Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick had top-five finishes, a chance to win, and a post-race patch-up to show for their Sunday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway. Each led laps, but contact between the two, plus further jostling with Ryan Blaney in a two-lap dash to the end opened the door for rookie Cole Custer to blast by all three for his first NASCAR Cup Series win.
Truex led 57 laps — all in the final stage — and settled for second place behind the 22-year-old speedster from California. Harvick slipped to a fourth-place result and Blaney faded to sixth in a frantic four-wide shuffle to end the Quaker State 400. But Truex’s nudge of Harvick half a lap before the white flag proved fateful; the incidental contact slowed both veteran drivers, allowing Custer to rise from sixth place on the final restart to contend for first by the checkers.
Harvick’s troubles were compounded when Blaney’s Team Penske No. 12 Ford drifted up into his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford after bounding over the track’s frontstretch drain at the white flag. That bottled up all three contenders and left Harvick’s ride smoking for most of the last lap, unraveling a bid for his third win in the last four Cup Series races.
“I had a couple good restarts there and got the car better, but still just not where we needed to be — but the restarts worked out in our favor and we were able to get the lead and Martin just misjudged there on the backstretch and got me sideways,” Harvick said. “I got out of the gas and that just brought everybody into the picture and then we were four-wide on the front straightaway here and the 12 (Blaney) hit the drain and came up and hit the side of the car and then I couldn‘t see, so, yeah, it got wild and that‘s what you‘re supposed to do.
“I‘m just really happy for Cole Custer and everybody on the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang. That‘s pretty cool to get your first win. As much as I would have loved to win, I‘m glad that we kept it in the company.”
Truex’s attempt to regain momentum and catch Custer on the final lap came up .271 seconds short at the finish, but cinched his first top-five result since his victory June 10 at Martinsville Speedway. Truex said he promptly apologized to Harvick post-race, taking ownership of his mistimed effort to get his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota back in line behind him on the next-to-last lap.
“I think it’s always important to get it out of the way quickly,” Truex said. “I know Kevin well. We’ve raced together a long time. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Like I said, typically we don’t have any issues. I just misjudged getting in behind him. I felt bad about that.
“I think I probably took away his chance to win the race. I just wanted him and Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and his guys to know, hey, it’s on me, my bad. Can’t go back and change it now. Definitely was sorry that I did it.”