Cole Custer rallied from two slow pit stops and through three overtime restarts to score a dominant win in the Production Alliance 300 at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday, February 26.
The 24-year-old native from Ladera Ranch, California, led five times for a race-high 80 of 165 laps to beat Noah Gragson by half a second in his first of select NASCAR Xfinity Series starts this season with SS-Green Light Racing, which achieved their first career victory in NASCAR.
Qualifying on Saturday determined the starting lineup for the event. AJ Allmendinger, coming off his runner-up result at Daytona International Speedway, started on pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 179.829 mph. He was joined on the front row with Cole Custer, who qualified with a fast lap at 179.793 mph.
Prior to the event, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Jeb Burton, Jesse Iwuji, Joey Gase, Tommy Joe Martins and Josh Williams dropped to the rear for unapproved adjustments. Kyle Sieg also dropped to the rear of the field due to an engine change along with Joe Graf Jr. due to a driver change after he replaced Timmy Hill.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Allmendinger and Custer battled dead even ahead of the field before the former cleared the latter through the backstretch and went on to lead the first lap.
During the following lap, Allmendinger continued to fend off early challenges from Custer to retain the top spot. Behind, Austin Hill, coming off his first Xfinity career victory at Daytona, made an unscheduled pit stop after sustaining right-side damage to his No. 21 Bennett Transportation and Logistics Chevrolet Camaro due to contact with Josh Berry through the backstretch.
By the fifth lap, Allmendinger and Custer continued to battle for the lead followed by Trevor Bayne, Noah Gragson and Brandon Jones. Ryan Sieg was in sixth ahead of Daniel Hemric, Ty Gibbs, Josh Berry and Justin Allgaier.
A lap later, the first caution flew when flames erupted out of the No. 10 Carnomoly Chevrolet Camaro piloted by Landon Cassill, who was running in 11th place. Cassill, though, was able to park his car below the apron in Turn 1 as he exited his flaming car.
Following an extensive cleanup, the race restarted on Lap 13. During the following lap, Trevor Bayne, making his first of select starts in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Devotion Nutrition Toyota Supra, flexed his muscles as he moved into the lead followed by Allmendinger, Custer and the field.
On Lap 19, the caution returned when Mason Massey cut a left-front tire and shredded debris in Turn 2.
When the race restarted on Lap 24 and as the field fanned out, Noah Gragson peaked ahead with the lead followed by Bayne, Custer and the field. When the field returned to the frontstretch, however, Bayne retained the lead followed by Custer, Gragson, Gibbs and Allmendinger.
By Lap 30, Bayne was leading by a tenth of a second over Custer. Gragson was in third followed by teammate Justin Allgaier and Gibbs while Allmendinger, Hemric, Berry, Sieg and Sam Mayer were in the top 10.
In the closing laps of the first stage, Custer started to close in and challenge Bayne for the top spot while Gragson was trailing by more than two seconds.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 35, Bayne, making his first start in NASCAR in two years, claimed his first career stage victory. Custer settled in second while Allgaier overtook teammate Gragson in Turn 3 after Gragson scraped the wall to settle in third. Gibbs, Allmendinger, Berry, Sieg, Hemric and Mayer rounded out the top 10.
Under the stage break, the field pitted and Hemric utilized the first pit box to his advantage to move into the lead. Gibbs followed in second along with Gragson, Berry, Allgaier and Custer while Bayne dropped to 10th following a slow pit stop. During the pit stop, Ryan Sieg missed his pit box and had to return to pit road for service.
The second stage started on Lap 42 as Hemric and Gibbs occupied the front row. At the start, Gibbs challenged Hemric for the top spot through the backstretch while Gragson, Custer and Allgaier battled ahead of the field that was fanning out. Then in Turn 4, Gibbs, who battled dead even with Hemric, bumped against Hemric’s No. 11 Poppy Bank Chevrolet Camaro before he spun wildly across the frontstretch and through the infield grass, all while sustaining no significant damage to his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Supra.
On Lap 48, the race restarted under green as Hemric and Gragson occupied the front row. At the start, Hemric retained the top spot until Custer stormed back to the lead during the following lap. With Hemric back in second, Gragson challenged for second ahead of Brandon Jones, Allgaier and Berry.
By Lap 50, Custer was leading by a second ahead of Gragson while Hemric, Brandon Jones and Allgaier were in the top five. Allmendinger was in sixth ahead of Berry, rookie Sheldon Creed, Riley Herbst and Sam Mayer. Behind, Bayley Curry pitted under green after sustaining a flat right-rear tire.
