● The last time Cole Custer and his No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) visited Phoenix Raceway for last November’s Season Finale 500k, he left wearing the crown of 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year. He returns to the desert mile oval with his No. 41 SHR Ford teammates to make his 44th career Cup Series start and his third at Phoenix during Sunday’s Instacart 500k.
● At this race last March, Custer made just his seventh career Cup Series start and his first at Phoenix and emerged with his first career Cup Series top-10. He started 16th, earned his first Cup Series bonus point by finishing 10th in Stage 2, and went on to take the checkered flag ninth. Custer came back to start 15th at Phoenix last November but couldn’t overcome handling issues, nor an unscheduled pit stop because of a loose wheel during the final stage en route to a 28th-place finish.
● The 23-year-old native of Ladera Ranch, California, scored another six top-10s after his breakthrough at Phoenix last March, including a pair of top-fives and his July 12 victory at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, which earned him a spot in the 16-driver NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
● Custer arrives at Phoenix 19th in the Cup Series standings, 107 points behind leader Denny Hamlin, after his 25th-place finish on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval last Sunday. He opened the season with a pair of strong outings in the Daytona 500 (11th) and the following week on the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway road course (13th). He was two laps away from his eighth career top-10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway two weekends ago when a tire began coming apart while he was running eighth and forced him to limp his No. 41 Ford home to a 28th-place finish. After the first four races last year, Custer was 22nd in the championship.
● In six NASCAR Xfinity Series outings at Phoenix from 2017 through 2019, all behind the wheel of the No. 00 SHR Ford, Custer started in the top-four and finished in the top-eight in each of the last five, with a best result of second from the second starting position in the November 2018 race. He finished .810 of a second behind Justin Algaer in that race after recording four of his six career Xfinity Series laps led at Phoenix.
● In Custer’s three career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series outings at Phoenix, he has a best finish of third in the November 2014 race in the No. 00 Haas Automation entry behind winner Erik Jones and runner-up Matt Crafton.
● Custer dominated the February 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Phoenix in the No. 00 for owner Bill McAnally. He qualified on the pole and led a race-high 62 laps en route to his third of four career K&N Series wins.
● Season 1 of the new Netflix series “The Crew,” the NASCAR-themed comedy starring Kevin James as an old-school crew chief, debuted this month on the streaming channel, and Custer is one of three drivers who filmed cameo appearances for the show’s inaugural season. Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon are the others, and the cameo lineup also includes FOX NASCAR pit reporter Jamie Little. There are 10 episodes now available for streaming.
● Returning to Custer’s No. 41 Ford Mustang for SHR is team co-owner Gene Haas’ newest holding, Haas Tooling, which was launched as a way for CNC machinists to purchase high-quality cutting tools at great prices. Haas cutting tools are sold exclusively online at HaasTooling.com and shipped directly to end users. HaasTooling.com products became available nationally last July, and the cutting tools available for purchase at HaasTooling.com have proven to be even more important during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as CNC machines have become vital to producing personal protective equipment. Haas Automation, founded by Haas in 1983, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. The company manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are constructed in the company’s 1.1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.