Kyle Busch’s bid to win his 200th career national NASCAR race came up short Saturday when Cole Custer, a 21-year-old from Ladera Ranch, held him off to win the NASCAR Xfinity race in Fontana.
Busch and other drivers in NASCAR’s premier Monster Cup Energy Series also race in the sport’s second-tier Xfinity Series, where Custer drives full time, and Custer’s win was the first for an Xfinity driver at Auto Club Speedway since 2002, when Scott Riggs won.
Busch finished second, 1.93 seconds behind Custer. Christopher Bell was third and pole-sitter Tyler Reddick finished fourth.
“It means a lot to come back here and win,” Custer said. “I grew up racing in San Bernardino and Irwindale.”
Custer credited his “great car,” the No. 00 Ford prepared by Stewart-Haas Racing, and said to “keep [Busch] one more race from 200 means a lot. We had a great time racing him.”
“We just didn’t have the speed we needed with the 00,” Busch said. “Just not enough there at the end.”
Busch came to Fontana with the most Xfinity wins there (six) and his No. 18 Toyota was the class of the field for much of the race, the Production Alliance Group 300.
But a botched pit stop and pit-road penalty with 35 laps left dropped Busch deep into the field. He charged back through during the next 10 laps to reach second place but couldn’t close the gap with Custer.
It was Custer’s third career Xfinity win.
The most serious accident happened on lap 84 when John Hunter Nemechek’s No. 23 Chevrolet was tapped as he crossed the start/finish line, which sent Nemechek’s car skidding across the grass and slamming into the pit-road wall. Nemechek was unhurt.