Five laps later, Custer stabilized his advantage to more than a second over Gragson while third-place Allgaier trailed by more than three seconds.
Another lap later, Brandon Jones, who was running in sixth place, spun his No. 19 Menards Toyota Supra in Turn 4.
When the field restarted under green on Lap 60, the field battled through two lanes entering the first turn before fanning out to multiple lanes entering the backstretch. In the midst of the battles, Custer retained the lead and Gragson was in second ahead of teammate Allgaier, Allmendinger, Hemric, Berry and Mayer.
Five laps later, Custer remained as the leader by a second and a half over Allgaier while Gragson, Allmendinger and Hemric were in the top five.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 70, Custer claimed his 17th career stage victory. Meanwhile, Brandon Jones, who made a late charge on fresh tires following his spin, settled in second followed by Allgaier, Gragson, Gibbs, Hemric, Allmendinger, Mayer, Berry and Riley Herbst.
Under the stage break, the leaders returned to pit road and Brandon Jones exited with the lead followed by Allgaier, Gragson, Berry and Hemric while Custer, who endured a slow pit stop, dropped to eighth.
With 74 laps remaining, the final stage started under green. At the start, Jones powered ahead with a brief advantage on the outside lane as the field fanned out entering the first two turns. When the field returned to the frontstretch, Custer, who restarted eighth, used a fast race car to his advantage by barreling his way back to the lead as Gragson challenged Brandon Jones for the runner-up spot.
With less than 70 laps remaining, Allmendinger pitted under green to address a potential loose wheel to his No. 16 Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet Camaro as he lost a lap to the leaders.
Back on the track, Custer was leading by more than a second over Gragson. Brandon Jones was in third, trailing by more than two seconds, while Allgaier was in fourth. Meanwhile, Gibbs, who rallied from his early spin, was in fifth ahead of Hemric, Trevor Bayne, Berry, Mayer and Creed.
Ten laps later, Custer extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Gragson while Allgaier, Brandon Jones and Gibbs were in the top five. Behind was Hemric, who had Berry, Bayne, Creed and Mayer battling behind him.
Another 10 laps later, Custer’s advantage narrowed to less than two seconds as he continued to lead ahead of Gragson while Allgaier, Jones and Hemric were in the top five. Gibbs, Berry, Bayne, Creed and Herbst were scored in the top 10.
With 48 laps remaining, Brandon Brown spun in Turn 2 as he drew the caution. Under caution, the field pitted and Justin Allgaier exited with the top spot followed by Jones, Gragson, Berry and Herbst. Meanwhile, Custer, who endured another slow pit stop, fell back to seventh.
With 42 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Allgaier retained the top spot through the first two turns as the field jostled for positions. Not long after, Gragson muscled to the lead while Allgaier was back in second ahead of Berry and a hard-charging Custer.
Down to the final 35 laps of the event, JR Motorsports’ competitors occupied four of the top-five spots as Gragson was leading by more than a second over teammate Berry while teammate Allgaier trailed by more than two seconds. Custer was back in fourth while Mayer, the fourth JRM competitor, was in fifth.
Then with 27 laps remaining, the caution flew when Jade Buford wrecked in Turn 2 after getting loose before being hit by Creed. Under caution, some led by Gragson pitted while Gibbs and Anthony Alfredo remained on the track. During the pit stops, Gragson slid through his pit box and ran over his air hose as he exited pit road out of the top 10 while Allgaier was the first competitor on fresh tires and fuel to exit pit road.
With 22 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start and with the field fanning out to multiple lanes, Allgaier reassumed the lead through Turn 1 while Bayne moved into second along with Berry.
During the following lap, a five-car battle for the lead ensued as Allgaier led ahead of Bayne, Gragson, Berry and Custer. Soon after, Gragson muscled his way back to the lead. Not long after, Custer moved into second. By then, Myatt Snider fell off the pace after he lost an engine to his car.
Back on the track, Gragson continued to lead, but he had Custer narrowing the advantage to less than three-tenths of a second.
Then with 15 laps remaining, Custer stormed back to the lead beneath Gragson.
Just then, the caution flew with 10 laps remaining due to debris in Turn 1 as Mason Massey lost a left-front tire. At the time of caution, Custer had extended his advantage to more than a second over Gragson, more than two seconds over Josh Berry, more than three seconds over Bayne and more than four seconds over Allgaier.
With six laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Gragson mounted a brief challenge on Custer before the latter cleared the field through the backstretch. Behind, Bayne challenged Gragson for the runner-up spot as Custer started to pull away.
During the following lap, the caution returned due to an incident involving Creed and Brett Moffitt in Turn 1.
