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Cole Custer Wins at Phoenix and the XFINITY Series Championship

“Stone” Cole Custer prevails at Phoenix Raceway (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Over 25 years ago, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin ruled WWE and often celebrated with a beer smash. Fast forward to Saturday’s Xfinity Championship Race at Phoenix, another “Rattlesnake” ruled and celebrated with a beer smash.

The man in question is Cole Custer, who fended off the competition to win his third NASCAR XFINITY Series race that secured his first NASCAR national touring championship.

Custer led a race-high 96 laps, including a victory in the second stage. But it almost became a nightmare after a late-race multi-car crash involving Anthony Alfredo and Dawson Cram with four laps in regulation sent the race into overtime.

Fortunately for everyone, including co-owner Tony Stewart, the race-extended 202 laps did not end up like a crapshoot which Friday’s Truck Series race ended up being. Instead, it was hard fought, clean fight to the finish with Custer trying to fend off title rivals John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Allgaier and Sam Mayer.

Custer chose the outside while Nemechek chose the inside. Flashbacks to Mosport in 2016 kicked in when both slammed each other off the racing surface for the win, leading to a fight on the frontstretch. However, both men’s maturity have evolved and it boiled down to who can get the exit off the first couple of turns.

Nemechek would be pinched in while Allgaier, who overcame a Lap 2 spin, poured his soul on dethroning Custer for the win, even going four-wide with the leaders which had the crowd up to their feet. It did not pan out as Custer ultimately cleared ahead of everyone and got his first oval win of the year as his previous wins were at Portland and Chicago.

After burning it down with his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing squad celebrating their first NXS title together, Custer could not be more happier in how they have been able to thrive this season.

“I feel like with this team, we can do anything,” said Custer. “It’s all these guys here that brought such a fast race car and I just can’t thank Gene Haas, Tony Stewart, everybody at SHR, Ford Performance, what an awesome car here today. We made it exciting there at the end.

“But the car was as fast as Xfinity 10G internet. It was just amazing that we were able to make it there, and I can’t thank everybody enough for believing in me.”

Further back in the final corner, Nemechek’s No. 20 Toyota Supra ended up hitting the wall and dropped down to 28th. The series leader in wins at seven, ends his final year in Xfinity before going back to the Cup Series fourth in the final standings.

“It sucks to end up where we finished. Had a really strong effort all day. Proud of this whole 20 crew. Proud of this whole group,” said Nemechek. “Just sucks to end our season this way, but overall a really successful season for this 20 team, Joe Gibbs Racing. Was proud to be behind the wheel of this 20 car all year, and seven wins is a lot to be proud of.

“One race doesn’t define us as a group, and it’s really just another race. If you win, you come out the champion. That’s what we told ourselves all week, and we almost had it.”

Allgaier ended up finishing third, just missing out on beating Sheldon Creed for the runner-up spot. Such result did not matter as for the seventh time in the Championship 4, Allgaier was not the series champion. In fact, this season marked his second runner-up campaign where he had to see another Ford driver win the championship.

Time will tell if Allgaier will ever get a seventh chance at a championship, but he thanked his No. 7 JR Motorsports squad for never giving up all race long.

“Hats off to this whole race team, everybody at JR Motorsports. To bring the Camaros we brought this weekend,” said Allgaier. “I don’t know if I’ll get another shot at it again next year.

“We at least will have a shot at it, but I don’t know if we’ll make it. But so proud of the effort of this team and what we were able to accomplish. The restart was fantastic. I thought we did everything right.”

Before the finale came down to the overtime finish, the race went relatively calm following the opening two cautions that involved Allgaier and later Kyle Sieg. Action was a plenty between the Championship 4 contenders as they have stayed pretty close. Even if Allgaier had to recover from his Lap 3 incident, he quickly worked his way back into the top-10.

The title contenders may typically steal the spotlight, but a few non-playoff racers were poised in having strong finishes. Penalties and incidents negatively impacted the likes of Sammy Smith, Myatt Snider, Connor Mosack and Sheldon Creed with the latter being able to recover the best.

Above anything else, it was about being in the mix for the race win as Snider and Mosack were nowhere near the top-20 at night’s end.

In Stage 1, Creed had to serve a pass-thru penalty for a restart violation but stayed on the lead lap. Creed was able to showcase his muscle and capped off his final race with Richard Childress Racing in second by 0.007 seconds over Allgaier.

Sheldon Creed ended his tenure with Richard Childress Racing at Phoenix. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

“To be able to drive through the field and even to the lead at one point felt really good,” said Creed. “I needed a little more short-run and a little more long-run speed to race with the No. 20 and No. 00 cars all night. I had a very good restart at the end and things went my way to be able to finish second.”

Rounding out the top-five in the final race of the season were Riley Herbst and Mayer. For the former, it was yet another superb result in the playoff window. Due to bad luck in the second half of the regular season, Herbst missed the playoffs. But a win at Las Vegas and coming up short of beating Mayer at Homestead highlight the overall improvement of the No. 98 team.

