For the first time since Dover last May, Cole Custer brought home a top-10 result in Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The third-year NASCAR Cup Series driver has had an agonizing tenure at the sport’s highest level. While he has a Cup win at Kentucky two years ago, top-10s have been hard to come by compared to his three teammates, who’ve maintained more consistency.
However, the 260-lap race proved to be one of Custer’s brighter days with Stewart-Haas Racing. All thanks to avoiding carnage, Custer brought his No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang home in one piece.
Following 30th and 23rd place outings in the first two stages, the carnage in front of him eliminated top contenders. With improved adjustments to the car, Custer slowly worked his way towards the top-10.
Coming toward the white flag, Custer was in a position of possibly getting his first top-five since his Kentucky triumph. That chance faded away in Turn 1 when leader Chase Elliott blocked Corey LaJoie, who gave it his all to score his maiden Cup win. The block tarnished LaJoie’s afternoon, losing control in front of Custer and barely avoiding a DNF.
Kurt Busch, who was behind Custer, wasn’t as fortunate as he crashed into LaJoie. Custer lost a few spots and when the caution came out, he was initially credited with a 12th place finish.
After NASCAR reviewed the footage at the moment the caution came out, Custer was scored in ninth. He secured his first top-10 of the year and improved from 27th to 26th in points.
“We got the car way better. The guys worked really hard and made great adjustments throughout the day,” said Custer. “By the end, I thought we were just as good as anybody. We could have had a shot to win there. I think we were running in the top five on the last lap, but somebody wrecked in front of us and we got knocked back a little bit, but overall it was a good day of hopefully finding a direction and I think it was nice to go up there and run with those guys and show that we can have some speed.”
Custer wasn’t alone as Harrison Burton, who finished behind him, scored his first top-10 in Cup. Of the 32 full-time drivers, just Ford drivers Todd Gilliland and Cody Ware are without a top-10 after 19 races.
The top-10 for Custer comes at a good time as the series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend. It’s the site of Custer’s first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win in 2014 when he did it at 16 years old.
Live coverage of the Ambetter 301 begins Sunday, July 17 at 3:00 p.m. on USA Network. In two previous Cup starts at New Hampshire, Custer finished eighth and 14th.