MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- For Cole Custer , it was a speeding penalty on pit road. For John Hunter Nemechek , it was a mistake on a restart. Both drivers appeared to have legitimate shots at victory Saturday at Martinsville Speedway , site of the Kroger 200 Camping World Truck Series race. But inexperience got in the way. Custer , only 17, but already a two-time winner in the series, qualified on the pole and led 96 laps on the .526-mile track. But a speeding penalty while leaving pit road just past the halfway point of the race left him playing catch-up in a race that featured 12 cautions. When the dust had finally settled, the JR Motorsports driver had finished fourth. "We had probably the best truck (out) there, maybe not on some (runs), but we probably just gave one away there," Custer said. "Just my lack of experience. I thought I could go hard off pit road and not get a penalty in the last section. "Just went a little too fast. Great truck, it just feels like we gave another one away today." Custer and his team had the No. 1 pit box, located closest to the pit road exit. He was running second, trailing Nemechek, when the day's sixth caution came out for a crash involving JJ Haley. Second off pit road before word of the penalty came down from the tower, the infraction dropped Custer to the tail end of the lead-lap trucks, where he restarted 25th. A fast truck, and numerous cautions, enabled him to work his way back into the top five. Nemechek's miscue came just a bit later in the series' 20th race of the season. Out front for a Lap 138 restart, his No. 8 Chevrolet caught the inside curb, slowing him just enough for defending series champion Matt Crafton to bolt to the front. "We had a great truck all day," said Nemechek, who led twice for 32 laps and finished second, less than a half-second behind race winner Crafton. "I just couldn't capitalize on it. I made a mistake and I'll learn from it. "We'll move on from here, hopefully (continue) the momentum. My guys give me great trucks every time we come to the race track." There was brief contact between the two on the restart in question, but a no-harm, no-foul situation, according to Crafton. "I don't know if he hit the curb or he got loose under me," Crafton said. "I just know I had a really good restart there … don't know if he just overdrove the corner a little bit getting into (Turn) 3." Nemechek, 18, earned his first victory earlier this year at Chicagland Speedway while racing for his family-owned Nemco Motorsports. Five of Saturdays restarts came after Nemechek lost the lead, but each time he was unable to capitalize on the opportunity. "We struggled a little bit on the outside, I was better on the bottom (on restarts)," he said. "But I hit the curb on that restart after we pitted and it killed me. It's my own fault."
RELATED: Full qualifying results Cole Custer earned his third, and first for the 2015 season, 21 Means 21 Pole of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career at Martinsville Speedway after topping the qualifying leaderboard with a fastest lap of 96.959 mph. Joining Custer's No. 00 on the front row is the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Toyota of Cameron Hayley (96.504 mph). The No. 8 of John Hunter Nemechek will start on the second row after qualifying third as he brought his Chevrolet around the .526-mile track at a fastest lap of 96.224 mph. The No. 19 of Tyler Reddick (96.141 mph) and the No. 14 of Daniel Hemric (96.024 mph) rounded out the top five. The green flag for the Kroger 200 (200 laps, 105.2 miles) is set for 1:30 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN, Sirius XM).
