Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Cole Custer Wins a Fight Where a Race Broke Out

Just as NASCAR Xfinity Series teams were able to lay their heads down on their pillows following the Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the alarm sounded to head to Portland International Raceway.

Teams trekked out across the country almost immediately after the Charlotte race for the Pacific Office Automation 147. Unlike last year’s event on the road course, this year’s race featured sunshine and hot tempers.

Like a typical road course event, the field may have been strung out at times, but there was plenty of beating, banging, spinning and even fires to go around. It wasn’t just mid-pack either, as action at the front dictated much of the final stage.

Toward the end of stage two, a race-long battle between Sheldon Creed and John Hunter Nemechek took a turn when Nemechek spun Creed, which handed the stage win to Cole Custer.

In the final stage, it looked as if Justin Allgaier would win for consecutive weeks, having to hold off Parker Kligerman and Creed. However, a couple of late race restarts brought a familiar site at road courses: chaos when the green flag drops. On the final restart, Kligerman locked his brakes up going for the lead in turn 1, forcing Allgaier and Creed to the maze.

Once again, Custer was the beneficiary, never looking back to earn his first win of the season and the 11th of his career.

The Winners

Custer’s road to victory was anything but easy. Despite qualifying second, Custer had to start at the rear due to unapproved adjustments. But that didn’t deter him, as the Stewart-Haas Racing driver made quick work of the field to finish seventh in stage one. Despite winning stage two, Custer also had to rebound in the final stage after missing the turn 1 chicane. Taking advantage of other drivers’ issues in the last two stages, the No. 00 pilot was able to score six playoff points on the day. Custer is the first full-time Ford driver to win an Xfinity race since Austin Cindric in 2021.

Allgaier was a sneaky favorite heading into the weekend, and had ill-timed cautions not have occurred, we may very well be talking about the 36-year-old with back-to-back wins in his pocket. Allgaier led 23 laps on the day, second to Creed’s 47. However, all 23 came in the final stage, and the No. 7 still battled for the win despite getting forced off the track on the final restart. The JR Motorsports driver is arguably the hottest in the field now with four straight finishes of third or better.

Sam Mayer also had to overcome early adversity to net the best road course finish of his career in third. After sustaining damage in qualifying, Mayer did not complete a qualifying lap and would start 23rd. Mayer quietly worked his way forward over the course of the race, finishing stage two in seventh. He took advantage of the late race melee to earn the top five result. It was a much needed result for Mayer, who had not earned a top five since finishing second at Auto Club Speedway.

How about Josh Berry? This former late model ace with short track prowess has quietly been getting better at road courses, and that was supported at Portland. Berry was a victim of spinning on lap 28, spinning through the Shelton Chicane. However, Berry was able to rebound and earn a strong fourth-place finish. It is Berry’s first top five at a road course since Road America last season and it gives him 10 top 10s, which is tied for the second-most in the series.

Rounding out the top five was Austin Hill, who had a fairly quiet race compared to many other drivers. Hill was in the top 10 for most of the race, recording stage finishes of fourth and ninth. Hill had a front row seat to much of the action, but he was able to avoid it to earn his seventh top five and 10th top 10 of the season.

Myatt Snider has made just two starts this season, with both coming for Joe Gibbs Racing. Following Portland, he is now two-for-two in the top 10 department, recording a sixth-place finish. Snider joined a long list of drivers who had to overcome a spin, as his No. 19 went for a ride in turn 7 on lap 46. However, he was able to recover and earn his second top 10 at Portland after nearly winning there a year ago with Jordan Anderson Racing.

Connor Mosack had trouble right off the bat after he overshot turn 1 and slammed into Chandler Smith. Both drivers sustained damage in the incident. However, that didn’t phase either driver as both earned a top 10. Mosack, who finished eighth, earned the first top 10 of his Xfinity career. Smith had to do a pass-through penalty for missing the chicane, but was able to recover for his first top 10 on a road course. However, his post-race was not quiet either, as late-race contact with Jeb Burton caused Burton to confront the Kaulig Racing driver.

Alex Labbe matched his season-high finish with an 11th-place run. Labbe sustained minimal damage on the first lap but ran inside the top 15 all day, including stints in the top 10. It is Labbe’s third top 15 in six starts this season.

See also
Cole Custer Steals Xfinity Win at Portland After Leaders Clash

The Losers

Neither one of these drivers should be in this category, but both Creed and Nemechek should also have been mentioned as either the winner or right behind the victorious driver. Instead, both left with “disappointing” top 10s, with Creed in seventh and Nemechek in 10th.

Creed led a race-high 47 laps, which also matched his career high. After winning stage one, the sophomore driver looked poised to earn his first NXS win. However, on the final lap of stage two, Nemechek got into Creed in turn 11, sending Creed back to sixth. On lap 56, the Richard Childress Racing driver got his revenge.

Nemechek would get turned four laps later by his own teammate, Sammy Smith. He then pitted two laps later with issues before recovering for the top 10. As mentioned above, Creed was forced off the track on the final restart, shoving him back to seventh. While both drivers landed in the top 10, it was a story of what could have been.

See also
John Hunter Nemechek and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at Portland

Portland was not kind to Sammy Smith. On lap 2, the Joe Gibbs Racing rookie had to pit with shifter issues. To add insult to injury, he was also caught speeding on pit road. Smith would work his way back up through the field later in the race, but then suffered the aforementioned incident with Nemechek. Smith pitted two laps later with mechanical issues, resulting in a 30th-place showing. He has finished outside the top 10 in three of the past five races.

Two drivers who needed solid days to improve their playoff outlook were Riley Herbst and Daniel Hemric, who entered Portland sitting 10th and 11th in the playoff standings, respectively. But their fortunes took a turn for the worse.

On lap 19, the caution flew for Stefan Parsons stalling on the track. As the field was coming together for the restart, Hemric, who was running inside the top 10, pulled his car over with flames erupting under the hood. The Kaulig driver would return to the track eventually, but finished in 33rd, 30 laps down. It was an unfortunate ending for Hemric, who showed speed but now sits in the final playoff spot, just 14 points to the good.

Herbst had kept himself in contention for most of the races, earning points in both stages. But in the final stage, his day also went up in smoke ā€” literally. A mechanical issue ended Herbst’s day, leaving him in 32nd. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver now sits 11th in the playoff standings, 27 points above the cut line.

Scheme of the Week

Nemechek may not have landed in victory lane, but his scheme sure was a winner.

Featuring RedBird on his No. 20 Toyota, Nemechek earned the scheme a lot of air. The car featured a nice blend of yellow, red, and baby blue. A rooster head was cleverly placed right in front of the number to put a great sponsor endorsement together. It may not have been the result JHN was looking for, but if nothing else, the car stood out.

Where to Next?

There is no off weekend next up on the agenda. For the first time ever, the NASCAR Xfinity Series heads to Sonoma Raceway for the DoorDash 250.

NXS drivers hit the California track to make it two weeks in a row for the twists and turns of road course racing. While it is their first trip to the track, Xfinity regulars such as Nemechek, Allgaier, Creed and Kligerman will be drivers to watch. Additionally, NASCAR Cup Series regulars Kyle Larson and Ross Chastain will be in the race. But perhaps the favorite should be AJ Allmendinger, who has won 11 NASCAR-sanctioned road races and will be in Kaulig’s No. 10 Chevrolet.

The inaugural NXS race at Sonoma is slated for June 10 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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