NAPA Auto Parts/Haas Automation Chevrolet driver Cole Custer leads the field during the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West at Phoenix International Raceway
Cole Custer opened the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season at Phoenix International Raceway with a career first.
The 16-year-old from Ladera Ranch in California won his first K&N Pro Series West race in only his third start.
Cole Custer celebrates with a burn out after winning the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West at Phoenix International Raceway
He won two races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East last year. Custer has three K&N Pro Series wins in his short NASCAR career.
He had to hold off Greg Pursley, a three-time winner in the K&N Pro Series West at Phoenix International Raceway, and Brennan Newberry in the final laps of the Talking Stick Resort 75.
"We spun the tires a little bit a couple of times," Custer said. "I think they almost got us in one and two. I just was able to hold them off."
Fortunately for Custer, Gray Gaulding was nowhere near the leaders when the checkered flag dropped.
Gaulding won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West finale at Phoenix International Raceway in 2013 after knocking Custer out of the lead on the final lap. Custer won the pole and led every lap but the final one. Gaulding spun out Custer, who recovered for a sixth-place finish at Phoenix last year.
"It almost felt like the same thing because our car wasn't very good on the short runs," Custer said. "I had to do everything right to make sure we didn't get passed. There are so many restarts, so many opportunities to make a mistake. I guess we got lucky a little bit we didn't make a mistake. Can't thank my guys enough for giving me a great car."
NASCAR K&N Pro Series West racer Cole Custer in victory lane after winning Talking Stick Resort 75 at Phoenix International Raceway
This time around, Gaulding experienced engine trouble early in the race and finished 29th.
Custer won the pole for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West opener at Phoenix International Raceway. He led the first nine laps of the race before giving way to Pursley.
Pursley led 18 laps until Custer regained the top spot on lap 28. He was out front for the rest of the race.
But a late caution period set up a green-white-checker finish. Custer outdueled Newberry on the final restart.
"Restarts were key. We had to hit them. We had to make sure we were right on target," said Newberry, who posted the second top-five finish of his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West career. "Luckily I got past Nick there and the 83 of (Kelly) Admiraal. I saw the 16 (Brandon McReynolds) have some trouble there. I wanted to run Cole really clean. He had done nothing to me. He was fast all day."
Custer won two races in the K&N Pro Series East in 2013. He won the race at Iowa Speedway with drivers and teams from the K&N Pro Series East and West. He also won the K&N Pro Series East race at New Hampshire International Raceway.
After the race, Custer was asked where the Phoenix win ranks among his victories.
"It's up there," Custer said. "If we could go win at Bristol, that would be even better."
Newberry finished in second place in the race at Phoenix International Raceway, followed by 16-year-old rookie Nick Drake in third.
"I think all the cautions sort of hurt us," said Drake, who was in the top five at the UNOH Battle of the Beach race at Daytona earlier this month. "I couldn't really get the restarts figured out. I think a car got by us every single start. Brennan got by us there on the second to last restart. I think we could have ran second if it wasn't for that. He ran a good race, Cole, I don't think we had anything for Cole. We'll take third."
Pursley was fourth and DJ Kennington was fifth.
The next race in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West is the NAPA 150 at Irwindale Speedway on March 22. It will be the first K&N Pro Series West race at Irwindale Speedway since 2011.