Driver scores first win of 2015 Camping World Truck Series season RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings MADISON, Ill. -- Cole Custer took advantage of a five-lap shootout at Gateway Motorsports Park to score his second career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win in Saturday night's American Ethanol presents the Drivin' for Linemen 200 brought to you by Ameren. When race leader Tyler Reddick missed his second shift of the night on the final restart, Custer attacked and cleared the field to cruise to a 0.871-second triumph over Spencer Gallagher . It was the 17-year-old NASCAR Next driver's first win of the year and second for JR Motorsports, which won last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Kasey Kahne . "I was just trying to tell myself 'no excuses,'" said Custer , who won in his third start of the year. "I think we were a little bit better than the 19 (Reddick). We struggled a little bit all day. I don't know, I'm just tired. I gotta thank Haas Automation, Gene Haas, Kelley (Earnhardt-Miller), Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) for giving me this opportunity and Hendrick engines, the pit crew for coming out. "We put everything together, we didn't have the best truck, but we ran a great race." After Matt Crafton and Erik Jones , who had the two strongest trucks of the night, endured problems late in the race, the revolving door opened with Custer answering. For Gallagher, late-race strategy played into his hands -- which ultimately led to his second career top-five finish. "(We) didn't have the speed in our No. 23 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet that we wanted all day, but we started 14th, so pretty far back there and a track where track position is such a huge deal, that was kind of a cloud hanging over our head to begin with. My GMS Racing guys played the game right all night. We were able to hold off Sauter at the end there. I told my crew chief, better be lucky than good sometimes, I'll take it." Mother Nature played her hand early at Gateway, cancelling qualifying after a brief, but heavy shower a few minutes into round one of knockout qualifying. The field was set per the rule book, putting Erik Jones on the pole after turning the fastest lap in practice earlier in the day. Quickly, the track dried, but the start of the eighth race of the season was delayed nearly two hours after a heavy shower soaked the 1.25-mile oval shortly before pre-race ceremonies. Drivers were called to their trucks at 9:25 p.m. CST, with the command to fire engines less than 10 minutes later. From the start, Jones kept the lead and held the point until the first caution waved on Lap 53 for a two-truck accident in Turn 1. Matt Crafton won the race off pit road ahead of Erik Jones , Matt Tifft , Johnny Sauter and Tyler Reddick . Racing resumed, but Crafton's lead would be short-lived as Jones, a NASCAR Next alum, made the pass on the outside and retook the lead from the defending series champion. Despite being chased by Crafton, Jones kept the lead until the second yellow flag waved on Lap 80 for debris. While Jones elected to pit, Crafton stayed out, while Tyler Reddick , Johnny Sauter , Brandon Jones and Austin Theriault played strategy and took two tires. Jones was the first truck that elected for four tires and exited pit road sixth. Crafton held the lead through Lap 91 when Tifft crashed in Turn 1. Under the third caution of the race, Crafton pitted, handing the lead to his ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter with Custer second. Restarting with 64 laps to go, Sauter found himself unable to hold off Custer , who ventured out to a half-second lead by Lap 100. Ten laps later, Custer had company in the form of Jones, who made the pass to reclaim the lead on Lap 112. Six laps later, a stalled truck brought out another yellow, sending the lead lap trucks to pit road for service. A flawless stop by Crafton's team sent him back to the top ahead of Spencer Gallagher , who took two tires. Jones exited third, followed by Ray Black Jr . with no tires, and Reddick. On the restart, Crafton was able to stay ahead, but Jones, hungry for his first win of the season, was quickly closing. Ultimately, Jones spun on the frontstretch 17 laps from the finish while trying to pass a lapped truck. With Jones out of the mix, Crafton found Reddick, Custer and John Hunter Nemechek looking to deny him of his fourth win of 2015. The green flag resumed with 10 laps remaining and Reddick wasted no time making his move and surging to the lead. Crafton's strong night would take a dramatic turn after Nemechek broke loose in Turn 3 and sent the No. 88 Toyota hard into the outside wall, yielding the sixth caution of the night. Custer jumped out to the lead on the final restart and cruised the rest of the way to Victory Lane. Behind Custer and Gallagher, Sauter, Nemechek and Cameron Hayley rounded out the top five, while Timothy Peters , Ben Kennedy , Reddick, Daniel Hemric and Austin Theriault comprised the top-10. "I always knew that we had trucks capable of winning," Custer said. "We just had to put everything together for a race." The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to action next Friday, June 19, at Iowa Speedway for the American Ethanol 200 with coverage on FOX Sports 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Cole Custer was in second position at Martinsville Speedway, but a pit road penalty sends him to the rear of the field.
