COLE CUSTER TALKED EARLIER ABOUT THE BUMPS AT LAS VEGAS AND KIND OF COMPARING THEM TO THE BUMPS IN THREE AND FOUR AT FONTANA. ARE THE BUMPS AND CHALLENGES THE SAME? EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCES OR CHALLENGES WITH THOSE.
“Turns one and two at Las Vegas (Motor Speedway) are high speed corners and the bumps have always been something that you work on your car to get through to make speed. The faster your car can go through there without having to unload and get the feel back in the front tires has always been kind of an issues. The person that kind of skips through them the best usually runs really well. There it’s an entry issue, unlike last week where it was an exit issue; where you’re kind of leaving the corner with wheel in the car. I think it could definitely be a problem and it will be challenging. The stuff I’ve done on the simulator – for some reason, it wasn’t very upsetting like it was at Fontana. The Fontana stuff was pretty accurate to our sim, where we were busting loose across those bumps. So, I’m hoping that it’s accurate again, as far as the bumps in Vegas not being as much of a problem as they were in Fontana.”
OBVIOUSLY, THE BIG ISSUE HAS BEEN THE ISSUE OF FLAT TIRES ANE BEING ABLE TO GET BACK ON TRACK. HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND TO THAT?
“I think it would really suck to end your race trying to miss a wreck and having to spin and having flats. I think that’s not on the driver as much as the situation that he’s in. I mean he can do his best job to miss a wreck. There becomes a safety issue in that – if you know you spin out, your race is going to be done because you’re going to have four flats and you’re going to wait three laps to get towed, that I might drive through the closest window I can to not turn the wheel and spin it out, instead of trying to dodge someone or run into them. You’re going to take whatever advantage you can not to spin out because you’re going to be thinking about that in the back of your head eventually.
“So I think that’s a problem that we’ve got to work; we have to get fixed. I know in other forms of racing; you spin out and your day is pretty much done. But we have 40 cars on the track in our form of racing and I think it’s way more competitive throughout the field than other forms of racing. So, when someone is driving their heart out, spins out and you’re just trying to dodge that wreck, you shouldn’t be penalized for that. I do think that we eventually will have to find a fix for that. In the meantime, it is what it is and you have to try and do your best to miss wrecks without spinning. And then also, just drive around the track without spinning.”
YOU AND TYLER (REDDICK) RAN WELL IN LOS ANGELES. YOU WERE BOTH REALLY STRONG AT FONTANA. EXPLAIN IT TO ME – HAS RCR MADE A BIG STEP? IS IT THE NEW CAR? IS IT THAT YOU GUYS DID A LOT OF WORK WITH THE NEW CAR?
“I think Chevrolet, in general, is in a pretty good position. RCR and ECR, we definitely tried to be the guys to embrace this new car the earliest in the process. I think some of the teams probably didn’t embrace it as much as we did. We saw it coming and tried to put a lot of effort into it from the beginning. I really love working with Tyler (Reddick). He’s a great teammate and I think we both do each other some good. We have different thought processes on things and I think that allows us to kind of open our minds and push each other in different ways. I was bummed for him last week. I felt like that was his first win coming, for sure. And then all of a sudden, we popped up there and had a great shot at winning it.
“It’s a good place to be in, as far as RCR and our affiliates. Some of our other affiliates looked really good last week with Erik Jones and Daniel Hemric getting another top-10. We’re in a good place right now. It’s still early in the season, but I like where we’re at and we just have to keep progressing. We definitely feel as though RCR should be a force to be reckoned with. We’ve always felt that way and now is an opportunity to take advantage of this early start and keep working hard.”
A LOT OF DIFFERENT PEOPLE ARE IN THE TOP-10. DANIEL SUAREZ HAD A SHOT. ERIK JONES HAD A SHOT. WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THAT?
