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Xfinity Series contenders Cole Custer, Austin Hill tangle at Charlotte

Xfinity Series contenders Cole Custer, Austin Hill tangle at Charlotte

Cars were sliding, drivers were sweating and tempers were flaring throughout Saturday‘s BetMGM 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Among the heated emotions were regular season championship leader Austin Hill and the defending series champion Cole Custer.

On a restart with 18 laps remaining, Hill and Custer were battling for fifth position. The two championship threats touched through Turn 4 and door-slammed one another down the frontstretch. The contact was severe enough to cut down the No. 21 car‘s right-front tire entering Turn 1 while Custer was to his outside. Both cars were mangled.

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Hill showed his displeasure with Custer by connecting with the No. 00 car‘s back bumper and turning him coming off Turn 2 on the next lap down the backstretch. Custer backed into the inside wall.

“I just came off of [Turn] 4, everybody is on old tires, scuffs, when we came in and pitted and I‘m on a slide trying to stay off of him,” Hill explained. “His right rear barely might have skimmed the wall; didn‘t hurt his car any. He completely lost his mind down the backstretch, doored me so hard that it cut my right front down going into [Turn] 1.”

Custer saw the incident differently.

“[Hill] put me in the fence off [Turn] 4 and then we hit on the frontstretch because I was going to go pinch him down, and he decided to try and go up and side draft me and then we hit again,” Custer told reporters after the race. “I don‘t know if he blew a tire into one or what happened into 1, but then he tried to kill me on the backstretch and just held it full throttle until he wrecked our car and killed the rear clip. I slapped my head against the back of the headrest.

“I know it was hard racing, but at the end of the day I don‘t like getting intentionally wrecked and killing the front and rear clip on our race car. It‘s just ridiculous. If he wants to drive like a pissed-off teenager, it‘s just ridiculous.”

Hill took ownership of his actions down the backstretch, saying he got “a little too carried away.” But he won‘t change his mind about the steps that led up to the initial incident.

“I don‘t apologize for racing him off of 4. I do not know what he‘s mad about,” Hill stated. “It‘s not like he slammed the wall really hard or messed his car up any. I guess he‘s going to have to go back and watch [the replay] because I don‘t get it. It was very uncalled for to door us as hard as he did down the frontstretch and we cut the right front down and we take us both out. It is what it is.”

The two race-winning drivers have been fierce competitors for nearly a season and a half at the Xfinity level. Hill won the regular season championship last year, while Custer was hot when it counted in the postseason en route to winning his first championship.

But they‘ve never had any prior run-ins on the track. It‘s entirely possible that this is a one-off incident, and the bad blood will be over.

“I‘ve never had a problem with Cole,” Hill said. “I don‘t know that he‘s ever had a problem with me, but that was definitely weird. I‘m sure we will talk about it, but Cole and I have always raced really well together.”

The series heads to Portland International Raceway on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), where Custer is the defending winner. It was this weekend one year ago when he scored his first win of the 2023 season.

Hill started the year off hot, winning the opening two races, and holds a four-point lead over Chandler Smith after 12 races. Custer ranks third in the championship standings, 21 points back. He lost 18 points to the championship lead by wrecking out at Charlotte and finishing 32nd.