AVONDALE, AZ. - Track position proved the key element all afternoon long and even though the Ford Mustang trio of Cole Custer, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe all posted top 10 finishes, it was a case of what might have been in Saturday’s iK9 Service Dog 200 at ISM Raceway.
Cindric had an incident-free afternoon, capitalizing on a key decision by crew chief Brian Wilson to stay out while the leaders pitted to win stage 1. He came from back in the field after pitting at the stage break to finish sixth in stage two before taking the checkered flag fifth.
Custer and Briscoe both saw their chances at contending for a top three finish damaged at the start of the final stage. Briscoe was poised to restart inside the top 10, but a speeding penalty sent him to the rear of the field. Custer found himself in the thick of things, but fell from inside the top 10 to 11th after getting caught in the middle lane and shuffled back. Both drivers recovered as Custer ended up fourth and Briscoe sixth.
Kyle Busch led 116 of the 200 laps to register the win in a race that featured a massive blown engine by Stephen Leicht. The combination of smoke and oil that ensued ended up collecting Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier, who were running second and third at the time.
The Xfinity Series’ next race is the Production Alliance Group 300, scheduled next Saturday (5 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Auto Club Speedway.
FORD FINISHING ORDER
4th Cole Custer
5th Austin Cindric
6th Chase Briscoe
AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 22 MoneyLion Ford Mustang
YOU WON STAGE 1. HOW DOES THAT FEEL IN TERMS OF BUILDING POINTS? “For me Playoff points are huge, especially moving into the Playoffs. I’ve done NASCAR racing for two years with not a lot of Playoff points in the Playoffs and I can tell you right now it’s not a lot of fun, so getting the Playoff points and building that up throughout the season and really being able to execute a solid day is great. Brian had a great strategy call to keep us out and obviously being able to hold off Bell by a small margin at the end was great for us and then just have a top five day with no issues and no mistakes was nice.”
DID YOU GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR MUSTANG TODAY? “Yeah, I think we did. I think we made the most with a short run car. It would have been great to have a late-race restart there because I think later on as we tried to nurse our long-run speed we just kind of learned that our short-run speed we might as well make that the most, so I’m proud of what we did today. I think we learned a lot and hopefully enough to bring us back in the fall and have a good run again.”
HOW WERE THE RESTARTS? “Restarts are crazy here. I think those were the top six or seven at some point coming from the tail after we had to pit at the end of stage two, so it was a lot of fun. I’m surprised it all went well, but it was definitely a fun day.”
THE WAY YOU CAME BACK IN STAGE TWO WAS BIG FOR YOUR OVERALL DAY. HOW GRATIFYING WAS THAT COMPARED TO WINNING STAGE ONE? “I think winning a stage and getting that Playoff point is a big check box for me. It’s early in the season and this might be the first Playoff point I’ve gotten one on an oval, so I’ll take it. I’ll take it and run with it and I’m sure there are more firsts in the season, we just have to keep pushing hard. We’ve got a few things to make our cars better and be able to keep running top five and then top three and then contend for wins. It’s a long season. It’s a marathon and it was a good baseline day today.”
COLE CUSTER, No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang
AFTER GETTING SHUFFLED BACK ON THE LAST RESTART YOU RECOVERED NICELY FOR A FOURTH-PLACE FINISH. ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THAT? “The car was really good there at the end and that’s what makes it so frustrating. I think we should have finished second or had a shot at the win there, but we gave up so much on the restart. We just need to do better than that. We had a pretty good car right there and it’s just a matter of keeping our track position.”
WHAT WAS THE NATURE OF THE RACE? “I think the restarts, for me, were the biggest thing. I never got a good one, but I don’t know, they’re crazy. Everybody is doing something different. You don’t know what anybody is gonna do on the restarts because there are so many different things you can do. I don’t know. It’s just chaos.”
FRUSTRATING FOR YOU AFTER BELL DROPPED OUT BECAUSE THAT JUST LEFT KYLE BUSCH. “Yeah, I thought we were a fourth-place car all day and there at the end I thought that even if the 20 and the 7 were in the race I thought we were a second-place car. We just gave up so much on that restart.”
CHASE BRISCOE, No. 98 Nutri Chomps Ford Mustang
“We just really struggled all day long. That last pit stop I came down and came out sixth and thought we were gonna be in really good shape there with track position and ended up getting a speeding penalty and had to go to the back. To come from the back to sixth in that 60-lap run I felt was really strong. I honestly thought we were one of the best cars there at the end, I just killed myself with track position. Sixth is obviously good coming from the back, but I felt like we were probably a top three race car there at the end. I hate it for all of my Ford Nutri Chomps guys. We’ll go on to Fontana next week. It’s kind of home turf for our owner, Fred Biagi, so we’ll go try to have a good run.”
HOW MUCH WAS PATIENCE NEEDED AFTER THAT SPEEDING PENALTY? “it’s really tough here just because this place is so hard track position-wise and it seems like once we get spread out everybody is the same speed. It’s kind of a tough balance of getting everything you can on the restart initially, but then trying to save your right-front tire. This place typically builds pretty tight, so I feel like I got lucky on the initial start there. A lot of guys got jacked up and I got quite a bit of positions early and then honestly there at the end we were just so much better than everybody through the corner, so we just kind of ran them down. My crew chief was definitely in my ear all day long and it’s just something we have to keep building on. This is a new team and me and him are kind of new to each other, so I feel like as the year goes on we’ll get a lot better and hopefully be battling for wins.”
WAS IT TWO STEPS FORWARD AND THREE STEPS BACK ALL DAY? “There are some things to definitely keep our heads up about, but also we definitely struggled early. It’s kind of been a whole thing this year where we struggle at the beginning of the race and continually get better, but I feel like today was, by far, the most gains we’ve made throughout the weekend and that speeding penalty at the end kind of shot ourselves in the foot. That was gonna be the first time all day we really had our track position we needed and restarting sixth was gonna be a really good spot and then having to go to the back – that’s one thing to be really proud about going from the back here to sixth – so I feel like we were really fast there at the end and wish I didn’t speed now obviously, but that’s part of it and we’ll just go on to next week. I’ve never been to Fontana before, but I feel like it’s gonna fit my driving style, so I’m really looking forward to going there.”