“I think the playing field has definitely been leveled. You’re going to see different guys perform at different tracks I think throughout the year. The guys that have tracks that they’re good at are going to show up. I think with the old car, there was so much of an aerodynamic balance that you had to have to be good on a consistent basis. You kind of saw more guys have hit or miss runs on certain weekends than you had with the guys that always performed. This new car is going to level the playing field. That’s what it was kind of built for. Everyone has pretty much the same stuff, it’s just how you assemble it and the setup choices you make going into the race. There’s a lot being learned at a high rate right now, so we’re trying to take in all that data the best we can – as our company can – and make the best decisions going into the race so that we can adjust and make our car a little bit better than the other guys. We have the same stuff. It’s buying everything, parts-wise, from different manufacturers. You’re not really making anything.”
YOUR GRANDFATHER WAS ON FOX NEWS THIS MORNING. HE SAID HE’S OFFERED A MILLION ROUNDS OF AMMUNITION TO UKRAINE. WHERE YOU AWARE OF THAT? IS THAT SOMETHING THAT’S ALL ON HIM OR IS THE FAMILY SORT OF INVOLVED IN THIS?
“With RC (Richard Childress), you never know what he’s getting into. But I was aware of it. I got to watch him and I thought he did a good job. He’s always into everything. He’s inspirational and someone that constantly keeps me working because he’s a worker and I don’t think he’ll ever stop.”
GOING BACK TO THE FLAT TIRE SITUATION – DO YOU FEEL LIKE NASCAR IS GOING TO MAKE A RULE CHANGE FOR THIS WEEKEND OR DO YOU THINK IT’S STILL A FEW WEEKS AWAY? WHAT WOULD BE THE PREFERABLE CHANGE?
“I think that’s pretty hard. I don’t think a change is coming this weekend. Right now, the best choice for NASCAR is to help the teams as much as they can to keep it as simple as possible. Our guys are working their tails off right now just to get the cars to the track. They’re exhausted and any type of change like that, it just puts a new load on them to try and come up with setups and changing the cars.
“I don’t think that change is going to happen right away, especially while we’re on this west coast swing. We have guys flying back and forth to the west coast trying to work on the car; get back here and try and work on the setups; and then flying back out. So there’s just a lot going on. I think NASCAR will make the right choice when they roll out something for this. I think we need to get caught up a little bit more before we make just a shot in the dark at it. It’s pretty complicated to fix the problem because we’ve seen good racing so far. A lot of people liked what we saw at Fontana, as far as the racing goes. So when you go to change some of that stuff, it can hurt it. So I think they’re trying to have the smartest people in the garage come up with different ways to fix this. I mean it’s a ride-height issue. When the tires go flat, you’re sitting on the blocks. If it’s taking down the block size or taking the block off the car, there’s a lot of different things – different tech things – that start to play into all of this.
“It’s not just an easy fix. If we all knew what it was, we’d try. There have been some good ideas I think thrown out there, but they’re time consuming and could set you back in other areas. It should have been done before, but we’re in it now. It’s something that will get fixed. We’ll just have to be patient with it and in the meantime, enjoy the good racing. I hate it for the guys - including me - that when we get a flat, it’s not going to be our day.”
WHENEVER NASCAR GOES TO LAS VEGAS, YOU ALWAYS HEAR ABOUT ODDS. NOW WITH GAMBLING OPENING UP IN OTHER STATES, DO YOU HEAR PEOPLE TALK MORE ABOUT ODDS?
“We have a great sponsor in BetMGM. I think Tyler (Reddick) and I are doing an appearance for them. Daytona is usually a place you hear about odds and who has big shots because you just never know who can win. I think it’s great for our sport to be more involved in the sports betting world. It gives fans another thing to really cheer for and get engaged in the sport. But I haven’t really experienced anything more than what I have in the past with fantasy NASCAR. It hasn’t really been brought more than it has in the past.”
AS IT PERTAINS TO THE NEXT GEN CAR – WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HARD TO DRIVE AND SNAPPY LOOSE. WHEN IT COMES TO THAT, WHAT DO WE THINK LAS VEGAS IS GOING TO LOOK LIKE AFTER FONTANA?