Stewart explained how proud he has been of Herbst and like Custer, maturity has become a positive trait. Both had a conversation after the win that it will get easier going into Victory Lane now that he was finally able to do so this season.

“Riley’s finish to the season has been remarkable,” said Stewart. “I told him, he came to Victory Lane to congratulate (Custer), and I said, ‘Remember that conversation we had? You will carry momentum now.’ And he’s carried it all the way to the end of the season. I said, ‘You don’t even realize how much that momentum is going to carry through the off-season to next year.’

“For Cole to win the championship, for Riley to have the run that he’s had at the end of the season, I couldn’t be more proud of our XFINITY program and the direction and how well these two drivers are doing driving our race cars. So I’m excited to have them back.”

As the dust settles on another NASCAR XFINITY Series season, Custer and SHR will leave Phoenix with huge smiles and a lot of pride. Once the celebrations are done, it will transition to preparing on defending their title in 2024.

Stage 1 Top 10 Results
  1. John Hunter Nemechek
  2. Cole Custer
  3. Chandler Smith
  4. Austin Hill
  5. Sam Mayer
  6. Sammy Smith
  7. Justin Allgaier
  8. Brandon Jones
  9. Myatt Snider
  10. Brett Moffitt
Stage 2 Top 10 Results
  1. Cole Custer
  2. Sam Mayer
  3. John Hunter Nemechek
  4. Austin Hill
  5. Chandler Smith
  6. Brandon Jones
  7. Josh Berry
  8. Sheldon Creed
  9. Justin Allgaier
  10. Riley Herbst
NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway
Finish Start Car No. Driver Sponsor/Make Status
1 7 00 Cole Custer (C4) Haas Automation Ford Running
2 5 2 Sheldon Creed Whelen Chevrolet Running
3 8 7 Justin Allgaier (C4) BRANDT Chevrolet Running
4 9 98 Riley Herbst Monster Energy Ford Running
5 16 1 Sam Mayer (C4) Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet Running
6 15 8 Josh Berry Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Chevrolet Running
7 2 21 Austin Hill Bennett Transportation Chevrolet Running
8 6 16 Chandler Smith Quick Tie Products Inc. Chevrolet Running
9 1 18 Sammy Smith Pilot Flying J Toyota Running
10 24 26 Kaz Grala Ruedebusch Toyota Running
11 20 9 Brandon Jones Menards/Tuscany Faucets Chevrolet Running
12 18 27 Jeb Burton Chevrolet Running
13 14 31 Parker Retzlaff FUNKAWAY Chevrolet Running
14 13 17 Rajah Caruth Chevrolet Running
15 19 25 Brett Moffitt AM Technical Solutions Ford Running
16 30 48 Parker Kligerman Spiked Light Coolers Chevrolet Running
17 21 91 Kyle Weatherman Fanttik Chevrolet Running
18 11 39 Ryan Sieg Sci Aps Ford Running
19 17 07 Dawson Cram TITAN CONSTRUCTION Chevrolet Running
20 25 51 Jeremy Clements Impel Union Chevrolet Running
21 12 10 Daniel Hemric Action Industries Chevrolet Running
22 4 19 Myatt Snider Tree Top Toyota Running
23 34 45 Jeffrey Earnhardt ForeverLawn Chevrolet Running
24 38 78 Anthony Alfredo RTIC Chevrolet Running
25 26 92 Josh Williams Seacrest Studios/ALLOY Chevrolet Running
26 27 43 Ryan Ellis Spider Energy Drink Chevrolet Running
27 28 35 Joey Gase Donate Life Arizona Ford Running
28 3 20 John Hunter Nemechek (C4) Pye Barker Fire & Safety Toyota Running
29 29 6 Brennan Poole KSDT CPA Chevrolet Running
30 33 66 Timmy Hill Angry Crab Shack Ford Running
31 37 28 Joe Graf, Jr. Bucked Up Ford Running
32 32 02 Blaine Perkins Gratis Chevrolet Running
33 36 4 Stefan Parsons Jupiter Rings Buffalo Sauce Chevrolet Running
34 10 24 Connor Mosack Toyota Outfitters Toyota Accident
35 31 53 Chris Hacker Morgan & Morgan Chevrolet Suspension
36 35 08 JJ Yeley Fan Controlled/Safelite Ford Accident
37 23 11 Derek Kraus Western States Flooring Chevrolet Accident
38 22 38 Kyle Sieg JW Sports Cards Ford Vibration
NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship 4 Final Standings
Position Driver Points Points Behind Points Next
1 Cole Custer 4040
2 Justin Allgaier 4034 -6 -6
3 Sam Mayer 4032 -8 -2
4 John Hunter Nemechek 4009 -31 -23

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR and INDYCAR. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. On the side, I also do sports production ranging from Seattle Kraken hockey to the 2023 NCAA Women's March Madness. All for the love of the game. With four National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to HAIM. At times, there might be some Paul Thomas Anderson and Southern California references in my social media.

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