In his first full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series season in four years, Cole Custer etched his name as a first-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion after fending off title rivals Justin Allgaier, Sam Mayer and John Hunter Nemechek amid an overtime shootout to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway on Saturday, November 4.
The 25-year-old Custer from Ladera Ranch, California, led four times for a race-high 96 of 202 over-scheduled laps in an event where he started in seventh place and provided early speed, especially throughout the long runs, to carve his way to the front. After finishing in the runner-up spot during the first stage period, Custer made his first presence as the leader on Lap 53 and he would spend the majority of the event battling amongst his title rivals Nemechek, Allgaier and Mayer towards the front on the track.
Then after beating his title rivals off of pit road following a late pit stop with less than 20 laps remaining during a caution period, Custer reassumed the race lead from Daniel Hemric during a restart with 12 laps remaining and had appeared to be cruising for both the race victory and title when another caution period with four laps remaining briefly stalled his momentum and sent the event into overtime. Despite slipping back to third at the start of the overtime shootout, Custer then overtook Allgaier and Nemechek amid a three-wide battle before the final lap and would muscle away from the field to win the 2023 Xfinity Series’ finale and claim his first NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in his fourth full-time season in the series.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, rookie Sammy Smith notched his second Xfinity pole position of his career and in recent weeks after posting a pole-winning lap at 132.582 mph in 27.153 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Austin Hill, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 132.572 mph in 27.155 seconds. Meanwhile, John Hunter Nemechek was the highest-qualifying title contender as he started in third place while his title rivals Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Sam Mayer started seventh, eighth and 16th, respectively.
Prior to the event, Anthony Alfredo dropped to the rear of the field due to an engine change to his B.J. McLeod Motorsports entry. Rookie Blaine Perkins also dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to his Our Motorsports entry.
When the green flag waved and the finale commenced, Sammy Smith rocketed his No. 18 Pilot Flying J Toyota Supra away from the field that fanned out through the dogleg and entered Turns 1 and 2. As the field continued to fan out through the backstretch while the competitors jostled for early spots, Smith proceeded to lead the first lap ahead of a side-by-side battle between teammate Myatt Snider and Austin Hill while title contenders John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Allgaier and rookie Chandler Smith followed suit.
During the second lap, a three-wide battle for the runner-up spot ensued between Hill, Myatt Snider and Nemechek as Sammy Smith checked out with the lead by half a second. In the process, Allgaier fended off Chandler Smith for fifth place as he tried to make a move on both Nemechek and Hill for more. Then on the third lap, the first caution of the finale flew after Allgaier, who was trying to make a three-wide move beneath Nemechek and Hill, got loose underneath Nemechek and spun his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro in Turn 1, with the field scattering to avoid hitting Allgaier as the veteran proceeded without making any on-track contact.
When the race restarted on the seventh lap, the field fanned out through the dogleg as Sammy Smith retained the lead ahead of Hill and teammate Myatt Snider. Not long after, the caution quickly returned after Kyle Sieg spun and wrecked across the outside wall in the frontstretch.
During the following restart on Lap 12, Hill and Sammy Smith dueled for the lead through the frontstretch before Hill muscled his No. 21 Bennett Transportation Chevrolet Camaro ahead from the outside lane to assume the lead. With Hill leading the field through the backstretch, Daniel Hemric, who was running in the top 10, made on-track contact, but he continued to run under the race pace as the field fanned out and continued to jostle for early spots. With Sheldon Creed being penalized for a restart violation and Hemric pitting under green to address a flat left-front tire, Hill retained the lead by a narrow margin over Sammy Smith while Nemechek, Myatt Snider and Chandler Smith trailed in the top five by the Lap 15 mark.
Through the Lap 20 mark, Hill was leading by three-tenths of a second over Sammy Smith followed by title contender Nemechek, Snider and Chandler Smith while title contender Cole Custer trailed in sixth place ahead of teammate Riley Herbst, title contender Sam Mayer, Connor Mosack and Brandon Jones were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Allgaier moved up to 15th while rookie Parker Retzlaff, Josh Berry, Brett Moffitt and Kyle Weatherman occupied the remaining top-15 spots. In addition, Rajah Caruth, who was driving the No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro for Hendrick Motorsports, was battling Derek Kraus for 16th place.
