Bell, Custer, Reddick go for Xfinity title before Cup jump
Each of them has a chance to go out as the champion, too, though Justin Allgaier might have something to say about it.
Bell, Custer and Reddick dominated the feeder series this season, winning a combined 20 of 32 races and locking up three of the four spots in the championship field for the second straight year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Their success landed each of them a Cup Series ride in 2020.
Bell will replace Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 95 Toyota at Levine Family Racing. Custer will replace Daniel Suarez in the No. 41 Ford at Stewart Haas Racing, a move that became official Friday. And Reddick will replace Daniel Hemric in the No. 8 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing.
The trio has one race remaining before advancing to NASCAR’s premier series — and it’s a big one.
They will compete for the Xfinity Series title Saturday at the worn-out, asphalt oval, with Reddick looking to win back-to-back championships. Allgaier is the other contender. He’s also the outlier of the group, having won at Phoenix last week to secure the final spot in the finale.
The 33-year-old Allgaier has driven the last four years for JR Motorsports, finishing third in the series in 2016 and 2017. He won five races last year and was a championship contender until being eliminated at Phoenix following a wreck.
He had much different emotions last weekend at ISM Raceway
Allgaier won for the first time in 40 races, taking advantage of Bell’s late penalty for speeding on pit road, to punch his ticket to the finale. He cried as he crossed the finish line.
He’s now considered the underdog at Homestead, where he’s yet to finish in the top five in nine Xfinity Series races at the track.
“Last year missing it, then this year being more competitive, I think it makes me realize how much more I want to be here and do this,” Allgaier said. “Hopefully experience helps. It means I’m getting old, that’s all I know.”
The 24-year-old Bell, who grew up racing on dirt tracks in Oklahoma and won the Truck Series championship with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2017, has a series-leading eight victories this season. Two of those came in the last six events, leading some to label him the one to beat.
He was the clear-cut favorite heading into last year’s championship race, but finished 11th and last of the four contenders. He’s spent countless hours trying to figure out what went wrong in hopes of winning a second title.
“I’ve watched thousands and thousands of minutes of video from Homestead now,” he said, adding that he’s watched his in-car cam as well as those for Custer and Reddick. “See what is different about the throttle application, brake application, what the hands are doing inside the car. Pretty happy and excited for this weekend.
“We’ve been hitting it hard, focusing on this since Homestead last year. Definitely got a great idea of the direction we’re headed. We have a phenomenal car for this weekend.”
The 21-year-old Custer has been the series’ best performer this season at intermediate tracks, like Homestead. He has seven wins in 2019, with four of those coming at intermediate tracks. He also won at Homestead in 2017 in dominating fashion and finished second last year to Reddick after leading a race-high 95 laps. He never fell out of the top five during the 200-lap finale.
“You can’t be overly confident,” Custer said. “That doesn’t do you any good, but at the same time, I think we should have a fast car and you just got to take it one step at a time.”
The 23-year-old defending series champion has five victories in 2019 to go along with a series-leading 23 top-five finishes and 26 top-10s. He won the championship last year with JR Motorsports, but has been equally good at Richard Childress Racing, finding comfort in a new car and with a new team.
“It would mean a lot,” he said, noting he could accomplish the feat in RCR’s 50th season. “I want to do everything I can to win what I can for them.”