JR Motorsports makes its Truck Series debut this weekend with Custer Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Practice results Powering his No. 00 Chevrolet at 96.068 mph, Cole Custer soared to the top of the leaderboard during Friday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice at Martinsville Speedway . This weekend marks the 17-year-old's first start with Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s JR Motorsports, the team making its initial foray into the Truck Series this season. ThorSport Racing 's Cameron Hayley made a late run for the runner-up spot, claiming the second position on the leaderboard with a high speed of 95.622 mph. His teammate Johnny Sauter also made a late run at the Virgina track and posted the third-fastest speed (95.530 mph). Joey Logano , who is stepping into the No. 29 driver's seat for Brad Keselowski Racing this weekend, wheeled around the paperclip oval fourth-fastest at 95.415 mph. Logano's teammate for the weekend, Tyler Reddick, rounded out the top five with a high speed of 95.410 mph. Just shy of a top-five speed was Erik Jones , who is back in his No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports ride. Two-time defending series champion Matt Crafton showed initial speed in his No. 88 ThorSport Racing ride, but came up short, posting the 15th-fastest speed in the field. The first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice was canceled due to inclement weather, so this session will serve as the series' only practice this weekend. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is back on the track on Saturday at 11:15 a.m. for Keystone Light Pole Qualifying with coverage on FOX Sports 1. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
NASCAR Illustrated's Steven Levine sits down to catch up with NASCAR Next driver, Cole Custer .
JR Motorsports driver scored first 21 Means 21 Pole Award there in 2014 LONG POND, Pa. -- Rewind the clock back to a year ago: Cole Custer had made two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts that resulted in two top-15 finishes. In his third race, the NASCAR Next product really turned heads at Gateway Motorsports Park, site of Saturday night's American Ethanol presents the Drivin' for Linemen 200 brought to you by Ameren (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). Custer scored his first 21 Means 21 Pole Award for the event last year as well as his first top-10 finish (a sixth-place result) in a NASCAR national series event. "I'm really looking forward to it just because we were so fast there last year," Custer told NASCAR.com at Pocono Raceway , where he ran in the Pocono ARCA 200 last weekend. "I think we are going to bring a real great truck and we are going to have a lot of speed. We are really looking forward to that one. We have it circled on our calendar." The 17-year-old California native ran a nine-race slate last year with Haas Racing Development. That includes a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last fall, where he led 148 of 175 laps en route to becoming the youngest winner in NASCAR national series history. This season, Custer is helping to build the foundation for the truck operation at JR Motorsports, the Dale Earnhardt Jr .-owned racing team. "It's such a great organization," he said. "It's one of the top ones in NASCAR. It definitely helps us on the truck side trying to bring fast race cars to the track." Gateway will be the third of 10 planned races Custer will run for JRM this season, and part of a stretch that sees him run three races (Dover, Gateway and Iowa) in four weeks. Custer is not of age to run at tracks under 1.25-miles per the NASCAR rulebook. "You got to be good in (Turn) 1," Custer said of what he considers a key at Gateway. "You got to get your car turning. You are probably not going to be able to be perfect in both ends because the corners are different. Just being able to turn through Turn 1 and then being a little on the loose side in Turns 3 and 4. It's different a tricky track." To fill the gaps in his schedule, Custer is running a handful of ARCA events as well as some NASCAR K&N Pro Series races this summer. Moving between different series and cars is a bit of an adjustment for the young driver. "It's a little bit difficult," Custer said. "It usually takes you about half a practice session or so to get used to the different cars. Once you get used to it, it's just like anything else with driving. I think it makes you a better driver just from getting different feels and everything." That track time in other series could pay off big for Custer when the Truck Series hits Iowa for his fourth start of the season on June 19 for the American Ethanol 200 (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). Custer finished eighth in the Truck Series race there last year. "I'm looking forward to Iowa, too, just because I won there in the past (2013) in the K&N Pro Series. I really like that track and I feel like we were pretty good there last year. We weren't dominant, but I feel like we got a real good package this year and I think we are going to be strong there." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Cole Custer cuts a tire and makes hard contact with the wall at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
