Ford Dominates at Kentucky, Rookie Cole Custer Gets His First Cup Win

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Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, KY — July 12, 2020

The Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart is set to take the green flag just before 3 pm today at Kentucky Speedway. Normally this event is run on Saturday evening, but like almost everything in 2020 schedules are subject to change.

To everyone’s surprise, Jimmie Johnson will be back in the #48 today after a one-week absence from the Cup circuit. Last weekend Johnson was out due to a positive Corona-Virus test. NASCAR’s requirements were clear regarding the steps for Johnson’s return. In accordance with the CDC’s current guidelines, Johnson was to be symptom-free and has two negative COVID-19 test results, at least 24 hours apart. NASCAR requires Johnson to be cleared by his physician before returning to racing. The tests on Monday and Tuesday met the qualifications.

While no one is reporting it, could it be that Johnson’s original test returned a “false positive.” That would certainly explain the quick turnaround. Either way, it’s great news for Johnson as he returns remaining in the top 16 of the points standings, 36 points above the playoff cut line in 15th.

Today’s Race

The Quaker State 400 consists of 267 laps around the 1.5-mile D-shaped Kentucky Speedway. Stages are 80/80/107 laps. Kurt Busch is the defending champion of the race, winning last year in a classic battle with his younger brother Kyle Busch.

Kyle Busch starts on the pole today. The Cup Series defending champion is winless so far in 2020. He has not even managed a single stage win. Kyle has won twice before at Kentucky.

Joey Logano starts beside Busch on the front row. Two drivers were sent to the rear after inspection issues, Martin Truex Jr. who was to start ninth, and Matt Kenseth who forfeits the 17th starting position on the grid.

Again, no one in the stands today, except the Kentucky Colonel occupying his traditional seat.

Lasco Press Photo

Stage 1

Aric Almirola gave Kyle Busch a big push into Turn 1 and the pair quickly stepped away from the rest of the field. Almirola took the lead on Lap 10, followed by Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, and Brad Keselowski.

The competition caution scheduled for Lap 25 brought the field to pit road, Almirola retained the lead and will restart next to Logano. Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott will line up behind them on row two.

Almirola(10) and Logano(22) battle at Kentucky Speedway / NASCAR Photo

This time, Elliott pushed Almirola to the lead, followed by the Ford Mustangs of Logano, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, and Matt DeBenedetto. Kyle Busch dropped to 10th on the restart.

With no more cautions and nothing but clean air in front of him, Almirola took the Stage 1 win easily. Six Ford Mustangs earned points finishing in the Stage’s top 10.

Stage 1 Results

Position Car Driver
1 10 Aric Almirola*
2 9 Chase Elliott
3 22 Joey Logano*
4 21 Matt DiBenedetto*
5 12 Ryan Blaney*
6 4 Kevin Harvick*
7 88 Alex Bowman
8 1 Kurt Busch
9 14 Clint Bowyer*
10 19 Martin Truex Jr.

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 2

It will again be Aric Almirola leading the field to the green on the restart, after Stage ending pit stops. Logano, Elliott, Matt DeBenedetto, and Bowman will follow.

Stage 2 looked to be a repeat of Stage 1 as Almirola dominated. Until Ryan Blaney used a lap car to trap Almirola on the bottom of the track and drove by with 22 laps to go in the Stage. Earlier in the race, Blaney had his car jump out of gear going through Turn 1. He held onto the gear shifter for a few corners, but the issue did not re-occur.

Green flag pit stops began with around 15 laps to go in the Stage. Matt Kenseth cut down a tire seven laps before the end of the stage during pit stops and shuffled the standings. The race restarted with 1 lap to go, Keselowski and Blaney on the front row. They raced side-by-side to the green and white checkered, with Keselowski picking up the stage win.

Brad Keselowski(2) passes Christopher Bell(95) at Kentucky Speedway

Stage 2 Results

Position Car Driver
1 2 Brad Keselowski*
2 12 Ryan Blaney*
3 41 Cole Custer*
4 22 Joey Logano*
5 19 Martin Truex Jr.
6 88 Alex Bowman
7 3 Austin Dillon
8 48 Jimmie Johnson
9 21 Matt DiBenedetto*
10 20 Erik Jones

*Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

At the restart, Keselowski led Blaney, Truex, and Logano to the green flag. Almirola restarted in 11th. Kyle Busch was complaining of a rear suspension issue and claimed it was almost undrivable. This sent a crew member to the garage to retrieve a new shock absorber.

With 87 laps to go, Truex took the lead. With 59 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson was the first of the leaders to make his final pit stop. Almirola came to pit road with 50 laps to go. Truex gave up the lead when he pitted with 47 to go and Keselowski inherited the top spot. Brad pitted with 44 to go.

Brennan Poole cut down a tire with 39 laps to go and again the caution waved in the middle of green-flag pit stops. Austin Dillon spun trying to avoid pit road as the caution appeared to prevent be caught there and going a lap down. Several cars ended up taking the waive-around during the caution to get back on the lead lap.

Late Restarts

Truex and Blaney lead the field to the restart, Kurt Busch and Keselowski follow them in row 2. The caution was another bad break for Almirola who will restart in the 19th position when the green flag drops. The big mover when the race restarted was Jimmie Johnson, going from 9th to the 3rd spot.

