Cole Custer Wins First XFINITY Series Race At Homestead-Miami; William Byron Captures The 2017 Championshipby Camille Jones November 19, 2017
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Cole Custer finished Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway 15 seconds ahead of the field, earning his first career victory in the series. JR Motorsports’ William Byron captured his first-ever NASCAR XFINITY Series championship.
Custer’s first victory came in his 38th NASCAR XFINITY Series event while driving the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang. The 19-year old led a race high of 182 laps throughout the 200-lap event.
“We just had an extremely good car the whole weekend really,” Custer said. “I mean, we came down here and tested a couple months ago, and really the second that we hit the track, we knew we were going to be really good the whole time. Really this whole year we’ve had so much speed, it’s just what can happen during the race or how the track is going to change or just what’s going to go wrong. I think we really did a good job this weekend trying to get our car to race good and trying to just — comfortable to drive and move around a little bit, so I think that’s the biggest thing that we tried to do, and obviously our car was unbelievable and can’t thank everybody enough, and I think it’s a perfect way to end the season.
The season finale race at the 1.5-mile speedway in Florida marked the setting of the Championship 4 battle, where William Byron, Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric fought to win their first NASCAR XFINITY Series championship.
William Byron fought until the checkered flag flew to be able to be crowned the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion. Byron, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina drove his JR Motorsports No. 9 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro in a tight battle with teammate, Elliott Sadler for much of the final stage of the event.
“I don’t know that I took a breath the last 20 laps,” said Byron. “That was incredible. I just have to thank this team. This is awesome. Elliott (Sadler) raced me clean and we just raced hard for it. I just can’t believe this. I’ve just got to thank God for giving me this platform to perform. I can’t believe this. I’m tired, whew. Thanks to all the fans here this evening, this is an unbelievable crowd, I just can’t believe it.”
The door-to-door battle between Byron and Elliott was a thrilling scene, but when Ryan Preece in the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Toyota Camry came into the mix, the story changed. Sadler had finally cleared Byron for the championship lead before Byron soared by him once again.
It was then that Sadler and Preece made contact, both getting slightly into the wall and letting Byron get away. Preece was fighting hard for the position, believing it was the best for his team due to the battle for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Owner’s Championship.
“Just very frustrating end to the night, to be that close to a NASCAR championship and to be raced by somebody that was not racing for anything at all was ‑‑ put us in a pretty bad position there at the end and let William catch us,” Sadler said. “Just very devastating to me right now to have one taken away from you like that.”
Sadler ended up finishing eighth in the race with a tire going down. He finished second in the series points standings. Preece’s No. 18 team did not win the Owner’s Championship. That award went to the No. 22 car of Team Penske, driven to a second-place finish by Sam Hornish, Jr. on Saturday.
“I guess when you look at the guys that drove the car and certainly Sam today was ‑‑ all the pressure was on him because we had the 9 (William Byron), we had the 18 (Ryan Preece) and we had the 20 (Christopher Bell),” said Roger Penske, team owner of Team Penske. “There was four of us that could win this championship. Obviously the way they ran the race, the strategy was perfect. Obviously Cole Custer had a great car and congratulations to him. But more important is when you think about Austin, you think about Blaney, Brad and Joey all driving this car during the season and the results really ‑‑ we’ve got to take our hat off to Greg Erwin and the guys around that 22 team because they just did a terrific job.”
Allgaier finished in 12th after being lapped by Custer late in the event. He cited handling issues on the long run as their biggest issue throughout the night.
“At the end of the day, we just didn’t do our job as good as we needed to and didn’t have the car that we needed tonight, and it’s nothing taken away from our guys,” Allgaier said. “They worked equally as hard this week as they have every week, we just missed it a little bit.”
Allgaier ended up third in the standings, while Hemric was fourth in the final standings.
Hemric’s championship hopes came all but to an end when he was forced to pit on lap 62 due to electrical issues. The team spent 12 laps under green replacing the battery and diagnosing the issue. Hemric was the highest-running Championship 4 competitor in Stage 1, but his race for the title ended with a 34th-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He was 13 laps down at the finish.
“We were able to stay out in front of those guys the first stage, come down pit road, thought we were in pretty good shape to kind of make our race car a little better,” Hemric said. “The racetrack was starting to go through the transition of cooling down and whatnot, so just logging laps, and when we left pit road, I started losing volts for whatever reason, and not exactly sure why yet and all that stuff, but we’ll get to the bottom of it. Not ideal by no means, but sometimes it’s just not meant to be, and if it was meant to be it would, but it just wasn’t our day.”
There were just three cautions over the course of the race. Custer won both, Stage 1 and Stage 2 before capturing the race victory.
Custer’s dominant win and the intense battle for the Championship closed out the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series on a high note at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The 2017 Champion, William Byron, will take on the top drivers in NASCAR when he moves to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series No. 24 car of Hendrick Motorsports next season.
The 2018 NASCAR XFINITY Series season will get underway at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, February 17.
Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images