In the closing laps of the Kroger 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Cole Custer was sitting in position to earn a top-10 finish in his first series start.
The Haas Automation driver ran inside the top-10 for much of the race, but a number of beating-and-banging incidents and late-race caution flags hampered Custer’s ability to advance in the closing laps.
“I really feel like we deserved a top-five finish today,” Custer said. “That’s how good I think we were. But it came down to restarts and where everything plays out. It got really dicey there at the end. It was our goal to keep the fenders on our Haas Automation Chevrolet all day and to be there at the end. We accomplished that goal today. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my crew chief, Joe Shear, Jr. He is a wealth of knowledge. We had a great chassis from Turner-Scott Motorsports, and the Hendrick engine under the hood was awesome. We’ve got eight more Truck races scheduled. The next one’s in a couple of months at Dover. We’ll go there and try to improve on today’s run.”
After starting ninth in a race that was postponed for a day due to persistent rain showers on Saturday, Custer was able to maintain his position throughout the early going. During the race’s scheduled competition caution on lap 35, the Ladera Ranch, Calif., native made his first trip to pit road to take four tires and fuel, along with a track bar adjustment. Custer struggled with a loose-handling condition when green-flag racing resumed, but he held the seventh position until the caution flag was displayed once again on lap 92.
As the laps clicked off, tire management became crucial, and differing strategies over an extended green-flag run saw Custer fall back as far as 15th. However, Custer and crew chief Shear got the break they needed on lap 190, when a single-truck incident forced NASCAR to once again display the caution flag. Custer, in the 12th position, was able to come to the attention of the Haas Automation team to take on a fresh set of tires, which helped him to quickly advance inside the top-10 after the restart.
Unfortunately, after another restart on lap 231, the Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado was hit from behind, forcing Custer out of the racing groove and down several positions. Still, he was able to race aggressively back into position for a top-10 finish in the closing laps. A green-white-checkered finish gave Custer one last shot at the outcome he felt he deserved, but another incident rendered the field frozen at the time of the caution and the finishing order was final.