The caution came out again when John Hunter Nemechek hit the wall with 23 laps to go. Most of the leaders stayed out, Kyle Busch pitted from 9th and several cars further back took advantage of the caution to get fresh tires.

Now its Truex, Blaney, Harvick, and Johnson to the restart. Keselowski dove low to pass Johnson and Jimmie was slow to block. The two collided and Johnson spun out.

Now it will be Blaney, Truex, Harvick, and Kurt Busch, with Keselowski starting 5th with 13 laps to go. Harvick took the leaders 3-wide into Turn 1 and came onto the backstretch with the lead. Truex was the only car able to stay close with Harvick as they pulled away at the front. Ryan Newman tapped Matt Kenseth and sent him spinning with 7 laps to go, setting up a sprint to the finish.

The Finish

Apparently it’s anyone race to win if you are willing to push and shove your way to the front. Harvick, Truex, Blaney, Keselowski, and Kurt Busch the top 5 as the green waves with 2 laps to go. Three-wide down to the white flag, when Cole Custer, Harvick’s teammate, gets a great run and makes it 4-wide across the line.

As Harvick gets his fender banged by Blaney, he starts trailing smoke. Truex, looking to avoid trouble pulls up and pushes Custer. But, once in clean air, Custer is never going to get caught. He comes around for the checkered flag.

The win, the first for a rookie since 2016, puts him in the playoffs. Custer entered the race 25th in the points. It also places him in the All-Star race Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Playoff Point Standings

Clearly, Custer’s win took away a point qualifying position in the Playoff Standings. After today’s race, he was 91 points out of the final spot and very unlikely to qualify. This really puts the pressure on Austin Dillon as it pushed him 24 points out of 16th, the final playoff spot. It also cost Tyler Reddick and Erik Jones as they sit 41 and 42 points behind respectively.

Aric Almirola, who dominated today early and then finished 8th, is the highest-ranked non-winning driver in 10th with 504 points. Kurt Busch is also sitting pretty in 11th, up 104 points on the cut line. Jimmie Johnson lost 12 points to the cut line and now sits on the bubble, he finished 18th today.

Rank Driver Points Wins Status
1 Kevin Harvick* 675 4 In-Win
2 Denny Hamlin 553 4 In-Win
3 Brad Keselowski* 587 2 In-Win
4 Joey Logano* 564 2 In-Win
5 Ryan Blaney* 580 1 In-Win
6 Chase Elliott 575 1 In-Win
7 Martin Truex Jr. 543 1 In-Win
8 Alex Bowman 498 1 In-Win
9 Cole Custer* 321 1 In-Win
10 Aric Almirola* 504 0 +116
11 Kurt Busch 492 0 +104
12 Kyle Busch 477 0 +89
13 Matt DiBenedetto* 456 0 +68
14 Clint Bowyer* 435 0 +57
15 William Byron 418 0 +30
16 Jimmie Johnson 412 0 +24
Playoff Cut Line
17 Austin Dillon 388 0 -24
18 Tyler Reddick 371 0 -41
19 Erik Jones 370 0 -42
20 Bubba Wallace 328 0 -84

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Wednesday night at Bristol it’s all for fun, and $1 million dollars as the non-points All-Star race is conducted at the Last Great Colosseum. It should be wild.

Results of the Quaker State 400 from Kentucky Speedway

Position Car Driver Behind Laps
1 41 Cole Custer 267
2 19 Martin Truex Jr. 0.271 267
3 21 Matt DiBenedetto 1.000 267
4 4 Kevin Harvick 1.333 267
5 1 Kurt Busch 1.511 267
6 12 Ryan Blaney 1.537 267
7 95 Christopher Bell 1.651 267
8 10 Aric Almirola 1.788 267
9 2 Brad Keselowski 1.939 267
10 8 Tyler Reddick 1.944 267
11 24 William Byron 2.034 267
12 11 Denny Hamlin 2.068 267
13 3 Austin Dillon 2.106 267
14 14 Clint Bowyer 2.151 267
15 22 Joey Logano 2.191 267
16 13 Ty Dillon 2.382 267
17 6 Ryan Newman 2.624 267
18 48 Jimmie Johnson 2.668 267
19 88 Alex Bowman 2.770 267
20 17 Chris Buescher 2.806 267
21 18 Kyle Busch 3.009 267
22 20 Erik Jones 3.133 267
23 9 Chase Elliott 3.140 267
24 34 Michael McDowell 3.326 267
25 42 Matt Kenseth 3.611 267
26 96 Daniel Suarez 4.234 267
27 43 Bubba Wallace -2 265
28 32 Corey LaJoie -3 264
29 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -3 264
30 27 JJ Yeley -7 260
31 15 Brennan Poole -8 259
32 77 Josh Bilicki -10 257
33 53 Garrett Smithley -10 257
34 51 Joey Gase -10 257
35 0 Quin Houff -12 255
36 38 John Hunter Nemechek -19 248
37 66 Timmy Hill -97 170
38 37 Ryan Preece -108 159