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) May 25, 2019
Despite the damage from his brush with warm steel, Custer was able to charge back toward the front. He finished stage two in seventh with the brush, bringing his stage point haul for the day to 13. Even with the damage, he still had one of the fastest cars on the track, despite some handling issues.
“We were pretty good, just fought tight the whole time,” Custer said. “Got it pretty close near the end. The nose damage didn’t help us much. We made gains, but it’s just frustrating.”
Normally, hot weather tends to encourage loose handling. Custer’s statement was in line with a number of drivers told Frontstretch after the race. Ryan Sieg believes that the PJ1 TrackBite that was laid down in the upper grooves was partially to blame for that.
Custer entered the race third in points, 71 behind Tyler Reddick. Finishing 24th cost him a significant amount of ground to Reddick (he’s now 102 points out of the lead), but he gained some ground on Bell.