NASCAR Cup rookie Cole Custer wins in upset at Kentucky

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Cole Custer (41) celebrates after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday, July 12, 2020, in Sparta, Ky. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

SPARTA, Ky. – Cole Custer saw an opening and, with help from a friend, squeezed through for the most fulfilling moment of his young racing career.

Custer became the first rookie regular to win in the NASCAR Cup Series in nearly four years, surging to the lead in a four-wide, final-lap scramble Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. were dueling side by side for the lead on the Lap 266 final restart when Custer — with a push from Matt DiBenedetto on the outside — made his move from sixth in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. As the leaders bunched in Turn 1, Custer slid ahead and outlasted Truex's Toyota.

“I knew I just had to get to the top," said Custer, who led twice for five laps — the first of his young career. "The top rolled pretty good and once I got past and I was like in third I was like, ‘I’ve just got to take a shot and do whatever I can here.’

"And it ended up the 4 (Harvick) and the 19 (Truex) got together a little bit and I was able to take advantage of it."

Making his 20th series start, the 22-year-old Custer celebrated with a frontstretch burnout as his crew happily ran to greet him.

He’s the first rookie to win a non-rain-shortened race since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2007. Brad Keselowski won a race in 2009, Trevor Bayne in 2011 and Justin Haley in 2019 while not racing full seasons. All three would have been classified as rookies had they been competing a full year. Chris Buescher won a rain-shortened race in August 2016 while competing for rookie of the year.

Custer also won at Kentucky last July in the Xfinity Series.