|● The last time Cole Custer and his No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) visited Phoenix Raceway for last November’s Season Finale 500k, he left wearing the crown of 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year. He returns to the desert mile oval with his No. 41 SHR Ford teammates to make his 44th career Cup Series start and his third at Phoenix during Sunday’s Instacart 500k. |
● At this race last March, Custer made just his seventh career Cup Series start and his first at Phoenix and emerged with his first career Cup Series top-10. He started 16th, earned his first Cup Series bonus point by finishing 10th in Stage 2, and went on to take the checkered flag ninth. Custer came back to start 15th at Phoenix last November but couldn’t overcome handling issues, nor an unscheduled pit stop because of a loose wheel during the final stage en route to a 28th-place finish.
● The 23-year-old native of Ladera Ranch, California, scored another six top-10s after his breakthrough at Phoenix last March, including a pair of top-fives and his July 12 victory at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, which earned him a spot in the 16-driver NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
● Custer arrives at Phoenix 19th in the Cup Series standings, 107 points behind leader Denny Hamlin, after his 25th-place finish on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedwayoval last Sunday. He 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 two 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 22nd in the championship.
● In six NASCAR Xfinity Series outings at Phoenix from 2017 through 2019, all behind the wheel of the No. 00 SHR Ford, Custer started in the top-four and finished in the top-eight in each of the last five, with a best result of second from the second starting position in the November 2018 race. He finished .810 of a second behind Justin Algaer in that race after recording four of his six career Xfinity Series laps led at Phoenix.
● In Custer’s three career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series outings at Phoenix, he has a best finish of third in the November 2014 race in the No. 00 Haas Automation entry behind winner Erik Jones and runner-up Matt Crafton.
● Custer dominated the February 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Phoenix in the No. 00 for owner Bill McAnally. He qualified on the pole and led a race-high 62 lapsen route to his third of four career K&N Series wins.
● Season 1 of the new Netflix series “The Crew,” the NASCAR-themed comedy starring Kevin James as an old-school crew chief, debuted this month on the streaming channel, and Custer is one of three drivers who filmed cameo appearances for the show’s inaugural season. Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon are the others, and the cameo lineup also includes FOX NASCAR pit reporter Jamie Little. There are 10 episodes now available for streaming.
● 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|
| Your thoughts as you head to Phoenix for the fifth race of the season?“Phoenix has always been a track I’ve loved going to. They’ve made it interesting the last couple of years with the PJ1 (traction compound) they put down and how you work it and how you’re going to set your car up for it. It’s something that’s always changing, so you’re constantly having to readjust your car to figure out how you’re going to run and what you need to have to run on it good. I think we ran solid there last year. We had some bad luck in the second race. I’ve always looked forward to going there and we’ve had success there in the past, so it’s just a matter of trying to build on what we did there the last time.” |
After a mixed bag of results over the last four weekends, what do you want or need to accomplish this weekend at Phoenix?“This weekend is definitely a weekend where we’re really looking to put it all together. We had a solid run at Daytona, but the two races I was really frustrated about not getting the finishes we wanted was the Daytona road course and Homestead. I thought we had two really good top-10 runs but bad luck kind of kept us out of it. After not having the run we wanted at Vegas, it’s a weekend we kind of definitely want to get back on track and get the top-10 and the solid stage points that we need to get us back in the game.”
You scored your first career Cup Series top-10 in this race last year in what was then your seventh career start. How big of an accomplishment was that for you?“It was a huge finish for us. It was a huge boost to have a really solid day and a fast Mustang. We overcame obstacles all weekend, and it really helped us continue to carry that all through the rest of the year. I think we got better most every single race in one way or another, so it was something that gave us the momentum to do that. We came back to Phoenix in November and didn’t get the finish we wanted, but we left there with the Rookie of the Year title, which obviously was special. It was definitely a rookie season with a lot of peaks and valleys, results-wise, and a really interesting season to be a rookie with no practice, no testing or qualifying, so it was a lot of just learning on the fly, but I think we all managed it very well. It’ll be good to get back there this weekend to see how much we’ve improved.”
It was a year ago this weekend that you and your fellow competitors headed to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the next round only to be sent home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Your memories of that, and thoughts on the past year?“Well, it was just something that’s never been seen before, I guess – the kind of thing we never thought would happen. We all flew down to Atlanta and then we were told we had to head back. It was pretty shocking, for sure. None of us knew what to expect, honestly. It means lot to look back and see what everybody did to pull us all together and make sure we got back to racing.”
We’re gradually seeing more and more fans allowed to watch from the grandstands. How much appreciation do you have for the fans, and how much are you looking forward to getting back to full capacity?“The fans make the sport. I think we all realized when we went to Darlington for the first time last May without any fans, it was just weird. It was not the same without the fans. Having fans, with the energy that they bring, that changes the whole weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing more and more fans as we go, and hopefully we get them all back soon.”