Notes of Interest
● Cole Custer will make his 45th career NASCAR Cup Series start when he and his No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) return to Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500. When the series last visited the 1.5-mile oval last June, the 23-year-old native of Ladera Ranch, California, started 31st and finished 19th for his sixth top-20 in what was just the 10th start of his Cup Series Rookie of the Year season. It was his first Cup Series start at Atlanta.
● In his three Atlanta starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Custer’s best was his most recent, when he qualified his No. 00 SHR Ford on the pole and finished second by .191 of a second to Christopher Bell in the February 2019 race. Custer finished 10th in his Atlanta Xfinity Series debut in 2017 before returning in 2018 to qualify fourth but seeing his race end early after a lap-10 accident.
● Custer first race at Atlanta came in the February 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, when he started sixth and finished 17th in the No. 00 entry for JR Motorsports.
● In the time since his first Atlanta start, Custer captured his first Cup Series win at another 1.5-mile track on July 12 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The win not only clinched a spot in the 16-driver playoffs, it put him in an elite category with only nine other drivers who have won in each of NASCAR’s top three national series, as well as in ARCA and one of NASCAR’s developmental series -- in his case, the K&N Pro Series. Only 33 other drivers have won in each of NASCAR’s top three national series.
● Custer arrives at Atlanta 20th in the Cup Series standings, 150 points behind leader Denny Hamlin, after his 31st-place finish on the mile oval at Phoenix Raceway last Sunday. A late-race accident not of his doing spoiled his bid for a top-10 finish. Custer 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 three 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 24th in the championship.
● 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.
Cole Custer, Driver of the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing
What do you think about the racing at Atlanta? Why do drivers love it so much?
“I think the biggest thing about Atlanta is it’s just a driver’s racetrack where it’s so worn out that you can really control a lot with how you’re driving the car, how you wear out the tires, which line you run. So, you can really do a lot as a driver.”
It’s been a bit of an up-and-down start to season for you, so far. Does your sophomore campaign feel much different than your rookie season?
“For sure. I think there are a lot less nerves. In your rookie season, you’re racing against guys you were watching on TV since you were a little kid. Some of that, the first half of your rookie season, is pretty shocking, some of the guys you’re racing. Once you get over that, it’s just like everybody’s a normal driver. This year, that’s not even an issue.”
You earned your first Cup Series win in that rookie season, putting you in some elite company. What will it take to get the next one?
“Winning that first one definitely gives you a lot of confidence for the second win to come. It’s not easy, by any means, to win in the Cup Series. But I think we have the team to do it and I think I’ve learned a ton since we won that race, so it’s just a matter of putting it all together on any given weekend.”
Atlanta was the first race that was postponed during the virus outbreak last year. How has your ability to perform evolved with the abbreviated weekend schedules and COVID-19 protocols into the first part of this season?
“We came into this year with a lot better idea of what we have going on. Our first race back at Darlington last May, we didn’t know. It was so much different than what we were used to, but now we have a good rhythm of how the schedule works and stuff like that, and we know what we kind of want to bring to the racetrack for the schedule that we have and everything like that. I think it’s been going even smoother this year and it’s just a matter of trying to look at all your notes from last year and trying to make sure you’re as prepared and as thorough as you can going into the next one.”
With no practice or qualifying, how much more important is your preparation through simulation and watching video?
“That’s really nothing that’s new. I think we’ve all watched a ton of film even before when we had practice. We’d watch a ton before the race and be completely ready. Now, you just kind of had to change what you’re looking at and how much of it you’re looking at, so you don’t really have to look at old practice sessions and stuff like that. It actually simplifies things at times, too, because you don’t have to look at as much stuff and you don’t have as many things to mess up through the weekend. There are gains and losses, I guess, but definitely for the younger guys it would probably be a little bit nice to have some practice.”