FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — Cole Custer held off Kyle Busch to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday, preventing Busch from tying Richard Petty’s record with his 200th career victory across NASCAR’s three major series.
The 21-year-old Custer capitalized when a disastrous pit stop dropped Busch to 14th place with 33 laps to go in a race Busch had dominated up to that point.
Although Busch charged back through the field, he couldn’t catch up to Custer, who drove his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to his third career Xfinity victory on his home track.
Busch missed his first chance to match Petty’s hallowed mark, but he’ll get another when he competes in the Cup Series race at Fontana on Sunday.
“Kyle, he’s got to be one of the legends of our sport,” Custer said. “To keep him (waiting) one more race for that 200th win is pretty great. I know he’s probably pretty frustrated, though.”
Custer is from Ladera Ranch, an affluent coastal community in Orange County about 55 miles south of Fontana. The son of veteran racing executive Joe Custer earned his fifth overall victory across NASCAR’s three major series — just 194 fewer than the 33-year-old Busch.
“It’s a hometown race for our entire team, so I’m pretty pumped,” Custer said. “It means a ton.”
Cup regular drivers had won 23 consecutive Xfinity series races at Fontana since 2002, but Custer broke the streak at the expense of Busch, who led 98 of the 150 laps.
“Just a lack of grip there at the end,” Busch said. “We just didn’t have the speed we needed to keep up with (Custer).”
Christopher Bell was third.
Busch clearly was the class of the Fontana field under serious gusting winds on the weathered 2-mile asphalt track one hour east of Los Angeles.
He led each of the first two stages and was cruising toward his landmark win — but he lost seven spots of track position when his crew had a painfully slow pit stop with 35 laps to go, apparently making a mistake with the jack.
Busch’s team was then hit with a penalty for an uncontrolled tire, pushing Busch back to 14th when the race resumed. He moved up to second with 15 laps to go, but he just couldn’t catch Custer.
“I felt like we were honestly pretty good,” Custer said. “It was just a matter of getting the track position and getting a tick better, and I think we accomplished all of that.”
Busch started second and took the lead with a side draft on the opening lap of the Xfinity race on Saturday, and he only briefly gave back the lead before reclaiming it and finishing the first stage in front by a healthy 5 seconds.
He also led after the second stage, and he stayed in front under pressure from Tyler Reddick before the field slowed up in two cautions, leading to the decisive pit stop.