Fort Worth, Texas — Cole Custer’s first career victory at Homestead last year wasn’t for the NASCAR Xfinity championship.
When he gets back to South Florida in two weeks, the 20-year-old Custer will have a chance to win a title there.
Custer locked in one of the four championship-contending spots for the season finale with his second career win. He regained the lead and won at Texas on Saturday when he pushed past rookie driver Tyler Reddick on the final lap soon after a restart.
“We haven’t won all year but we have been so close. It starts to frustrate you,” Custer said. “We kept going and this is a perfect time to do it.”
The final restart with two laps left came after the 13th caution, the most ever in an Xfinity race at Texas. The final charge to the finish left Custer’s No. 00 Ford with a winning margin of .162 of a second, the third-closest at the 1 1/2-mile track.
Custer, who led four times for 16 laps, went low near the bumper of Reddick’s No. 9 Chevrolet in Turn 1 on the 200th and final lap and got past for the lead. Both drivers maintained control when they made hard contact on the backstretch.
Reddick, who led a race-high 54 laps, did take over the series points lead from retiring driver Elliott Sadler, who finished eighth and dropped to second in points.
There are three championship-contending spots for Homestead that will be decided next week at Phoenix.
Daniel Hemric is third in points, ahead of Justin Allgaier, Matt Tifft and Custer.
Christopher Bell, the polesitter at Texas, finished 32nd in the 39-car field after being unable to avoid the wall on a second spin with 68 laps left. He dropped to seventh in points. Third-place finisher Austin Cindric is eighth.
After starting from the pole, Bell went sliding sideway in front of the field out of the first turn on the first lap. He avoided the wall, then restarted 32nd before making his way back to the front to lead 35 laps.
“I don’t know if it’s the tire combination or what,” Bell said. “It caught me off guard at the start of the race. I didn’t feel I was up to speed and all of a sudden I spun out.”
Then with 68 left, Cindric moved up the track in Turn 3 and made contact with Bell, who wound up in the wall.
Bell entered the race fourth in points, even after crashing two laps into the previous race. Now he will to win at Phoenix to get into the final four at Homestead. He has won a rookie-record six races this year.
“I still have a chance to win two more,” he said.
Racing pioneer dies
Mari Hulman George, the “quiet pioneer” of auto racing who was instrumental in the expansion of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and became known to millions of fans over the years as the one who ordered countless drivers to start their engines before races, died Saturday. She was 83.
Hulman George, the speedway’s chairman of the board emeritus, died in Indianapolis with her family at her side, the speedway said in a statement.
“Our mother was such a unique, wonderful person. She loved her family, friends, auto racing and animals with equal passion,” said Tony George, current chairman of IMS. “She was a quiet pioneer in so many ways, from owning a race team in the 1950s and 1960s to overseeing a period of tremendous growth and evolution while chairman of the board at IMS.”
Hulman George was IMS chairman from 1988 through 2016. Her father, Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr., purchased the speedway in 1945 and saved it from demolition after World War II. Racing and the facility became a staple of Mari Hulman George’s life.
Hers was a familiar figure and voice before the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 from the late 1990s until 2015.
Racing giant Roger Penske called her an inspiration.
“Her vision and guiding hand has been a driving force at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and her love of motorsports, along with her compassion for everyone associated with racing, was unrivaled,” he said. “We will all miss her leadership and her spirit.”
Hulman George was immersed in auto racing and became friends with many drivers during her teenage and early adult years. She joined with longtime family friend Roger Wolcott to form the HOW racing team, which fielded American Automobile Association (AAA) and United States Auto Club (USAC) Sprint and National Championship cars for several drivers, including Jerry Hoyt, Eddie Sachs, Tony Bettenhausen, Roger McCluskey and Elmer George, whom she married in 1957.
George won the Midwest Sprint Car title in 1957 and finished third in 1956 and 1958. Mari Hulman George also co-owned an Indianapolis 500 entry in 1962 and 1963 that her husband drove. He finished a career-best 17th in 1962 and received relief help from Paul Russo and A.J. Foyt during that race.
Born Dec. 26, 1934, in Evansville as Mary Antonia Hulman, she never ventured far from Indiana. Hulman George attended Purdue University and was an Indianapolis community leader with her stewardship of the speedway.
She launched numerous philanthropic efforts, including benefits for Indiana Special Olympics and complimentary field trips for Indiana’s schoolchildren. She focused on the arts, health care and, in particular, animal care. She served on the board for Hulman & Company, IMS and the IMS Foundation, as well as First Financial Bank, a publicly traded company headquartered in Terre Haute.
In addition to son Tony George, she is survived by three daughters, a stepdaughter, seven grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and longtime companion Guy Trollinger. She was preceded in death by her husband, Elmer, and a stepson. Funeral arrangements were pending.