With the field set to overtime, Custer and Gragson occupied the front row as the race resumed to green flag conditions. At the start, Custer, who spun the tires, managed to retain the lead ahead of Bayne and Gragson as the field fanned out to multiple lanes. Then in Turn 1, Hemric made contact with Brandon Jones as Jones spun across the track and dodged by the oncoming field. The incident, however, sent the race into another overtime attempt.
At the start of the second overtime attempt, Custer received a strong start to retain the lead as the field fanned out. Then entering Turn 4, a multi-car wreck struck that involved Creed, Stefan Parsons and Brandon Jones, who spun down to the infield and collided against the sand barriers near the pit road entrance, which destroyed the barriers in a sandstorm. The incident occurred before Custer could start the final lap of the event as the race was sent into third overtime attempt.
Prior to the overtime attempt, the red flag was displayed for 23 minutes for repairs towards the pit road entrance. When the red flag was lifted and the third overtime attempt commenced under green, Custer received another strong start to retain the lead while Gragson and Bayne moved up to second and third followed by Alfredo, who restarted on the front row.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Custer was leading by nearly four-tenths of a second over Gragson and the field. With a fast race car, Custer was able to circumnavigate his way around the circuit for a final time and cycle back to the finish line to grab the victory.
With the victory, Custer claimed his 10th Xfinity Series career win in his 106th series start, his second at Fontana and his first since winning at Dover Motor Speedway in September 2019.
“Man, it was just an awesome car,” Custer said on FS1. “That [car] was just a rocket ship all day. I can’t thank [owner] Bobby Dotter enough, everybody who was involved on this car. It was just unreal how fast we were. Production Alliance Group, this is awesome, it’s [Dotter’s] race. It’s the Production Alliance Group 300 and we got him to Victory Lane. It’s awesome to win at home, so [I] can’t wait for tomorrow. ”
Gragson settled in second place while Bayne notched a strong third-place result in his first Xfinity start in six years.
“We had the lead there and then came down pit road, slid through the pit box and then, had a really good restart from 11th, got back up to the lead in like a lap or two,” Gragson said. “I felt like the Bass Pro Shops Camaro was really close all day. Just struggled with the cloud cover and the temperature change, being too loose or too tight. Hats off to all the guys on the No. 07 car and Cole Custer. He was really fast today. We finished third last weekend, finished second here this weekend. Hopefully, [we] got some good points. This is not one of my good tracks, so I’ll take a second-place finish…Came up short today, but hey, top threes through the start of two races this season, I’ll take it.
Josh Berry grabbed his first top-five result of the season by finishing fourth and Anthony Alfredo made the late decision to remain on old tires work to perfection as he finished in fifth place.
Mayer, Allmendinger, Allgaier, Herbst and Ryan Sieg finished in the top 10.
There were 19 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured 12 cautions for 58 laps.
After rallying for a top-10 result, Allmendinger continues to lead the regular-season standings by a single point over Gragson, three over Allgaier and 19 over Herbst, Ryan Sieg and Gibbs.
1. Cole Custer, 80 laps led, Stage 2 winner
2. Noah Gragson, 25 laps led
3. Trevor Bayne, 24 laps led, Stage 1 winner
4. Josh Berry
5. Anthony Alfredo
6. Sam Mayer
7. AJ Allmendinger, 13 laps led
8. Justin Allgaier, seven laps led
9. Riley Herbst
10. Ryan Sieg
11. Brandon Brown
12. Daniel Hemric, 10 laps led
13. Ty Gibbs, three laps led
14. Jeb Burton
15. Joe Graf Jr.
16. Kyle Weatherman
17. Jeremy Clements
18. Kyle Sieg
19. Brett Moffitt
20. Joey Gase
21. Josh Williams
22. JJ Yeley
23. Matt Mills
24. Alex Labbe
25. Kaz Grala, two laps down
26. Myatt Snider, two laps down
27. Austin Hill, three laps down
28. Mason Massey, three laps down
29. Jeffrey Earnhardt, four laps down
30. Stefan Parsons – OUT, Accident
31. Tommy Joe Martins, seven laps down
32. Sheldon Creed – OUT, Accident
33. Brandon Jones – OUT, Accident, three laps led
34. Bayley Currey, 11 laps down
35. Ryan Vargas – OUT, Accident
36. Jesse Iwuji, 34 laps down
37. Jade Buford – OUT, Accident
38. Landon Cassill – OUT, Engine
The 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series season proceeds with its second of a three-race West Coast swing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which will occur on Saturday, March 5, at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1.