MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Although John Hunter Nemechek dominated the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Martinsville Speedway, it was a fight to the finish for the runner-up spot in the Call811.com Before You Dig 250.
Sammy Smith and Cole Custer battled lap in and lap out around the 0.526 mile concrete short track. On the final lap, Smith gave Custer the traditional chrome horn to move him out of the way for the second spot.
The bump relegated Custer officially to third at the line. Instead of tempers, there were all smiles between the two.
“I thought it was great racing,” Custer shared after the race. “We raced hard but didn’t wreck each other so it was fun. I could get through the center so good, so I would run him over in the center, but then they’d beat me a little on the exit.
“It’s just Martinsville.”
All night, the show belonged to Nemechek, who led 198 of the scheduled 250 laps. Custer and his Stewart-Haas Racing team did everything they could to inch closer to the leader’s lap times, but fell short into the grasp of Nemechek’s teammate Smith.
“It seemed like we were just a little bit too free,” explained Custer. “We worked on it all night. We were pretty close there at the end, but we were almost opposite of the 20. I could roll the center, but they had the drive and the entry speed. Our long run speed was good, but struggled on the short run. Frustrating to run second or third here because you want to get that clock so bad. It just sucks but I think we have something good to come back here next race.”
But the real battle that caught the eyes of fans alike was for the second spot. Throughout the night, the two traded paint and bumpers down to the final lap. In a hot topic across NASCAR about respect among competitors, both hope they have set the example of good hard racing for others to follow.
“I think the 00 (Cole Custer) was kind of beating my bumper off,” Smith stated. “So I thought it was fair to move him back.”
“I got into him one time earlier in the race so it kinda is what it is,” Custer admitted. “You’re gonna have that at Martinsville. Hopefully people can learn from that, knowing that you can beat and bang but not wreck each other. That’s really all you can ask for.”
It’s been a challenge for Custer after being demoted to the Xfinity Series after three full-time seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series. Finding that positive momentum may be the boost of confidence he’s looking for in his young career.
“(The good result is) huge,” Custer grinned. “It wasn’t a place where I’ve run an Xfinity car before. I didn’t really know what to expect so we did a really good job of unloading good and having a solid car under us. We just needed that little bit more but it’s something we can definitely build off of.”
The next race where he and the No. 00 team can build on that will be next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, as the series leaves the shortest track to visit the longest oval on the 2023 schedule.