Ten laps later, Hill continued to lead the race by a tenth of a second over a hard-charging Nemechek, who was currently leading the championship battle, while Sammy Smith, Custer and Snider trailed in the top five. Meanwhile, Mayer was in seventh while teammate Allgaier returned to the top 10 as he was in 10th place behind teammate Brandon Jones. Another two laps later, Nemechek overtook Hill exiting the frontstretch to assume the race lead in his No. 20 Pye Barker Fire & Safety Toyota Supra as Custer was scored in third place and trailing by more than two seconds. By then, Mayer gained one spot to sixth place while Allgaier was still mired in 10th.
When the first stage period concluded on Lap 45, title contender Nemechek scored his 11th Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season. Title contender, Custer, followed suit in the runner-up spot and by less than four seconds while Chandler Smith, Hill, Mayer, Sammy Smith, Allgaier, Brandon Jones, Snider and Moffitt were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Nemechek pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Nemechek retained the lead after he managed to exit pit road ahead of his title rivals Custer, Allgaier and Mayer, respectively, while Hill, Chandler Smith and Sammy Smith followed suit. Amid the pit stops, Sammy Smith was penalized for speeding on pit road while Derek Kraus was penalized for an uncontrolled tire violation.
The second stage period started on Lap 52 as Nemechek and Custer occupied the front row in front of Allgaier and Mayer. At the start, Nemechek and Custer dueled for the lead through the dogleg and the frontstretch as Custer fended off Nemechek to assume the lead both in the race and the championship battle. With Custer leading Nemechek, Mayer was in third ahead of teammate Josh Berry and Chandler Smith while Allgaier fell back to sixth in front of Hill, Connor Mosack and Brandon Jones. Amid the battles ensuing within the pack, Custer was leading by half a second over Nemechek while third-place Mayer trailed by more than a second.
By Lap 60, Custer was leading by half a second over Nemechek followed by Mayer, Berry and Hill while Allgaier trailed in sixth place ahead of Chandler Smith, Brandon Jones, Mosack and Snider. Behind, Herbst trailed in 11th place in front of Creed, Parker Kligerman, Moffitt and Caruth while Jeb Burton, Kaz Grala, Parker Retzlaff, Kyle Weatherman and Jeremy Clements occupied the top 20.
Ten laps later, Custer continued to lead by more than a second over title rival Nemechek and by more than two seconds over title rival Mayer while Berry and Hill trailed in the top five. As Chandler Smith and Brandon Jones followed suit in sixth and seventh, Allgaier was mired back in eighth while Herbst and Creed were in the top 10.
At the Lap 80 mark, Custer extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Nemechek while third-place Mayer trailed by less than three seconds. Meanwhile, Allgaier retained eighth place while Hill, Chandler Smith, Berry and Brandon Jones were running in front of him on the track.
Five laps later, the caution flew after Derek Kraus blew a right-front tire and smacked his No. 11 Poppy Bank Chevrolet Camaro into the outside wall just past Turn 2. Kraus’ incident was enough for the second stage period scheduled to conclude on Lap 90 to conclude under caution as Custer claimed his ninth Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season. Mayer settled in second followed by Nemechek, Hill and Chandler Smith while Brandon Jones, Berry, Creed, Allgaier and Herbst were scored in the top 10.
During the stage break, the lead lap field led by Custer returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Custer retained the lead after exiting first ahead of Mayer, Hill, Nemechek, Creed, Chandler Smith and Jones while Allgaier exited in ninth place.
With 105 laps remaining, the final stage period commenced as Custer and Mayer occupied the front row. At the start and with the field fanning out through the frontstretch dogleg, Custer retained the lead ahead of Mayer while Hill was in third behind Nemechek, Chandler Smith, Creed and Berry. Shortly after, Nemechek would navigate his way up to the runner-up spot over Mayer while Custer retained the lead nearly six-tenths of a second. Meanwhile, Allgaier would trail in eighth place as Custer led the halfway mark on Lap 100. Another lap later, the caution returned after JJ Yeley wrecked in the backstretch.
