February 28, 2014 — By Shon Sbarra, NASCAR — Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR photo — AVONDALE, Ariz. – Cole Custer had the checkered flag in sight four months ago at Phoenix International Raceway, but had to wait until Thursday night to get the win.
Custer, 16, won the Talking Stick Resort 75, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season opener in the Arizona desert. The Ladera Ranch, Calif., driver started from the pole position and first had to deal with three-time Phoenix race winner Greg Pursley and then with a hard-charging Brennan Newberry on a green-white-checkered finish.
In the November 2013 K&N Pro Series West season finale, Custer had a dominant car in leading practice, winning the pole position and leading every lap in the race – except for one. Gray Gaulding used a bump-and-run move on the white-flag lap to claim the win and send Custer spinning to a sixth-place finish.
On this night, Custer led the first 10 laps before succumbing to the pressure of Pursley. However, on Lap 28 Custer regained the lead from Pursley, who tangled with lapped traffic on Lap 28 and drove his No. 00 NAPA Auto Parts/Haas Automation Chevrolet to victory from there.
He built a lead of more than a second in the closing laps, but a late caution flag flew when Greg Rayl made contact with the Turn 4 wall on Lap 72 to set up the overtime finish and was able to edge a persistent Newberry at the line by .376 seconds.
Nick Drake scored a third-place finish for Bill McAnally Racing in his K&N West debut while Pursley rebounded from the early trouble to finish fourth. Two-time NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion D.J. Kennington came home in the fifth position.
Dylan Lupton, Giles Thornton, Brandon McReynolds, Brett Thompson and Taylor Cuzick completed the top-10 finishers on the night.
It was Custer’s first K&N West victory in just three starts. He collected a pair of K&N East wins last season in August at Iowa Speedway in Newton and in September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Earlier in the day, Custer won the 21 Means 21 presented by Coors Brewing Company Pole Award. It was his second in the K&N Pro Series West to match the two he has in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
The Talking Stick Resort 75 will be telecast by FOX Sports 1 on Friday, March 7 at 1 p.m. ET.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West is in action next on Saturday, March 22 in the NAPA 150 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. It’s the first series race at the Southern California half-mile oval since July 2011.