Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Cole Custer Wins Downpour Debacle at Chicago Street Course

“The most awkward win I’ve been a part of.”

Cole Custer summarized his win in the press room on Sunday (July 2) after he led every lap of The Loop 121 at the Chicago street course, an event marred by controversy.

Before the race had reached halfway on Saturday (July 1), lightning caused a mandatory 30-minute delay. As additional lightning continued to strike, the delays were extended. Soon the downpours came, and the decision was made to postpone the race to Sunday at 11 a.m. ET.

Sunday brought more of the same. Lightning again delayed the start, and the torrential downpours came and washed out any chance of getting the race started again. In the end, the race was called complete after just 25 laps.

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The unfortunate ending to the Xfinity Series event was frustrating for some drivers and owners, who lamented having to scramble to arrange hotels and flights because of the delay, and never get going again.

In the Xfinity Series, the budget is always tight for the teams in the back half of the field. “It just sucks to have to stay here another night and spend all the money we spent to be here just to not do anything,” owner-driver Jeremy Clements told Frontstretch.

Brett Moffitt finished fourth, his best result of the season. But he acknowledged the logistical issues his small team faced,

“It’s a lot of strain on the Xfinity teams,” he said.

With a Cup Series race looming, scheduled for 5 p.m. ET Sunday, and only so much daylight available, the Xfinity Series was sacrificed in order to try and salvage a weekend that got off to a great start before Mother Nature intervened.

In August of 2022, a freedom-of-information request had revealed some details of the contract between NASCAR, the City of Chicago and its parks district. Those terms were viewed very unfavorably by several alderpersons of the City.

“They’re making dollars and we’re making pennies,” one of those alderpersons told NBC 5 WMAQ-TV news at the time.

Couldn’t the race have been run on Monday? NASCAR’s official statement on their decision to call it seems to indicate it could’ve been, according to their contractual arrangement. The statement said returning on Monday for the Xfinity race was an option they “chose not to employ.”

You have to wonder, if several members of city counsel felt they were getting a bad deal, how accommodating were they going to be in having some of the busiest areas of their city monopolized for another day?

Could the decision have been made to call the race as soon as Saturday evening, preventing all the extra expenses, all for nothing?

Custer was followed by John Hunter Nemechek in second. Justin Allgaier, Moffitt, and Austin Hill rounded out the top five. Rookie Sammy Smith finished sixth, followed by Daniel Hemric, Chandler Smith, Parker Kligerman, and Kaz Grala completing the top 10.

Winners

Custer’s ‘awkward’ victory was his second of the season, and he has firmly entered the championship hunt. It took him a few weeks to get going, but Custer is now on a tear. The Ladera Ranch, Calif. native has now finished in the top 10 in 10 straight events.

Nemechek got to throw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game and finished runner-up in The Loop 121. He remains the regular-season points leader.

Moffit’s top-five was his first of the season, and first-ever for AM Racing. If anybody was happy with the race being called early, you’d think it would be Moffitt. The finish moved him up one place in the standings into 14th, leapfrogging Brandon Jones.

Kyle Weatherman brought his Johnny Davis Motorsports Chevrolet home in 14th place. That’s back-to-back top 20s for the underfunded driver and team. Weatherman is now up to 27th in the standings despite competing in only 10 of 16 events.

Losers

Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks made some noise with the fastest lap in practice, making a rare appearance behind the wheel while driving for Kaulig Racing. Marks barely missed advancing to the final round of qualifying and started the race in 12th. By lap 4 he had already driven into the top 10. But four laps was all Marks completed. He suffered a mechanical issue that ended his day, leaving him dead last in 38th.

Andre Castro made his Xfinity Series debut. He was a local favorite, having graduated from the University of Chicago. He made it through the first stage without incident. Two laps into the second stage on lap 17, he made hard impact with the tour four tire barrier. Fortunately, Castro got out of his Jesse Iwuji Motorsports Chevrolet under his own power, but the rookie finished 37th.

The list could go on. Xfinity Series teams, drivers, fans — all lost. One team owner who stands out as someone who lost more than most was Tommy Joe Martins. The co-owner of Alpha Prime Racing first saw one of his drivers, Jeffrey Earnhardt, fail to qualify. Last week it was Sage Karam. After the decision was made to call the race, Martins talked to Frontstretch about his frustrations with having to pay to stick around another day and not race.

“The decision that was made today was a decision that could’ve been made yesterday,” Martins said.

Scheme of the Week

On Independence Day weekend, we saw a lot of sharp schemes showing off the red, white and blue. But it was Richard Childress Racing that did it best, with the No. 21 of Austin Hill. The beauty was in the details, with stars throughout the scheme and a very nifty fade between red and blue on the No. 21 Global Industrial Chevrolet.

Fuel for Thought

What are your thoughts on the first-ever Chicago Street Race? If you were an Xfinity Series team owner, how would you feel about the way the weather was handled? If there is a future in NASCAR for street racing, should it only be for the Cup Series?

There wasn’t much passing during the 25 laps of racing, but there was some. Sheldon Creed had to start in the back and raced all the way up to 11th. Makes you wonder what Creed could’ve done had be kept his second place starting spot. A late crash in qualifying required repairs that relegated him to starting in the rear.

Besides Creed’s passing prominence, there were other positives. Several drivers mentioned the astounding amount of fans that showed up for the event on Saturday. Undoubtedly, there were thousands of new eyes on the sport. The potential was there but mother nature cannot be controlled. The criticism will be about the execution or perceived lack of contingency planning.

What are your thoughts on the course? Will it be one-and-done, or do you expect to see the circuit back next season and beyond? Is it time to bring back Chicagoland Speedway?

Where to Next?

We’re headed south down I-65. From the Chicago Street Course to Atlanta Motor Speedway. From street racing to pack racing and from a top speed of around 140 mph to over 180 mph.

When the circuit was at AMS in March, Austin Hill dominated at his home track, leading 103 of 163 laps and taking home the win. Hill also won the event last season, with another dominant performance. You have to go back to spring 2022 race to find an Atlanta race Hill didn’t win. Ty Gibbs won that race, and Hill finished all the way back in second.

Who are you taking? Hill or the field? The Alsco Uniforms 250 gets started on Saturday night, July 8th, at 8 p.m. ET. Follow the action on USA Network, or listen on the Performance Racing Network.

About the author

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

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