With the race restarting with 91 laps remaining, Custer retained the advantage by a narrow margin over Nemechek through the frontstretch before Nemechek used the outside lane to navigate past Custer and return to the lead. With Nemechek leading both the race and the championship battle over Custer, Chandler Smith was in third followed by a side-by-side battle between Mayer and Creed while Hill and Allgaier pursued in sixth and seventh, respectively. As the front-runners settled in a long single-file line, Nemechek retained the lead by two-tenths of a second over Custer with less than 90 laps remaining.
With 75 laps remaining, Nemechek was leading by half a second over a hard-charging Creed while Custer, Mayer and Hill trailed in the top five. Behind, Allgaier was in sixth ahead of Chandler Smith, Herbst, Jones and Berry while Grala, Caruth, Moffitt, Snider and Sammy Smith occupied the top 15.
Ten laps later, Nemechek was leading by seven-tenths of a second over Creed, who led four laps from Laps 127 to 130 before Nemechek reassumed the top spot through the frontstretch. Behind, title contenders Custer, Mayer and Allgaier trailed in the top five ahead of Hill, Chandler Smith, Jones, Herbst and Berry.
Another lap later, the caution flew after Snider, who was battling Caruth and Moffitt for 12th place, slipped sideways off the front nose of Moffitt entering Turn 3 as Snider then spun and slapped his No. 19 Tree Top Toyota Supra against the outside wall before he spun again. During the caution period, the lead lap field led by Nemechek pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Nemechek retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Creed, Custer, Allgaier, Mayer, Hill and Chandler Smith. Amid the pit stops, Moffitt and Brandon Jones were penalized for speeding on pit road.
During the proceeding restart with 58 laps remaining, Nemechek and Custer dueled for the lead as the field fanned out through the frontstretch’s dogleg and the first two turns. Through the backstretch, Nemechek muscled ahead with the lead while Custer overtook Creed to move into the runner-up spot. As the field returned to the frontstretch, Chandler Smith challenged Creed for third place while Allgaier and Mayer pursued within close distance along with Herbst, Hill and Daniel Hemric. As Allgaier battled Creed for fourth place in front of Mayer, Nemechek retained the lead over Custer and Chandler Smith with 55 laps remaining.
With less than 50 laps remaining, Nemechek retained the lead by three-tenths of a second over title rival Custer followed by Chandler Smith as Allgaier and Mayer pursued in the top five. Behind, Creed fell back to sixth while Herbst, Hill, Sammy Smith and Hemric were in the top 10.
Then with 43 laps remaining, Custer used the inside lane to muscle his No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang past Nemechek through the backstretch as the Californian reassumed the lead. Despite Nemechek’s efforts in keeping Custer close within his front windshield, the latter started to pull away with the lead in both the race and the title fight by four-tenths of a second with 40 laps remaining. By then, Chandler Smith retained third place while title contenders Allgaier and Mayer remained in fourth and fifth.
With 36 laps remaining, Chris Hacker spun while trying to enter pit road, but the event remained under green flag conditions as Custer retained the lead by more than half a second over Nemechek as Chandler Smith, Allgaier and Mayer continued to pursue in the top five on the track.
Down to the final 30 laps of the event, all four championship finalists were running first through fourth on the track as Custer continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over runner-up Nemechek, by more than two seconds over third-place Allgaier and by less than four seconds over fourth-place Mayer, with non-title contender Creed occupying fifth place ahead of Hill and Chandler Smith.
Two laps later and with the leaders mired in lapped traffic, the battle for the lead between Custer and Nemechek reignited as Nemechek tried to make several runs beneath Custer for the top spot. As both continued to battle closely for the lead amid the lapped traffic, Allgaier started to close in as he was trailing by only a second while Mayer trailed by more than three seconds.
