Cole Custer is one of six rookies in NASCAR’s top level this season, and, after joining an established and successful team, there are high hopes for Stewart-Haas Racing’s newest driver.
Custer is a 22-year-old from California who at 16 was the youngest to ever win a race in the NASCAR Truck Series. Now he joins SHR for the 2020 season after winning seven races and finishing second in the Xfinity Series last year.
Custer spoke with the Bulletin by phone during Wednesday’s NASCAR Cup Series media day in Daytona, talking about what the first couple weeks of his Cup Series career have been like, his expectations for his rookie season, and his excitement for racing at Martinsville in a few months.
Bulletin: So I’m guessing the last week in Daytona has been pretty busy for you.
Custer: It’s definitely been a lot of getting used to, I guess. Just a lot of new things, new people, things I haven’t done before. Multiple practices, the duels, the qualifying and how it all works, so just kind of getting used to everything I guess is the biggest thing.
Bulletin: With this being your first season, what is the final month like with getting the car ready and the media and everything that goes into the year?
Custer: it’s definitely been a lot to think about. Getting used to all the people and trying to get everything kind of organized is the biggest thing coming into the year so when you get into the year you hit the ground running and you’re able to just focus on the driving part of it. I think we’ve done a really good job of that and we have some really good cars at Stewart-Haas Racing, it’s just a matter of trying to do the little things right and hopefully we can find ourselves in some good spots.
Bulletin: Have you had a chance to really sit back and think about it all and reflect on the fact you’re starting your first season in the NASCAR Cup Series?
Custer: Not too much. At times your mind might think about it a little bit but the thing is you’ve got to kind of focus on the task at hand and if you do that enough you’re going to find yourself in some pretty good spots I think is the biggest thing so you just try to take it one step at a time.
Bulletin: Have there been any other drivers who sort of took you under their wing, not even necessarily with the driving but just telling you how everything else off the track goes?
Custer: I haven’t gotten into that too much, I guess. It’s kind of one of those you’ll figure out as you go I think. But I’ve talked to Kevin Harvick a lot about the cars and also my teammates Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer so it’s definitely been huge to have those guys and be able to talk to those guys and get advice. They’re some of the best in the sport so if I can get any advice from them it will help.
Bulletin: What do you think will be the biggest adjustment for you this season?
Custer: From what it looks like it’s just the traffic. In the Xfinity Series you’re kind of racing against 10 guys or so, whereas in the Cup Series you’re racing against 25 or more. So it’s a matter of racing a lot more people who have been doing it for a long time, and also the cars will probably be a little bit harder to drive in traffic also.
Bulletin: And that’s not something you can really practice in iRacing or anything. Getting used to the traffic is something you sort of just have to do on the track.
Custer: Yea, that’s what tough about it. You try to study as much as you can past races and stuff like that but at the same time there’s not much you can really do to practice that because we don’t get to go and practice very much so it’s just a matter of going out there and studying and doing it.
Bulletin: This rookie class is really strong and really big. Knowing there are other people in the same boat as you, does that help ease the transition a little?
Custer: I guess it’s nice to have people who are in the same boat as you that can kind of relate to at the same time I guess, but at the same time you’ve got to go out there and focus on yourself because there are 38 other guys you’ve got to go out and race against. So as long as you can do what you’re doing the best and shorten your learning curve it’s going to help.
Bulletin: How do you make yourself stand out among that class?
Custer: That’s something you don’t really worry about. I guess as long as you do what you need to do and have the success that you want that’s all going to handle itself.
Bulletin: Looking ahead to Martinsville, is that a race that’s circled on the calendar for you?
Custer: I think so, for sure. I used to run the truck race there a lot and that was one of the most fun tracks I’ve ever been do. With really hard braking and being able to beat and bang a little bit, it’s definitely an extremely fun race track to run around and I think under the lights It’ll be even better.
Bulletin: Do you think there will be a difference there from the truck to the Cup car?
Custer: For sure. The Cup cars will definitely be a little bit harder to drive, you’re racing against more guys out there, you’re racing really tight with those guys so it’s just matter of going out there and racing hard. It’s a matter of inches there at Martinsville is the biggest thing.
They did away with rookie testing so it’s been a little bit hard to practice, which has been the hardest thing. We’ll actually get to use the Ford simulator usually ever week so doing that has been probably the biggest thing to get ready for race tracks.
Bulletin: Looking back to this weekend, what are you most looking forward to this weekend and what do you think it’s going to be like getting to drive in the Daytona 500?
Custer: It’s going to be pretty special. It’s a race I’ve watched since I was a little kid. I’m racing against guys I’ve watched since I was a little kid, but at the same time you’ve just got to focus on yourself and what you’ve got in front of you because if you do those things right you’re going to find yourself in a good spot.