Cole Custer took home the title of being named the inaugural winner of The Loop 121 at the Chicago Street Course in a highly anticipated weekend that commenced with a steady start before the event was pitted against an extensive battle and delay against Mother Nature on Saturday, July 1, before NASCAR conceded and declared the event official on Sunday, July 2.
The 25-year-old Custer from Ladera Ranch, California, led all 25 laps prior to the delay from the pole position. Since the start of the event on Saturday, he muscled away from the field through a total of three restarts and he retained a steady advantage throughout the 12-turn circuit through Lap 24 of 55 when the event was placed under a caution period due to a lightning strike.
A lap later, the field led by Custer was directed to pit lane and placed under a sustained lightning hold that eventually resulted in NASCAR postponing the event to early Sunday in the hope that the field could reach its halfway or scheduled-distance mark to deem the event official. With rain increasing throughout Sunday and amid another delay spanning more than two hours, NASCAR made the final decision to conclude the event three laps shy of its halfway mark and award Custer and the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang team their second Xfinity victory of the 2023 season.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, July 1, Cole Custer notched his fourth Xfinity pole of the season after posting a pole-winning lap at 87.590 mph in 90.421 seconds. Sheldon Creed, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 87.573 mph in 90.439 seconds, was scheduled to start alongside Custer on the front row, but he dropped to the rear of the field prior to the event in a backup car after wrecking his primary car during the qualifying session. As a result, John Hunter Nemechek, who posted the third-best qualifying lap at 87.308 mph in 90.713 seconds, started alongside Custer on the front row.
In addition to Creed, the following names that included Sam Mayer, Brandon Jones, Josh Williams, Blaine Perkins and Spencer Pumpelly started the event at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective entries.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced on Saturday, Custer launched ahead with a strong start as he maintained the lead through the first left-hand turn ahead of John Hunter Nemechek while Austin Hill battled Connor Mosack for third. As the field navigated its way through the 12-turn circuit for the first time around the streets of Downtown Chicago, Custer proceeded to lead the first lap ahead of Nemechek while Hill, Mosack and Justin Allgaier followed suit in the top five. By then, Sage Karam, who started and was running the opening lap in the top 10, made an early unscheduled pit stop under green due to a flat right-front tire.
With the event proceeding under green flag conditions for the second lap, Custer stretched his advantage to more than a second over Nemechek as Hill, Mosack and Allgaier remained in the top five. Behind, Daniel Hemric was in sixth ahead of Brett Moffitt, rookie Sammy Smith, Parker Kligerman and Justin Marks while Riley Herbst, Preston Pardus, rookie Chandler Smith, Miguel Paludo and Alex Guenette were in the top 15.
Then on the third lap, the first caution flag of the event flew when the No. 10 Jockey Chevrolet Camaro piloted by Justin Marks, owner of Trackhouse Racing, went up in smoke before the car came to a spin and a terminal rest in Turn 11.
When the race restarted under green on the ninth lap, Custer launched ahead with another strong restart in his No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang as he fended off Nemechek’s No. 20 Yahoo! Toyota Supra to lead the first through the first left-hand turn before entering a brief straightaway on E. Ballbo Dr. to Turn 2 and a right-hand turn onto S. Lake Shore Dr. towards Turns 3 to 5.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps and after the field navigated its way through S. Columbus Dr., S. Michigan Ave. and E. Jackson Dr. through more left- and right-hand turns from Turns 6 to 12, Custer extended his advantage to more than a second over Nemechek while Hill, Allgaier and Mosack were in the top five. Behind, Moffitt was in sixth while Hemric, Smamy Smith, Kligerman and Chandler Smith were running in the top 10.
At the conclusion of the first stage period on Lap 15, Custer claimed his fourth stage victory of the 2023 season. Nemechek settled in second followed by Hill, Allgaier and Mosack while Moffitt, Sammy Smith Hemric, Kligerman and Chandler Smith were scored in the top 10.
With the event proceeding into the start of the second stage under green, Custer continued to lead by more than two seconds over Nemechek as Hill, Allgaier and Mosack remained in the top five. With Moffitt and Sammy Smith running sixth and seventh, Hemric was slowly being challenged by Kligerman and teammate Chandler Smith for eighth while Miguel Paludo trailed in 11th.
Then on Lap 16, the event’s second caution flew when Andre Castro, a USF Juniors championship competitor from New York City who was running within the top 20 during his series debut, rammed into the tire barriers on the driver’s left-hand side in Turn 1. During the caution period, a total of 17 competitors pitted while the rest led by Custer remained on the track.