With 20 laps remaining, the four championship finalists continued to run first through fourth on the track as Custer retained the lead by eight-tenths of a second over Nemechek and by less than two seconds over Allgaier while fourth-place Mayer trailed by three seconds. Just then, the caution flew after Connor Mosack made contact against the outside wall entering Turn 3 before he came to a halt just towards the wall within the turn.
During the caution period, the lead lap field led by Custer pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Hemric exited first after opting for a two-tire pit stop followed by Custer, the first competitor with four fresh tires, as Allgaier, Nemechek, Hill, Mayer and Creed followed suit.
As the race restarted with 12 laps remaining, Hemric and Custer dueled for the lead through the frontstretch’s dogleg before Custer muscled ahead with the lead through the first two turns. Behind, Allgaier, who had faint smoke puffing out of his car, threaded the needle between Hemric and Hill to assume the runner-up spot while Nemechek followed suit in third place. As the field behind continued to jostle and fan out for late spots, Custer retained the lead in both the race and the championship battle by a narrow margin over Allgaier and Nemechek, with the latter two battling for the runner-up spot and trying to keep Custer within close reach. Shortly after, Custer was leading by three-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Nemechek with 10 laps remaining.
Down to the final five laps of the event, the top-four championship finalists returned to running first through fourth on the track as Custer continued to lead by seven-tenths of a second over Nemechek as Allgaier and Mayer trailed within two seconds. Shortly after, the caution flew and the event was sent into overtime after Anthony Alfredo spun in Turn 4 after getting hit by Dawson Cram. By then, Custer was leading by more than a second over Nemechek as Allgaier and Mayer remained in third and fourth, respectively.
When the event restarted in the first overtime attempt, Nemechek and Custer dueled for the lead through the frontstretch’s dogleg before Nemechek muscled ahead while Custer was stuck in a three-wide battle with Allgaier and Mayer entering the first two turns. Then through the turns, all four championship finalists went four wide entering the backstretch as Nemechek, who went wide entering Turns 1 and 2, and Allgaier rubbed fenders, which resulted in Nemechek briefly scrubbing the outside wall in his No. 20 Toyota, while Custer made his move beneath both. Then through Turns 3 and 4, Allgaier and Custer dueled for the top spot before Custer muscled his No. 00 Ford ahead with the lead and took the white flag to start the final lap.
During the final lap, Custer remained as the leader followed by a hard-charging Allgaier as Creed and Herbst made their way into third and fourth on the track. By then, Mayer was back in fifth while Nemechek was slowly falling off the pace and losing ground of his title rivals. Through Turns 1 and 2, Allgaier was caught in a tight battle for the runner-up spot involving Creed, Herbst and teammate Mayer. This, however, allowed Custer to muscle away with the lead through the backstretch. With Allgaier unable to close the gap entering the final set of turns as he was trying to retain second place on the track, Custer was able to smoothly navigate his way around the final turns at Phoenix before returning to the frontstretch and streaking across the finish line first to win both the race and the championship.
With his accomplishment, Custer became the 33rd different competitor to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship as this marks the fourth consecutive season where the Xfinity Series featured a first-time champion. Custer also became the first competitor from California to win the Xfinity title since Tyler Reddick won back-to-back championships in 2018 and 2019 as he recorded the first Xfinity driver’s title and the second owner’s title for Stewart-Haas Racing. The championship was also the first for rookie crew chief Jonathan Toney as Custer became the first Ford competitor to win the Xfinity title since Austin Cindric made the last accomplishment in 2020. This season marks the sixth consecutive year where the championship-winning competitor won the final event on the schedule.
Overall, Custer, who finished in the runner-up spot in the final standings in 2018 and 2019 and returned to full-time Xfinity Series competition this season after spending the previous three seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series, achieved three victories throughout the 2023 season, with the Phoenix finale victory occurring after the Californian had won at Portland International Raceway in June and the inaugural, rain-shortened Chicago Street Course in July. He also racked up a total of nine stage victories, six poles, 14 top-five results, 21 top-10 results, 586 laps led and an average-finishing result of 10.8 throughout the 33-race schedule.
