SPARTA, Ky. (FOX19) - It was a weekend for first-time winners at Kentucky Speedway.
Cole Custer went four-wide on the front stretch at Kentucky Speedway around Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick as the field saw the white flag.
With one lap to go, Custer passed Truex into turn one.
Custer, a NASCAR Cup Series rookie, won the 10th running of the Quaker State 400 on Sunday at Kentucky Speedway, his first career Cup Series victory.
“We just had an unbelievable car all day,” said the 22-year-old Custer. “I mean, honestly, it was the best car I think I’ve driven a long time. We were kind of mired in traffic the whole day. We started in the back. So, once we got to the front, you just got to take advantage of it.”
Truex Jr., who led 57 laps, finished second followed by Matt DiBenedetto, and Harvick finished fourth, despite receiving some damage during the four-wide melee on the final lap. “I got out of the gas and that just brought everybody into the picture and then we were four-wide on the front straightaway here and the 12 hit the drain and came up and hit the side of the car and then I couldn’t see,” said Harvick after the race. “So, yeah, it got wild and that’s what you’re supposed to do. I’m just really happy for Cole Custer and everybody on the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang. That’s pretty cool to get your first win.”
Last year’s Quaker State 400 champ Kurt Busch rounded out the top five.
“We ran strong, we raced tough,” said Busch. “We weren’t quite able to rekindle last year’s success, but a top-five is solid.”
The rest of the top 10 included 6th-place Blaney, rookie Christopher Bell, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and rookie Tyler Reddick who finished 10th.
Kyle Busch, a two-time winner at Kentucky, finished 21st and had multiple issues during the race. Matt Kenseth, who won the 2013 Quaker State 400, finished 25th.
The race was run in the daytime, only the second Quaker State 400 to run in the day, and that didn’t bother third-place finisher Matt DiBenedetto at all.
“I personally liked the day race,” said DiBenedetto, who was running a Quaker State sponsored car in the race. “I’m a little bit better [during the day] just because when it’s a little warmer and you got a little sun on the track, it kind of makes it where you have to lift out of the gas a little bit more. Not much. We’re in the gas most away around here, not lifting a whole lot, because of the dirty air situation. But I like the day race better just for that sake.
“This track’s getting a little more character each year we come back here because obviously the weather can be harsh on the surface, which is good, that’s what we like as drivers.”
Custer is the first rookie to win in the Cup Series since Chris Buescher won at Pocono in 2016. With the win, Custer became the 33rd driver in NASCAR history to win a race in the Gander RV & Outdoors Trucks Series, Xfinity Series and Cup Series. “It just goes down to probably the Truck Series honestly,” said Custer of what he’s learned while climbing the NASCAR ladder that paid off for him on Sunday. “I think our restarts are very similar to the Truck Series. You’ve just got to keep momentum up you got to try and make three-wide moves and I think that’s just what you kind of got to base it off of.
“Overall, it’s a combination of everything that you’ve learned throughout your career of trying to time the restarts right, trying to get momentum on people and get to their outside, and just once you’re up front, you’ve got to take advantage of it. And I think we did that today.”
Custer’s crew chief, Mike Shiplett, also scored his first career Cup Series win atop the pit box on Sunday. Shiplett also has the distinction of winning in all three NASCAR national touring series with the win in the Quaker State 400.
“It means a lot,” said Shiplett after the race. “It’s been a long time trying to get here and we finally got here and that puts me at a win in every of the three major series, so I’m pretty proud of that.”
With the win, Custer is now locked into the NASCAR playoffs, taking some stress off him and his team. “We kind of dug ourselves in a hole a little bit, not from wrecking cars or anything, but just from inexperience,” said Custer who finished 5th at Indianapolis last weekend. “I just don’t know what to expect going into races, not having a feel for the cars and I think we started putting the whole picture more together during races.”
The race was strung out in the third stage and drivers had some difficulty passing until a number of restarts with 30 laps to go shuffled the running order up. Truex had a commanding lead until that string of cautions, after taking the lead from Brad Keselowski at lap 181.
“It’s just it’s the nature of these races,” said Truex, the 2017 and 2018 Quaker State 400 winner. “It’s all momentum and you got to be in the right lane on the restarts.”
Jimmie Johnson, in his final Cup Series start at Kentucky, finished 18th after getting spun out on a lap 248 restart by Brad Keselowski. Johnson was restarting third and went to block a run by Keselowski on the restart and got spun into the grass.
Keselowski won stage two over teammate Ryan Blaney in a one-lap shootout after Matt Kenseth spun out on lap 154 to bring out the yellow. Aric Almirola dominated the first half of the race, leading from lap 10 to lap 137, a race-high 128 laps. Almirola won stage one and earned a playoff point.
Local companies sponsored a few cars in Sunday’s race. CorvetteParts.net and Keen Parts, a West Side company, sponsored Corey LaJoie’s No. 32, which finished 28th, three laps down. Another West Side company, Cincinnati Inc., sponsored the No. 88 of Alex Bowman, who finished 19th. One spot behind the Cincinnati Inc. car was the Fifth Third Bank Ford of Chris Buescher’s No. 17. Kroger was on the hood of the No. 47 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse finished 29th, also three laps down.
The race completed in just over three hours and three minutes and featured eight cautions for a total of 42 laps. Kevin Harvick leads the point standings by 88 points over Brad Keselowski.
The next race for the Cup Series is Wednesday night’s All Star Race at Bristol, which is an exhibition race and airs on Fox Sports 1. By virtue of his win in Kentucky, Custer is now locked into the NASCAR All Star Race on Wednesday night. The Cup Series moves to Texas next weekend and the NBC family of networks will broadcast races for the remainder of the season.