When the event restarted under green on Lap 20, Custer retained the lead over Nemechek and Allgaier as the field began to bump and jostle for positions around the 12-turn circuit. Among those who were involved in the bumps and jostles included Hemric, Moffitt and Hill while Custer remained out in front.
Then on Lap 24, the caution flew due to a lightning strike reported near the course. The field would then be brought down to pit road during the following lap and placed in a 30-minute hiatus period due to the sustained lightning. With the event being delayed further as even light precipitation began to fall on the course, the event would be postponed by NASCAR to resume the following day on Sunday. By then, Custer, who has led all 25 scheduled events from pole position, was scored the leader ahead of Nemechek, Allgaier, Moffitt and Hill while Sammy Smith, Hemric, Chandler Smith, Kligerman and Kaz Grala were scored in the top 10.
When NASCAR returned on Sunday, the event was still placed under a weather delay, this time due to heavy precipitation as the course was flooded with rain. Initially planning for an 11 a.m. ET start time, the event would be delayed an extra two hours as the on-track workers attempted to drain the water out of the course. Then amid the delay, NASCAR made the call to declare the event official three laps shy of the halfway mark instead of anticipating a later start to the day or postponing the event a second time. As a result, Custer, who retained the lead since the start of the event, was awarded the victory.
Following the call, NASCAR released a statement regarding the decision to terminate the event just shy of the halfway mark:
“With standing water and flooding a significant issue at the racetrack and throughout the city, there was no option to return to racing prior to shifting to NASCAR Cup Series race operations. Throughout the entire planning process for the Chicago Street Race, our relationship with the City of Chicago has been strong and among the most valuable assets in reaching this historic weekend. In the spirit of that partnership, returning on Monday for the completion of a NASCAR Xfinity Series event two laps shy of halfway was an option we chose not to employ. Based on several unprecedented circumstances, NASCAR has made the decision to declare Cole Custer the winner of the race.”
With the victory in the inaugural, rain-shortened Chicago Street Course, Custer became the third different competitor to achieve multiple Xfinity victories this season alongside John Hunter Nemechek and Austin Hill. He also racked the second Xfinity victory of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing and the 12th of his racing career.
“[That was] The wildest win I’ve even been a part of, for sure,” Custer said in Victory Lane. “This is definitely not the way we want to get it. We want to run all the laps. We want to win it the proper way, but at the end of the day, we’re racers. We’ll take it how it comes. It’s just awesome. Everybody’s that’s a part of this team. We’re really hitting our stride here. We’re really running up front. We got everything working how we need to. Just got to keep it rolling.”
“[This win] means a lot because I think we did have a really fast car,” Custer added. “It’s not like [the win] was given to us. It wasn’t just pure luck. It means a lot to still have a little bit of respect there. At the end of the day, we still want to run all the laps, but it’s not always gonna play out like that. [This event]’s the wildest thing I’ve ever been a part of and then, having this whole rain delay, this is just the wildest weekend I’ve ever been a part of.”
With Custer being awarded the victory, Nemechek ended up in second place for the fourth time this season. Allgaier ended up in third for his ninth top-five result of the season followed by Brett Moffitt, who was making his 100th Xfinity career start. Hill settled in fifth while Sammy Smith, Hemric, Chandler Smith, Kligerman and Kaz Grala finished in the top 10.
There were no lead changes for a single leader, that being the race winner Custer. The race featured three cautions for nine laps. In total, 35 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.
With 10 Xfinity regular-season events remaining on the schedule, John Hunter Nemechek leads the regular-season standings by 16 points over Austin Hill, 44 over Cole Custer and 45 over Justin Allgaier.
1. Cole Custer, 25 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner
2. John Hunter Nemechek
3. Justin Allgaier
4. Brett Moffitt
5. Austin Hill
6. Sammy Smith
7. Daniel Hemric
8. Chandler Smith
9. Parker Kligerman
10. Kaz Grala
11. Sheldon Creed
12. Preston Pardus
13. Miguel Paludo
14. Kyle Weatherman
15. Alex Guenette
16. Parker Chase
17. Blaine Perkins
18. Sam Mayer
19. Jeb Burton
20. Jeremy Clements
21. Alex Labbe
22. Sage Karam
23. Josh Berry
24. Riley Herbst
25. Ryan Sieg
26. Brennan Poole
27. Anthony Alfredo
28. Spencer Pumpelly
29. Parker Retzlaff
30. Brandon Jones
31. Ryan Ellis
32. Brad Perez
33. Joe Graf Jr.
34. Brent Sherman
35. Connor Mosack
36. Josh Williams, three laps down
37. Andre Castro – OUT, Accident
38. Justin Marks – OUT, Engine
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is the series’s second and final trip of the season to Atlanta Motor Speedway. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, July 8, at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network.