Ole Custer lost his Cup Series ride after last season, a humbling demotion after three seasons at the sport’s top level.
But the 25-year-old appeared strongly on the comeback trail after holding off Justin Allgaier during a two-lap overtime shootout to win his first NASCAR Xfinity Series championship at Phoenix Raceway on Saturday night.
It was a thrilling finish, with Custer, Allgaier, and John Hunter Nemechek three-wide on the next-to-last lap, Allgaier’s JR Motorsports Chevrolet finding some ground between the other two cars. But Custer — who dove on the inside of the dogleg oval mile after starting on the outside on the restart — pulled away as Allgaier and Nemechek hit the door on the outside.
“I can’t believe we won that thing,” Custer said.
In a night of ugly, crash-filled Truck Series finishes, the Xfinity finish was notable for its clean, solid racing.
It was a sweet moment for the 25-year-old Custer, who rode the Cup for the past three seasons for the Stewart-Haas Racing team before being demoted to the Xfinity Series this year. It’s also a bright spot in a difficult season for Stewart-Haas, which hasn’t won a race in the Cup series this season.
“Being a part of a new group, building it all year, it’s one of the proudest things I’ve been a part of,” Custer said. “I think they lean on me to be a leader. It is a very proud moment.”
Four championship drivers were in the top four for the final restart, which was brought in by Anthony Alfredo with five laps remaining.
Custer — who was the runner-up in the Xfinity Series in both 2018 and 2019 — fell short with Nemechek aloft, bringing the crowd to its feet with a short run down the middle of Allgaia.
Allgaier was third, Sam Mayer fifth and Nemechek dropped to 28th after hitting the wall on the last lap. It was Allgaier’s sixth appearance in the championship round, but he had yet to win.
“The restart was great – we did everything right,” said Allgaier. “I’ll replay it in my head a few times.”
Allgaier found himself in a difficult situation on Saturday’s second lap when he tried to get low on the apron, bumping into Nemechek before spinning out, relegating him to 36th. But the 37-year-old made up the field in a hurry, moving up to third after a pit stop following the first stage.
“I gave 100%,” Allgaier said. “It didn’t work for us.”
Allgaier has won four times this season, edging out Sheldon Creed in a door-to-door finish to win in Martinsville last week to earn a spot in the championship round.
The son of former Xfinity Series champion Joe Nemechek made an ill-fated Cup Series debut for Front Row Motorsports in 2020. He was in a difficult situation during NASCAR’s COVID-19 “bubble” season, coming in his only seat during the race because there was no practice or qualifying.