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June 22, 2024

Cole Custer’s breakthrough bid unravels in overtime at New Hampshire

LOUDON, N.H. — Reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Cole Custer dominated to a season-high 114 laps led in Saturday’s SciAps 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver even led the field to green on the final — of several late and physical — restarts.

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He walked away from the “Magic Mile” still winless as the calendar approaches July.

Cup Series championship contender Christopher Bell emerged victorious in NASCAR Overtime, taking advantage of contact between Custer and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Sheldon Creed by making a three-wide pass on the inside just after the white flag and holding on from there.

For Bell — it was a fourth straight NXS victory at Loudon in as many tries; for Custer, the bittersweet sting of yet another disappointment while retaining his points lead.

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“I think that was probably the best New Hampshire car we’ve ever had here. It just stings so much to have it ripped away with two laps to go, you know?” he said on pit road following the race. “Being able to pull away from the 20 (of Bell) on that long green-flag run and being able to really flex our muscle a little bit there was really cool. I mean, you don’t get to do that around New Hampshire with those guys very much so, man … we’ll keep knocking on the door and we’ll get one. I’m really proud of our guys and what we did today. … It definitely stings because this is a really cool place to win at with the fans and it’s a really special place to me. So it stings a lot not to win that.”

Apart from a crash at Charlotte that saddled him with a 32nd-place finish, Custer has strung together nothing but top 10s since finishing outside of it in the season’s first two races; a pair of drafting-style tracks in Daytona and Atlanta. He’s essentially been the guy to beat since then — and he has been beat — clawing back to the points lead and holding it for the past month. As he alluded to, putting on that show and holding off a slew of strong Toyotas, including the only current back-to-back Cup Series Championship 4 contender, gives him plenty to take away from the New England track, even if there isn’t a lobster coming home with him as well.

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In his immediate post-race analysis, Custer mentioned he’s “gonna relive what (he) could’ve done” differently, but overall knew the chances of something like that not going his way increased exponentially, with five-plus late-race restarts.

He doesn’t feel that he lost the race — “that was just good racing” — but he’s not so sure Bell won the race, either.

“I don’t know if anybody lost it or won it, honestly. I think he kind of got given it a little bit because me and 18 got together and I don’t know; I didn’t feel like I made a pure mistake so I wouldn’t say I lost it,” said Custer.

“I just gotta look back on what I could have done a little different, but it’s just hard racing around here. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”