“Hard to drive and snappy loose – I think they kind of play together. There’s just not a lot of forgiveness in this car, is the best way I can put it. Which makes it hard to drive and you have those moments where you talk about snappy loose. Snappy loose comes from just pushing too hard and getting over that edge, in my opinion. It doesn’t come back when you get to that point. You have about one shot of catching it. Where with the old car, you could catch it and keep driving it off of the right rear a really long time. This car when you get that first moment - if it doesn’t come back after that and you’re still kind of in a slide, you better lock the wheel left and just spin out because the next thing that’s coming is the wall. Every time you make a correction throughout the corner, you’re putting yourself on edge and you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position making those corrections because you know – ‘ok, I got away with that one’. And we’re learning that kind of forgiveness and ability; and the guys are learning on setups. You’re taking a risk every time you back-steer with these cars. You do it multiple times throughout the corner, it doesn’t work out.”
ATLANTA IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER AND WE’VE NEVER REALLY SEEN SOMETHING QUITE LIKE THIS. IT’S AN INTERMEDIATE TRACK DESIGNED, THEORETICALLY, TO RACE LIKE A SUPERSPEEDWAY. IS THAT WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO GET WHEN YOU GO THERE?
“I have no clue actually on this one. I’ve watched a couple laps of the test that they had. I’ve heard people talk about – we’re going to be wide open; speedway racing on a 1.5-mile track and it’s gripped up. We’ll just have to see what that’s really like. I just hope it’s not a train race because Atlanta has been a great track in the past with the old, worn out asphalt. Our best races come from places that just have antient asphalt that tears up tires. It could be a great race and it could be one of those where you’re just trying to make it through it. I’m assuming that with it being speedway style and if handling is up, there will be some aggressive driving and some blocks made. And you’ll have the potential to wipe out a bunch of cars.
“We’ll just see how it works out.”
DID HAVING THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORK WITH (INAUDIBLE).. GIVE YOU GUYS TIME TO PERFECT PIT STOPS? THE PIT STOPS JUST SEEMED TO BE OFF THE CHAIN FOR RCR.
“Yes – I bragged in my interview after the race. I couldn’t believe how good our pit crews were. It was a pleasure to come down pit road when a caution came out. The guys in the off season put in a lot of work. I was at the pit crew competition and it was kind of disastrous, truthfully, and kind of funny. We have five teams I think right now at RCR that we send to the track: The 3, 8, 43, 42 and one other I believe. Our development team ended up winning the competition and we were kind of like ‘wow, that wasn’t supposed to happen’. But we had heard how great they had done during the off season and we felt like we were pretty prepared; and we just needed to get to that first race. Man, they were on it. The 8 and the 3 looked great. Everybody had solid pit stops. Adjustments and where you park in the pit stall really matter. So getting stopped correctly helps those guys tremendously. They have a really hard job of hitting perfect hangs and getting those lugs off and not leaving a wheel loose. A lot goes into that to be fast and trying to be perfect at the same time. The guys had a really good weekend. I thought that last stop – I was like ‘man, if we come out on the front row here, we’re going to have a shot’ because I knew how good of a short-run car I had and I could really cut the bottom. That was the only one that we didn’t gain, was the last stop. We really gained on every other pit stop. It was a great day for the 3 team. And obviously the 8 performed great when they were out front and did their job.”
AT DAYTONA, KYLE LARSON SAID HE THOUGHT TYLER (REDDICK) WOULD BE THE NEXT BREAKOUT DRIVER. WITH SOMEBODY THAT HAS HIS AMBITION AND TALENT, HAS THAT KIND OF PUSHED YOU TO UP YOUR GAME?
“Yeah – I think Tyler (Reddick) is an aggressive driver. He’s got a positive attitude and, like you said, he has a lot of talent. He goes places that guys don’t go right off the bat. It’s good for me because he can go test it out and I’ll figure it out during the race usually and we progress differently. I think that some of what I do and some of what Tyler does – if we both kind of gain on that throughout – we could be really good. I’m a patient driver. I’m constantly trying to make my car better throughout the race and try to keep up with the track. Tyler, he’s going to fire it off in there first lap no matter what and it’s going to stick or not. That’s the great thing about him. He works as hard as any driver that I’ve been around at his craft and I think that’s another reason why he’s doing so well. He really puts in a big effort. We’re working well together and I think we’re both good for each other.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO PHOENIX – WE’VE SEEN THIS CAR ON MULTIPLE STYLES OF TRACKS. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THE RACING TO BE LIKE AT PHOENIX?