“I thought it was over,” Custer, while addressing the overtime shootout, said on USA Network. “I went from first to third. I was able to shift the car all night. Doug Yates’ horsepower worked out. It pulled me off the corner. I can’t believe we won that thing after going back to third on that restart. Man, I can’t say enough about these guys. We started the year off and it was a struggle. We had to kind of dig deep with each other and really talked about how to get better. To see how much this group’s grown through the year and to be a part of something. I knew I wanted to work with [Jonathan Toney]. I knew he was the guy that could make it happen. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else. I just can’t thank [owner] Gene Haas enough. He’s given me opportunities. I wouldn’t be here without him. I can’t thank him enough and Ford Performance, Haas Automation, everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s awesome to bring one back to Stewart-Haas right now. Man, I’m gonna enjoy this.”
“You get knocked down a little bit and you just want to prove that you can go out there and do it,” Custer, who will return to Stewart-Haas Racing to defend his title in 2024, added. “I think these guys have just really, always believed in me all year and I just can’t thank them enough for giving me really fast race cars and still believing in me when things weren’t going great.”
“I am super proud of Cole [Custer],” Tony Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, added. “He literally won that one on his own. I’ve watched the replay four times and I still don’t know exactly what he did, but what he did was perfect. It didn’t look good going into [Turn] 1, but coming off of [Turn] 2, whatever he did in the center of [Turns] 1 and 2 was perfect and then, finished it off in [Turns] 3 and 4. This group of guys, they don’t have any quit in them. It hasn’t been a perfect season, but at the end when it counted, they did their job and did their work. Cole drove his ass off tonight.”
With Custer winning both the race and the championship, Sheldon Creed finished a career-best second place for the seventh time in his career and during his final event driving for Richard Childress Racing while Justin Allgaier ended up in third place on the track and as this year’s championship runner-up. The runner-up result in the final standings marks the second time that Allgaier concluded the season as the championship runner-up, though the Illinois veteran remained positive in a season where he notched four victories, a season-high 13 stage victories, three poles, 15 top-five results, 20 top-10 results, 643 laps led and an average-finishing result of 10.6.
“First of all, hats off to this whole race team, everybody at JR Motorsports” Allgaier, who will remain at JR Motorsports for the 2024 Xfinity Series, said. “To bring the Camaros that we brought this weekend. I don’t know if I’ll get another shot at [the championship] next year. We, at least, will have a shot at it, but I don’t know if we’ll make [the Championship 4]. 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. [Nemechek] kind of missed the bottom [lane] and drove all the way up. Honestly, I was afraid I was gonna run in the back of him and when I tried to turn back down the hill, it just was enough to let [Custer] get back to my inside and ultimately getting down into Turn 3, I don’t know. I’m gonna replay this one in the back of my head a couple of times. I drove it in there pretty deep and just kind of washed up. [Custer] had the turning car all night and we were just a little bit too free, but again, proud of our team, everybody at BRANDT Professional Agriculture. To have the season we had, to finish third in the race and second in points, I can’t be more thankful. We weren’t quite there, but especially even after trying to give [the championship] away on Lap 2 or 3 or whatever, still coming back through, what a night. We’ll be back. We got three months, two months to Daytona. We’ll come back stronger and go try to get to Victory Lane again.”
Meanwhile, Sam Mayer finished fifth on the track behind Herbst and in third place in the final standings while Nemechek, who wrecked on the final lap, ended up 28th on the track and in fourth place in the final standings. The third-place result in the final standings kept Mayer optimistic in a season where he rallied from rolling on his roof at Daytona International Speedway to notch his first four career victories and notch 13 top-five results, 19 top-10 results, 177 laps led and an average-finishing result of 13.2 while contending for his first Xfinity title. Nemechek, however, was left disappointed on pit road in a season where he notched a season-high seven victories along with two poles, 17 top-five results, 24 top-10 results, 1,083 laps led and an average-finishing result of 9.5.