17-year-old held lead late, but spin-out took him out of contention PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Full race results " See the dramatic closing laps MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- NASCAR's oldest national-series track often shines its light on veterans, sometimes chewing up newbies like so many hot dogs coming from the infield concession stand. Cole Custer , though, nearly turned conventional wisdom on its head, almost converting an amazing comeback at the tender age of 17. Custer , making just his first start of the season and his 10th NASCAR Camping World Truck Series appearance overall, nearly sewed up some Martinsville magic in Saturday afternoon's Kroger 250 , rallying twice from pit-road penalties to become a contender for the victory in the final laps. Custer actually sprang to the top of the scoring pylon with four laps left in regulation with a bold, full-contact move to get past veterans Matt Crafton and Joey Logano . But the teenager was far from home free, anticipating payback from one of the two. Crafton delivered with a series of bumps, sending the youngster spinning to bring out one final caution flag and send the race to overtime. From there, Custer limped home with what he figured was a damaged rear gear to finish 16th as the final truck on the lead lap. "I knew he was going to come back for me, though," Custer said after emerging from his battered No. 00 Chevrolet, the first truck series effort for JR Motorsports. "You know, he did it respectfully and I just gave him all I had to stay up there. … It's Martinsville. You're going to beat and bang for the win. It's what it is." Custer started second alongside eventual race winner Logano but faced an unexpected deficit early on because of pit-road penalties. Custer's No. 00 was flagged for speeding in a 36th-lap exchange of pit stops, then was tagged again on Lap 143 of a scheduled 250 for exceeding the limit again. The repeat offense had both Custer and crew chief Joe Shear Jr. scratching their heads, especially since Custer said he was never over their target RPMs on the tachometer. Either way, Custer methodically marched from the tail end of the field, helped by the second set of eyes and advice provided by spotter Eddie D'Hondt -- Jeff Gordon 's spotter in the Sprint Cup Series. Custer was characteristically stoic on the team communications Saturday, but the encouragement from Shear and D'Hondt made all the difference. "Eddie's helped me a lot this weekend," Custer said. "That's a big reason why we were fast. Joe brought a great truck to the race track, and I was happy with the day. Didn't get the finish, but at least we were fast. It was a big step up from last year for me, so we'll come back here in the fall, and I think we'll have something, too." He almost had something Saturday, gaining on front-runners Crafton and Logano as their battle for the lead became more heated as the laps wound down. By the time 10 laps remained, it was a free-for-all that went from a two-horse race to three. While the two veterans ahead of him scrapped and scraped, Custer saw opportunity, driving hard into the corner entry to push both trucks up the race track. Custer dove low beneath both Crafton and Logano to squirt out in front, and D'Hondt keyed his mic: "Don't you look in that mirror! I got it." Had he looked, he would have seen that Crafton's bright No. 88 Toyota was coming full-bore and that Logano's No. 29 Ford had recovered nicely, too. Crafton, the two-time defending Camping World Truck Series champ, laid the bumper to the youngster multiple times in the 248th lap, forcing Custer to lose control, spin and stall as he brushed into the lead. "I was kind of nervous," Custer said after suddenly rising to the top spot. "I didn't know there were so many laps left. I thought there were only a couple laps left, so I thought if I could get in front, I could've stayed there. Matt was just a little bit better than us and could catch us, and I deserved to get punted back." Crafton described Custer's pass for the lead with the words "pounded" and "pile-drove" but chalked up the contact to the nature of short-track racing. Logano wasn't displeased with how their run-in eventually unfolded. "With inside 10 (laps) to go, I heard that he was coming, but I heard that he was about 3 or 4 (truck-lengths) back," Logano said of Custer's late charge. "The next thing you know, here he comes banzai-ing in there and takes both of us up the race track. I haven't seen a replay yet or not, but my initial reaction I was really mad, and I guess I wasn't disappointed to see what I saw." Though Custer was powerless to mount an improbable third comeback to the front, Shear commended his young driver on the cool-down lap: "They knew that we were here." Martinsville remains the only track where Custer has multiple truck series starts, and Shear said he noticed the difference from his earlier efforts. He also noticed how Custer kept his composure at a track that usually riles up even the most patient drivers. "He's young still. He'll learn how to flip out like the rest of these Cup drivers someday," Shear said with a laugh. "But no, he did a good job with that. He could've easily gotten rattled and torn up even worse than he did, so he did a fantastic job. He's definitely a really mature kid for his age, and I'm proud to work with him." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Cole Custer spins late in the race after making contact with Alex Tagliani as the two were fighting for the second position.