Pole Sitter COLE CUSTER/No.00 Chevrolet won the Thursday night Talking Stick Resort 75 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Race at Phoenix International Raceway. This is his third career victory in the combined East and West Series, and his first in the West. The Margin of Victory over Runner-up BRENNAN NEWBERRY/No.24 Chevrolet was 0.376. Had it not been for the last caution, the gap could have been far greater. Prior to the restart, the margin was a second and a half on Lap 73 in the 75-lap race. Custer’s average speed was 72.247 mph. With his second pole at Phoenix, he ties the record with PARNELLI JONES as the only two drivers to win the pole for their first two professional races at PIR.
Custer races for BILL McANALLY, who has long been a team owner in the NASCAR development and ladder series.
Three is a lucky number for Rookie NICK DRAKE/No.55 Toyota. The eighteen-year old finished third in just his third stock car race. He wasn’t sure how he did so well, and gave all the credit to his McAnally team. Drake came from dirt track racing. He was the top finishing Rookie.
Newberry joked that he was considered the veteran on his QORE24 team at the age of 24, as his new teammate, GRAY GAULDING, is only sixteen. Gaulding, who qualified fifth, went out on the first lap, with a blown engine. Gaulding won last fall’s Phoenix K&N race after taking the lead from Custer on the last lap. Custer had been the pole sitter, and led all but the last lap, when Gaulding just punched it … bump and run it’s called. Gaulding was the youngest-ever K&N West Series winner.
Fourth was veteran, 2011 West Series Champion GREG PURSLEY/No.26 Chevrolet, after passing Custer on Lap 10 and leading laps 11-28. Pursley lost the lead to Custer, when a lapped car seemed to come down on Pursley, spinning him out. But, the 46-year old driver charged back mightily through the pack. “We came in and the guys did a great job of getting the car back together. Thank goodness we had enough yellow flags to bunch the field back up again.”
Custer said he may have spun his tires at the restart when Pursley got by him, but the kid wasn’t fazed. “I thought I had the better car, and that Pursley was losing his. Maybe something happened to it when he spun out.”
Custer and Pursley were the only leaders in the race.
Fifth through tenth: Canadian D.J. KENNINGTON/No.81 Dodge, who is a two-time champion in the NASCAR Canadian Series; 2013 West Series Rookie of the Year, DYLAN LUPTON/No.9 Ford; GILES THORNTON/No.12 Toyota; a third McAnally driver, BRANDO McREYNOLDS/No.16 Toyota; fourth qualifier, BRETT THOMPSON/No.61 Chevrolet; and TAYLOR CUZICK/No.42 Chevrolet.
Custer, a public school sophomore, concedes racing is unique among his classmates. But, he admitted, it also means for him a lot of hard work to keep up his good grades.
The sixteen-year old wants to move up to Sprint Cup but admits it’s a while away. He knows another young California driver, KYLE LARSON, moved up quickly from the K&N Series and is now driving for Chip Ganassi Target Racing in the Sprint Cup Series. But Custer wants to do it right. He said he “gets pretty nervous out there.”
For a driver who has only run eight total K&N races, Custer was remarkably focused, especially on the restarts. He said he learned that in quarter-midgets and his Crew Chief. “I’m one of the luckiest people in the world and not taking it granted.”
There were six cautions and a Red Flag during the race. On Lap 57 the Red Flag was thrown when JACK SELLERS/No.15 Chevrolet and Canadian JACK CHISHOLM/No.38 Toyota made contact. Chisholm spun into the outside wall and Sellers limped in with a broken suspension and body damage. Each driver was evaluated and released from the Infield Medical Center, cleared to drive.
The Series next races at Irwindale Event Center on 22 March 2014.