Race Winner: Martin Truex Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Stage 1 Winner: Ryan Blaney of Team Penske (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner: Joey Logano of Team Penske (Ford)
Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-75):
● Cole Custer started 24th and finished 23rd.
● The HaasTooling.com Ford made steady forward progress during the opening 30-lap run to the competition caution. He was 17th after the opening lap and worked his way up to as high as 13th by lap 12. He held that position before dropping a spot on each of the final two laps of the run. Custer reported early that his racecar felt “pretty good, the only problem being a little tight in the dead center” of the corner. By the end of the run, he said the car felt “unbelievably free” on corner entry and exit and asked for changes that would free it up at the start of the run. He pitted during the break for tires, fuel and those adjustments and restarted 16th when the race went back to green on lap 37.
● The first incident-related caution flag appeared on lap 46 with Custer still running 15th. He said his HaasTooling.com Ford felt more loose to start that run, but the team elected to keep him on track during the caution period, expecting the handling to improve over the long haul. Custer restarted 13th on lap 52.
● Custer fought a tight condition in the center of the corner the rest of the stage, dropping from 13th to 23rd along the way. He pitted during the break for tires, fuel and air-pressure changes intended to improve grip on corner entry and exit, as well as track-bar adjustments and added spring rubbers to the right rear to help free him up in corner center.
Stage 2 Recap (Laps 76-190):
● Custer started 25th and finished 20th.
● Six green-flag laps into the stage, the caution flag flew for an incident in turn two with Custer holding down 25th place. He said the changes during the break fixed about half the tight issue in corner center and about a quarter of the grip on corner exit issue, so he requested similar changes. He pitted for four tires, fuel and additional air-pressure and track-bar adjustments before restarting 32nd on lap 98.
● The changes helped Custer during the ensuing green-flag run, which saw him move up 21 positions to 20th place over the first 20 laps. He held that relative position until the field began cycling through green-flag stops on lap 139. Custer was up to ninth place before he made his pit stop on lap 142, taking four tires, fuel and further air-pressure adjustments. He was in 21st by lap 153 when he said “the rear grip is starting to come to me.”
● Custer picked up one position by the end of the stage, saying his HaasTooling.com Ford had an interesting run since the pit stop. He pitted during the break for four tires, fuel and a right-rear track-bar adjustment in an effort to keep the car from tightening up over the long run.
Final Stage Recap (Laps 191-312):
● Custer started 17th and finished 25th.
● The No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang started the stage still fighting a tight condition in corner center. Custer held down 16th place until SHR teammate Aric Almirola passed him for the spot on lap 234. Custer said the tight condition was at its worst, so the team opted to bring him to pit lane under green from the 17th position on lap 241. He took four tires, fuel and additional air-pressure and track-bar adjustments. He resumed 26th, one lap down.
● The rest of the field followed suit over the next 15 laps, and Custer was back on the lead lap and in 11th place when the green-flag pit stop cycle was complete on lap 256.
● Custer dropped a pair of positions to 13th by the time the caution flag appeared for a single-car incident on lap 261. He said the tight condition was improved but he still needed help turning in the center of the corner. He pitted for four tires, a splash of fuel and a wedge adjustment before restarting 13th on lap 268. He picked up a pair of positions to 11th on the initial two laps of the run, then cracked the top-10 for the first time on lap 276.
● The caution flag flew once again for a multicar incident on lap 282 with Custer running 10th. He praised the last round of improvements and said he could still use a little help turning in the center of the corner so he could attack more aggressively. He pitted for four tires and air-pressure adjustments and restarted 13th on lap 287.
● Custer was forced to the pits on lap 298 after he was turned into the outside wall by contact from behind by the car of Bubba Wallace. The No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford incurred significant right-side damage. Custer resumed 31st, three laps off the pace after taking four tires and repair work.
● He managed his wounded racecar to the finish, taking the checkered flag 31st, four laps down.
● Martin Truex Jr., won the Instacart 500k to score his 28th career NASCAR Cup Series victory, his first of the season and his first at Phoenix. His margin over second-place Joey Logano was 1.698 seconds.
● There were seven caution periods for a total of 45 laps.
● Twenty-four of the 38 drivers in the race finished on the lead lap.
● Denny Hamlin remains the championship leader after Phoenix with a 39-point advantage over second-place Brad Keselowski.
Cole Custer, driver of the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
“We didn’t unload how we wanted and it’s a shame to have something like that happen after we worked so hard to get our HaasTooling.com Mustang running to where we were in the mix and could compete for top-10. I hate it for the guys. It wasn’t the finish we deserved, that’s for sure, but we’ve got some ideas for how to get things turned around.”
The next event on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Folds of Honor 500 on Sunday, March 21 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race begins at 3 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.