NASCAR said in a statement issued Sunday evening that it is reviewing data, video and radio transmissions from Cole Custer’s car after an incident on the final lap of Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. The incident in question saw Custer take certain actions on the final lap to the benefit of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Chase Briscoe, who advanced to the Round of 8 of the NASCAR Playoffs.
While running ninth on the final lap, Custer appeared to change lanes and then slow down dramatically from several car lengths in front of Austin Dillon entering the backstretch chicane, a move that allowed Briscoe to pass both Dillon and Custer to eventually make the Round of 8 by just two points over 2021 Cup Series champion Kyle Larson. Custer would end up finishing 24th after being spun out shortly afterwards.
NASCAR stated that the results of the sanctioning body’s review of Custer’s actions would be communicated early this coming week. However, any potential penalties to Custer and team would not affect the Round of 8 field despite Briscoe being the beneficiary.
Speaking to Matt Weaver of Racing America, Custer claimed in post-race that he had developed a vibration after racing Tyler Reddick for eighth and was trying to nurse his car home with a tire his team said was flat.
Should NASCAR find cause to believe that Custer deliberately slowed down in order to manipulate the outcome of the race and help Briscoe make the next round of the playoffs, it would be the latest in a series of incidents concerning team orders and drivers taking direct actions on-track to help a team car make or advance through the playoffs.
The most infamous example came in the final race of the regular season at Richmond in 2013, when Clint Bowyer spun to bring out a late-race caution and Brian Vickers came to pit road at the order of his spotter to tank his position to help Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. make the playoffs. The incident resulted in Michael Waltrip Racing being fined $300,000 and all of its drivers being docked 50 points, effectively stripping Truex of his playoff spot.
Although that incident represents the most blatant and egregious example of manipulating a race on behalf of a teammate, the issue has not completely gone away. Two years ago, Erik Jones was ordered by his team not to pass Denny Hamlin during a playoff elimination race at Martinsville, helping Hamlin advance to the Championship 4. NASCAR reviewed the incident, but it did not penalize Jones or Joe Gibbs Racing.