“Those last two restarts were hectic,” Mayer, who will remain at JR Motorsports for the 2024 Xfinity season, said. “We had our work cut out for us. We somehow made it happen there on the first [restart] and then, God blessed us with a second one and gave us another chance at it, but just a little bit short. Our Accelerate Professional Talent Solutions Chevrolet was as fast as Xfinity 10G [Internet]. We were up in the top five. You really can’t do much more other than that. It’s my first top five here [at Phoenix]. I can’t really be too bummed out. It’s more motivating to go out there and do it next year and win the [championship] next year…My best is gonna be even better next year, so I’m looking forward to getting to Daytona, starting the year off right instead of upside down and finish it right instead of third.”
“[The car was] Destroyed and it didn’t turn,” Nemechek, who will be driving for Legacy Motor Club for the 2024 Cup season, said. “I don’t know if we had a right front [tire] start going down or what exactly it was, but just drove in and didn’t turn. Man, I hate it for our guys, hate it for Toyota [Toyota Racing Development], Pye Barker. [My] Toyota GR Supra was really, really fast, but drive down and it doesn’t turn, it’s not a very good thing. Once we got pinched into the fence there off of [Turn] 2, it hurt the right side even more. I think we had a right rear [tire] start going down as well. It sucks to end up where we finished. I had a really strong effort all day. Proud of this whole No. 20 crew. Just sucks to end our season this way, but overall, a really successful season for this No. 20 team, Joe Gibbs Racing. I was proud to be behind the wheel of this No. 20 car all year. Seven wins is a lot to be proud of. One race doesn’t define us as a group. It’s really just another race. If you win, you come out a champion. It’s what we told ourselves all week. We almost had it, but overall, really proud of this group, proud of myself. We put ourselves in contention. That’s really all you can do. Just needed [the car] to turn a little bit better and the results might have been a little bit different. Man, it sucks, but I’m looking forward to next year and looking forward to getting in a Cup car.”
On the track, Josh Berry finished sixth in his final event driving for JR Motorsports while Austin Hill, Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith and Kaz Grala completed the top 10 on the track.
There were 12 lead changes for six different leaders. The race featured eight cautions for 46 laps. In addition, 29 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.
1. Cole Custer, 96 laps led, Stage 2 winner
2. Sheldon Creed, four laps led
3. Justin Allgaier
4. Riley Herbst
5. Sam Mayer
6. Josh Berry
7. Austin Hill, 21 laps led
8. Chandler Smith
9. Sammy Smith, 11 laps led
10. Kaz Grala
11. Brandon Jones
12. Jeb Burton
13. Parker Retzlaff
14. Rajah Caruth
15. Brett Moffitt
16. Parker Kligerman
17. Kyle Weatherman
18. Ryan Sieg
19. Dawson Cram
20. Jeremy Clements
21. Daniel Hemric, four laps led
22. Myatt Snider
23. Jeffrey Earnhardt
24. Anthony Alfredo
25. Josh Williams
26. Ryan Ellis
27. Joey Gase
28. John Hunter Nemechek, 66 laps led, Stage 1 winner
29. Brennan Poole
30. Timmy Hill, two laps down
31. Joe Graf Jr., two laps down
32. Blaine Perkins, two laps down
33. Stefan Parsons, eight laps down
34. Connor Mosack – OUT, Accident
35. Chris Hacker – OUT, Suspension
36. JJ Yeley – OUT, Accident
37. Derek Kraus – OUT, Accident
38. Kyle Sieg – OUT, Vibration
*Bold indicates championship finalists
1. Cole Custer
2. Justin Allgaier
3. Sam Mayer
4. John Hunter Nemechek
5. Austin Hill
6. Sammy Smith
7. Sheldon Creed
8. Daniel Hemric
9. Chandler Smith
10. Parker Kligerman
11. Josh Berry
12. Jeb Burton
The NASCAR Xfinity Series teams and competitors enter an off-season period before returning to action at Daytona International Speedway to commence the 2024 racing season. The season opener at Daytona is slated to occur on February 17 at 5 p.m. ET on FS1.