Notes of Interest
● Cole Custer will be paying tribute to his favorite driver as a youngster when he takes to the track for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400, the featured event of this year’s Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Custer’s No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) this weekend will mimic the red-and-black paint scheme of the No. 0 NetZero-sponsored racecar for Haas CNC Racing that was driven by the late Jason Leffler in 10 Cup Series races in 2003, including the Southern 500 at Darlington in September of that year. Leffler went on to score the team’s first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in the April 2004 race at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway.
● Sunday’s 400-mile race will be Custer’s 87th Cup Series start and his sixth on the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval. The 2020 Cup Series Rookie of the Year’s 11th-place finish in last September’s Southern 500 was the best of his previous five Darlington outings.
● The native of Ladera Ranch, California, was credited with the victory in his most recent NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington in 2019 after finishing second the previous year and ninth in 2017, all behind the wheel of the No. 00 SHR Ford. In the 2019 race, he crossed the finish line .602 of a second behind the apparent race-winner Denny Hamlin. But Hamlin’s racecar was disqualified after a ride-height violation was discovered in postrace inspection, giving Custer his eighth of 10 career Xfinity series victories. In the September 2018 Xfinity Series race at Darlington, Custer was runner-up to Brad Keselowski by .738 of a second.
● In Monday’s completion of Sunday’s rain-delayed race at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway, Custer earned his third top-15 of the season and the fourth of his career on the concrete mile oval. He arrives at Darlington 25th in the Cup Series standings.
● Three weekends ago, in the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Custer earned his first career NASCAR Cup Series pole. The starting grid for Sunday night’s race on the half-mile, dirt-covered Bristol oval was determined via four nine-car, 15-lap heat races, in which drivers earned points based on their finishing position and the number of cars they passed. Custer finished second in the first heat after starting in the ninth and final position to earn 16 points, more than any other driver in the 36-car field.
● On Saturday, Custer will be part of the Motor Racing Network broadcast team working Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington. It will be his first of four radio broadcasts he’s scheduled to work so far this year. The others are the July 23 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, the Sept. 3 Xfinity Series race at Darlington, and the Oct. 22 Truck Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
● Riding along with Custer and his SHR Mustang 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 in July 2020. 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
Your paint scheme this weekend is one that is very special to you, personally. Talk about what it means to race it.
“For me, I’m pretty pumped up about this one. I’ve been around the garage since I was a little kid and this was the paint scheme I kind of grew up around. Jason drove it several times and he was always a big hero of mine. I’ve always had the (initials) JL on the back of my helmets ever since I’ve had them painted. Obviously, he was always my hero and I always try to honor him as much as I can, whenever I can. Now, seeing his paint scheme in the shop with my name on it was actually surreal because I remember when I was a little kid and just loving to see this car, and now I get to drive it. It’s a pretty surreal feeling, for sure.”
What was it about Jason Leffler that led you to be such a fan of his?
“Jason was always a hard-nosed racer, like you didn’t mess with him on the track. He had the big mohawk and he was just a cool guy to root for. I guess he was always one of my heroes. I got to meet him a few times when I was a kid and he was always really down to earth. He was always an aggressive driver and he came from a background a lot like me, so he was always a guy I looked up to. He was the first driver to win a race for Haas CNC Racing, so that was a huge deal at Nashville. So he was always my guy.”
Darlington is one of the trickiest tracks in the Cup Series. How do you approach racing on “The Track Too Tough To Tame?”
“I would say Darlington is one track that I always look forward to. It’s one of those races that every driver looks forward to because of the challenge behind it and how much you can do as a driver. There are so many different lanes you can work and you’re running right up against the wall. It’s just a driver’s racetrack and I feel there’s not one guy who doesn’t feel excited when they hear Darlington is coming up.”
Heading to your 12th race, now, in the NextGen car, what are your thoughts about its evolution this season?
“We’ve been to about every single kind of track with the new car, now – superspeedways, short tracks, the mile-and-a-halfs. So we have a good idea now, we have a bigger notebook than we had. Now, it’s just kind of putting it all together and figuring out what you need in practice, in qualifying and the race. We’ve had weekends where we’ve gotten adjustments right. It’s just a matter of doing it everywhere.”
What’s been your biggest surprise of the season so far?
“I would honestly say the mile-and-a-halfs, just aero-wise how the cars have handled on those tracks. You don’t have a lot of security or the downforce you’d want, which has made the cars a little edgy to drive. But I think it’s been pretty entertaining for the fans, and it seems like there’s a lot more in the driver’s hands.”