With Stewart-Haas Racing announcing that they will have an entry in the XFINITY Series next season, all eyes point to Cole Custer as the guy to drive the car.
Currently, Custer drives for JR Motorsports in his rookie campaign of the Camping World Truck Series with sponsorship from Haas Automation. His father, Joe Custer is the executive vice president at Stewart-Haas Racing and chief executive officer of the Haas F1 Team.
Through 12 races this season, Custer sits 11th in the point standings, five points off the Chase cutoff, held by Cameron Hayley. With a fifth-place finish at Pocono, the No. 00 truck gained 20 points on the Chase bubble.
“We’ve definitely struggled,” Custer told Speedway Digest of his 2016 season. “We thought that we were going to be better this year. I think we are getting better and I think we will have a chance to get in the Chase.”
Custer has back-to-back top-10 finishes, increasing his total to five on the season, with a best finish of second at Iowa in mid-June. Leading three laps this season, the No. 00 truck is looking to regain its momentum that it had when they didn’t compete in a full season.
At age 16 Custer became the youngest winner in Truck Series history, in a dominating performance at New Hampshire, leading 148 of 200 laps in 2014. Last year, the team was victorious at Gateway leading 19 laps.
“A little bit of everything,” Custer said of what the team needs to improve on. “It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that you’re struggling on. We just need to get the whole thing rolling.”
Competing in a handful of XFINITY Series races this season, Custer has a little bit of extra racing on his hands. In three starts this season for JR Motorsports, he has a best finish of fourth at Charlotte, leading one lap.
Like many developing drivers, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. puts his faith in the younger generation of drivers. This is the third season that the duo has worked together, making Custer look up to the 15-time Most Popular Driver as a role model.
“He’s had a really big impact on me,” Custer said of Earnhardt. “He’s a real fun guy to be around and he will help you from time-to-time. He’s been a big help to me.”
As the season progresses and Custer has four races to jump three positions in the standings, the series goes to two tracks that the team is looking forward to – Bristol and the road course of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. In two career starts at Bristol the 18-year-old has a finish of eighth.
As far as the future goes, Custer isn’t sure what it holds. With his relationship with Gene Haas and Haas Automation, it’s possible that he drives full-time in the XFINITY Series next season.
“I’m not positive yet,” Custer said of his plans for next season. “We’ll see. Hopefully in the next few weeks or in the next month or so.”