‘Big 3’ finally graduate from Xfinity Series

Daniel McFadin

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It finally hit Cole Custer on Friday night.

His full-time Xfinity Series racing career is over.

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“I guess I didn’t really realize it till tonight,” Custer said after being recognized for his Championship 4 appearance in Miami during the Xfinity and Truck Series Awards Ceremony. “I’ve been in the Xfinity Series a while now, and it’s going to be a little sad leaving for sure. It’s what I’ve been used to the last few years.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver – who totaled nine wins in 104 Xfinity starts since 2016 – isn’t the only one whose time on the circuit effectively came to an end with a graduation of sorts in front of peers at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Joining him in the jump to the NASCAR Cup Series are the two drivers who completed the series’ dominating “Big 3” – Christopher Bell and two-time champion Tyler Reddick.

Just like a senior in high school, the realization this chapter in his career was over hit Bell hard last week as he prepared for the season finale.

“Honestly, it was such an emotional week going into Homestead, because I’m very reluctant to change,” Bell said. “I like my routine, and it was tough. I kind of savored every moment of it. My last time sitting in an Xfinity car, my last time going to the races, my last time flying with this group of people. It was an emotional week for sure. Honestly, now that the season’s over it’s definitely behind me. I get the vibe I’m not an Xfinity driver anymore.”

Bell, who won 16 times in 74 starts since 2017, is “nervous” about his move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Leavine Family Racing for his rookie Cup season in 2020. Fortunately for Bell, he’ll do so with the person he considers his “rock,” crew chief Jason Ratcliff.

“He’s the guy who’s going to bring me comfort to the Cup Series,” Bell said. “So my boss stays the same. Just getting to know the people, getting to know the mechanics and the ins and out of their shop will be a process.”

Reddick, who has nine wins in 84 Xfinity starts, enters the Cup Series as the first two-time defending Xfinity champion since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2013.

He’s actually glad his promotion by Richard Childress Racing is happening at the same time as Custer’s and Bell’s.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun that we’ll be racing against each other for the rookie battle,” Reddick told NBC Sports on Wednesday. “It’s also cool, too, because I feel like you often make that step alone by yourself. In recent years, some of these guys do. Granted, we’ll all be with different teams, different manufacturers, organizations. Honestly, I have this feeling the three of us will probably lean on each other quite a bit because we’re all going to be going through a very similar experience for the first time in our careers. I don’t think we planned on that yet, but I have a feeling that could very well happen.”

Well, it depends on where they’re racing.

“I think if we’re all running about 20th, we’ll probably lean on each other,” Bell joked. “If one of us succeeds, then we’re definitely not going to be talking to the other two giving away what we know. We all three have a really good relationship. I definitely expect us to communicate a lot.”

With this chapter of their careers over and new challenges in front of them – like the Cup Series’ own “Big 3” in Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. – it’s time to get a new name for their trio.

Even though he doesn’t like change, Bell is already testing out a new title.

“We’re kind of going to be the ‘Three Amigos,’ right?” Bell said. “Everyone’s kind of got your little cliques going on. At least we got a couple of familiar faces moving up with us.”

The NASCAR Xfinity Awards Show can be seen at 9 p.m. ET on Dec. 1 on NBCSN

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