Saturday, Dec 04

HaasTooling.com Racing: Cole Custer Bristol Dirt Advance

HaasTooling.com Racing: Cole Custer Bristol Dirt Advance NK Photography Photo

Notes of Interest

 

● Cole Custer’s 46th career NASCAR Cup Series start will be a history-making one when he and his fellow competitors take a weekend away from pavement racing for Sunday’s highly anticipated Food City Dirt Race on the Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway half-mile oval. It has been more than 50 years since the Cup Series last competed on a dirt track.

 

● The 23-year-old Custer, last year’s Cup Series Rookie of the Year, is no stranger to competing on dirt in a NASCAR event. He drove the No. 00 JR Motorsports entry in the 2015 and 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races on the half-mile dirt oval at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. He qualified 24th and finished 29th in the July 2015 race, then came back a year later to finish sixth from 23rd on the starting grid. 

 

● Custer’s preparation for this weekend included joining several of his fellow Cup Series competitors in last week’s Bristol Dirt Nationals. He drove in the 604 Late Model division Saturday but saw his heat race end prematurely after a first-lap accident. He had a strong run in the last-chance qualifying race but fell just short of advancing into the main event.

 

● Custer arrives at Bristol 22nd in the Cup Series standings, 172 points behind leader Denny Hamlin, after his 18th-place finish on the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway oval last Sunday. After the first six races last year, Custer was 24th in the championship.

 

● The two Truck Series appearances by Custer on the dirt at Eldora came during a successful seven-year run by the series that began in 2013. The inaugural race there in July 2013 marked the first time in more than four decades a top NASCAR series had competed on dirt – the last being Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, where Richard Petty took the 117th of his record 200 career NASCAR Cup Series wins. Like the annual Eldora Truck Series races, it was on a Wednesday night and contested on a half-mile oval. There was never a repeat winner in the Truck Series race at Eldora, and six of its seven winners are entered in the Food City Dirt Race – Austin Dillon (2013), Bubba Wallace (2014), Christopher Bell (2015), Kyle Larson (2016), Chase Briscoe (2018) and Stewart Friesen (2019). The lone winner not entered at Bristol is 2017 victor Matt Crafton.

 

● 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

 

How excited were you when you heard there was going to be a dirt race at Bristol?

“I was excited, but probably scared at the same time (laughs). When we first heard about it, our thought was, ‘Oh, boy, how are we going to figure this out? How’s this going to work?’ Everybody knows it’s going to be one of those races where nobody knows what to expect. There’s going to be a lot of adapting when we show up and trying to figure it out because it’s going to be brand new for a lot of people – for everybody, really, because we’ve never run Cup cars on dirt. As we’ve gotten closer, I think it’s a lot more about just making it work. I raced a little bit of dirt when I was younger. I wouldn’t say I’m a professional or anything, but it was something that was really fun and it was something I’ve always wanted to get back to. I’m really excited to get back on the dirt for the race and even the practice and heats leading up to it.”

 

You had the chance to drive a late model last weekend in the Bristol Dirt Nationals. How was that experience for you?

“It was fun going and doing the Dirt Nationals last weekend. We didn’t have the luck we wanted – we actually got wrecked in our heat race on lap one. We had to run the LCQ (last-chance qualifying race) and we passed a lot of cars and didn’t make it into the main event. But it was just fun to get back into local-style racing and something that makes racing fun again, driving a car on dirt and kind of being like a kid again and learning a new thing. So it was something that was really cool to go and get to do in a less-stressful environment than what we’re used to, I guess. It was definitely good to see it and be a part of it and to see the track.”

 

How might that experience help you this weekend?

“Going into this weekend, I think what will help me from running last weekend was mostly just being able to see what the track did and how it changed throughout the day, how it dried out as the dirt got run on, and how the moisture affected it, those were all helpful. But those cars are so much different that it’s hard take much more from that into this weekend. It was just getting a feel for the track and getting your mindset right.”

 

What do you think will be the key to running well on the dirt this weekend?

“I think it’s going to be important to get through your heat race good and kind of start your race off good because, if you start behind, it can definitely kind of throw you for a loop and then you’re kind of fighting and maybe you do something that you don’t want to and you get yourself in a bad position. I think the heat race is important, and then it’s going to be a lot about attrition, especially for a lot of the pavement guys. I think just staying clean is going to be one of the biggest things, and not making mistakes and just being there at the end, because there are going to be a lot of guys who do make mistakes and it’s going to be a matter of limited mistakes. It’s going to be a lot to take in, and every track and every race matters, so it’ll be a matter of trying to collect as many points as you can so you can have a good shot at the playoffs.”

 

With just two 50-minute practice sessions Friday to get ready for Saturday’s heat races, what kinds of things have you done off the track that could help you this weekend?

“First of all, talking with guys in dirt racing who know what they’re doing, asking the advice of what to expect, what to look for in the track, stuff like that, that’s been very valuable. Also, even simulator stuff – iRacing is helpful just trying to get ideas. We have a lot of resources at SHR with Tony (Stewart) and Chase (Briscoe). I’ve definitely picked Chase’s brain on what to expect and what I should be looking for. He was always good in the Truck Series at Eldora. And, obviously, Tony, he’s one of the best dirt racers of all time, so any ideas from him are going to help a lot.”

 

Who do you expect will do well this weekend?

“I think it’s going to be the guys who have raced a lot of dirt before, obviously guys like Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse and Chase (Briscoe) – those guys are going to be good just because they’ve raced a lot of dirt before and at a high level. There are going to be some guys who are pavement racers who are going to get up there and race, but I think we’re going to try to make sure we cross the T’s and dot the I’s and hopefully not make any huge mistakes, and hopefully have some speed in it.”

 

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