|Notes of Interest|
| ● It’s back to racing on pavement after the season’s first off weekend for Cole Custer and his fellow NASCAR Cup Series competitors, who head to the .526-mile paperclip-shaped Martinsville (Va.) Speedway oval for Saturday night’s Blu-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. The 500-lap race marks the 47th career Cup Series start and third at Martinsville for the 23-year-old driver of the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). He flirted with a top-10 finish, taking the checkered flag 13th, in his most recent visit there last fall.|
● Custer, last year’s Cup Series Rookie of the Year, had solid runs among his six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Martinsville from 2014 through 2016. He qualified on the pole and led a race-high 96 of 200 laps before finishing fourth in the October 2015 race, when he drove the No. 00 JR Motorsports entry. His next-best Martinsville Truck Series finish of seventh came in the October 2016 race, his most recent, when he drove the JR Motorsports racetruck to a seventh-place finish after qualifying third and leading 17 laps. He drove to another front-row qualifying spot alongside polesitter and race-winner Joey Logano in the March 2015 Truck Series race at Martinsville, leading two laps of the race before finishing 16th in the JR Motorsports racetruck.
● Custer arrives at Martinsville 23rd in the Cup Series standings, 209 points behind leader Denny Hamlin, after his 24th-place finish at the Food City Dirt Race on the Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway half-mile oval two weekends ago.
● 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|
|You’re moving back to asphalt after racing on the dirt at Bristol two weekends ago. Will any of that experience on the short track at Bristol carry over to your efforts Saturday night Martinsville?“I can’t see how being on the dirt racing from Bristol is going to translate to Martinsville. It’s so much different of a driving style, running on the dirt and the tire we had (at Bristol) and everything. It’s a matter of resetting your entire mind so it’s probably good that we had the off weekend to try and reset ourselves because it’s going to be completely different than what we had at Bristol.” |
So the off weekend came at a good time. What did you end up doing?“Yes, we don’t have another off weekend until the end of July, so you have to take advantage of it and enjoy your Easter. So I went back to my girlfriend’s family’s home in Iowa and we had a very nice Easter. It’s nice to have that off weekend to try and get reset and try and get organized.”
What kind of mindset is required for you and the team as you head to Martinsville?“Now, we’re back to not having any practice or qualifying, so it’s all about getting yourself into the rhythm. You have to watch a lot of video, you have to try and do simulator work. It’s so much about rhythm going to Martinsville. You’re hard-braking, the track is so small, you’re on the gas and you’re off the gas and right back again, so it’s a lot about trying to get into a good rhythm. Trying to get into that rhythm by doing simulator work is the best avenue we have to take. And when we get to the track, it’s a lot about trying to figure it all out in the first five laps or so.”
How difficult is it to race but also have to always be mindful of taking care of your brakes, your racecar?“That’s where you’re in between a rock and a hard place because you just want to go and pass people, but if you go too hard, you’re going to burn your stuff up, you’re going to burn your brakes up, and you’re going to find yourself in trouble in 50 laps. So it’s that balance of when you want to be aggressive and when you don’t. You see some of the more experienced guys, the guys who’ve been going there for a while, they’re probably better at knowing when to push it and when not to.”
Do you try to take after any of the more veteran drivers there, in particular?“You try and look at all the guys who are good here. You look at Denny (Hamlin), you look at (Joey) Logano, I think Clint Bowyer was somebody who was really good there who drove for SHR. Being able to kind of grab things from those guys and try and figure out how they get around the racetrack. If you take something from each one of them, you can hopefully make something that’s even better. Obviously everybody’s a little bit different, everybody drives a little bit differently, and you also have to try and figure out your own way, too.”
At this race last June, there were no fans in the stands, and there were just 1,000 for the fall race. This weekend, the grandstands will be at 30-percent capacity. What does that mean on such a tight track where it seems they’re right on top of you?“It’s huge. I think, when you look at it, it’s a tight track where the fans – you’re right there with them, almost. They create such a different energy and atmosphere before and after the race for the drivers, just because they’re yelling and cheering and booing and there’s just a lot of energy going on. Last year, when we had no fans, it was the weirdest thing in the world to have nobody there. It was almost like a practice session, it felt like. To have them back, I think everybody is so excited just to have the atmosphere back.”
How difficult had it been to get energized and stay energized when there were not fans in the stands?“A lot of it became a routine, I would say. You have to put the work in before the weekend and studying tape and different data and simulation and stuff like that to try and get ready for the race. But it does hurt before the race to not have the fans there to pump you up, so it’s one of those things you just had to kind of get used to. It became the normal at the time and you had to get used to that.”
We’ve seen seven different winners in the first seven races. Is that surprising in any way?“I think it’s one of those things where we’ve had the same rules package in the Cup Series for a few years, now, and all of the teams have been able to figure it out more and more and you’re seeing more parity. So you’re going to see more different winners because you’ve got guys who are figuring it out more and more. I think it’s a matter of applauding NASCAR for keeping the rules the same for so many years.”
Seven different winners means seven of the 16 playoff spots are already spoken for. What do you and your team have to do to get one of the remaining playoff spots?“It’s going to come down to, it looks like, we’re going to have to win. It’s something where I think the rules changed just enough going into this year that it kind of threw our team a little bit of a curveball. And it’s one of those things where we don’t have practice to figure it out, so we have to try and use as many notes and try and figure out how to get our cars on the right track.”