“I tested one day there. We didn’t really get around a bunch of cars at the test. One thing about Fontana – reason being it was I feel like a pretty solid race – there were a lot of options. Places to go find some air for these cars. I think short tracks are going to be great for this car; Richmond, Martinsville, different places like that. You saw L.A. was a great race.
“Phoenix is kind of in between a short track and then you start getting into a bit of an aero problem at Phoenix. You start relying on downforce and different things. It’s going to be important to qualify good, I feel like. I do think tires are going to fall off a pretty good amount at Phoenix, which will be nice. You just have to setup your car for that and hopefully you make it work.
“It’s going to be a race either way. I don’t know how great it’s going to be. I think it’s performed well so far, so I wouldn’t underestimate it and think that it’s not going to race good. It’s a challenging car to drive and it’s putting on a good show so far.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK YOU’LL BE ABLE TO TAKE FROM NEXT WEEK TO WHEN WE GO BACK FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP IN NOVEMBER?
“I would say some things will probably change, but not a whole lot by the time we go back. So you just take good notes. Anytime you go to the track, we’re going to be writing notes every weekend. Talking about parts, pieces, thoughts on how to drive – it’s a whole new notebook. Even if you don’t go back to a track or your change tracks that you’ll never see again, there’s something you can learn and take to the next event.”
OUTSIDE OF THE RACES YOU’VE WON THE PAST FEW YEARS, SUNDAY WAS ONE OF THE MOST DOMINATING PERFORMANCES THAT RCR HAS BEEN ABLE TO PUT TOGETHER SINCE ABOUT 2013. WHAT’S THE VIBE BEEN AT THE SHOP?
“That’s a good question – half of the shop is gone, so it’s hard to kind of get everybody in the building, see them and see what’s going on because people are so busy right now. I’m headed that way here in a little while and then I have to go to the simulator. I’m getting texts from guys and I think that’s the best way to kind of know – guys that have been in the shop for a long period of time, that I’ve known for a long period of time, that are pumped and feel like we’re going to string off some wins this year. Hearing that from those guys that are excited, I know that just boosts morale and makes them want to work that much harder when they see the runs that we had this past weekend.”
ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC COMPETITION GOALS THE TEAM HAS SET FORTH?
“Yeah, for me, it’s winning a championship. My goal is to be the first guy to win all three. It’s what I put the effort into. It’s what I spend my weekends for – to try and win all three. That’s why I wrote on the back of my helmet this year is ‘crazy faith’, knowing that just believing in the process of that. I’ve set goals throughout different seasons. You set those obtainable goals – a couple of wins, get in the Playoffs. But I just want to kind of start thinking about what I really want and having faith towards that. The championship is the only thing I’ve wrote down as a goal.
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR EVOLUTION AS A DRIVER, HOW MUCH WOULD YOU SAY YOU’VE GROWN AND HOW MUCH DO YOU SAY YOU MISS SOME OF YOUR YOUNGER ASPECTS?
“I definitely feel like I’ve gotten more experienced. Obviously, we’ve been doing this for a while now and I’m starting to grow as a human, in general; from the time I came into the sport to now. I think experience pays off in certain situations. Some of things that when I was younger – I don’t know, I feel pretty good where I’m at right now. I don’t think I would go back in time, for sure. Maybe some of the unknowing aspect of it would be nice; the first couple of years. But experience-wise, I would not trade a minute of what I’ve gained since. Still willing to go run at 200 mph into the corner, flip into a catch-fence and go race the next weekend. I haven’t lost any of the drive and I’m enjoying where I’m at. I think I have some good years ahead with the experience I’ve gained over all these years. All these changes with cars and different things; seeing different guys leave the sport and come into the sport. I love where I’m at.”