● The season’s first short-track swing continues under the lights for Cole Custer and the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), who will join their NASCAR Cup Series competitors for Saturday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The swing commenced last Sunday on the .75-mile Richmond (Va.) Raceway oval and concludes Easter Sunday night with the second annual dirt race on the Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway high-banked, half-mile oval.
● Saturday night’s 400-lap race around the .526-mile, paperclip-shaped Martinsville layout will be Custer’s 83rd Cup Series start and his fifth at Martinsville. The 24-year-old from Ladera Ranch, California, had a best Martinsville finish of 13th in October 2020, and was 23rd the last time the series visited the track last October.
● Custer, the 2020 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 truck 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 truck.
● Last Sunday at Richmond, Custer started 12th and finished 22nd. He arrives at Martinsville 26th in the driver standings.
● 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.
What are your thoughts about the significance of doing well at Martinsville, being one of the iconic short tracks in NASCAR,?
“Martinsville is definitely one every single driver wants to win because I think the driver can make a pretty big difference there. You get the grandfather clock, all the history about the place, every single driver wants to go there and get that trophy. It’s just one of those tracks I would call one of the crown jewel races because it’s one you want to check off your list.”
What’s the biggest thing you’re looking forward to about racing there this weekend?
“For me, it’s always been just the challenge of it. I started my career at Martinsville in the Truck Series, but this weekend will be a whole new adventure with the NextGen car. It seems to be very suited to short-track racing, and it seems to stand up really well to the beating and banging, so I’m really looking forward to that. Martinsville is one of those tracks where, when you’re out there by yourself, you have to finesse your car around the track and it takes a lot of rhythm. And once you get out there with 39 other cars, it becomes a physical race. So it’s a matter of balancing those two things of finesse and beating and banging. It’s definitely one of the toughest tracks on the schedule.”
People say it takes a long time to master it. Do you feel like you’re mastering it?
“I would not say I’ve mastered Martinsville, yet. I don’t know if you ever master Martinsville. It’s a place that is always going to challenge you. Something different is going to always happen in the race, something is always going to get thrown at you, like somebody messing your race up or something like that. It’s just a constant battle of trying to get your car to handle right and then to try and navigate through 39 other cars.”
You talk about navigating – what does that mean at a place like Martinsville?
“They call it the paperclip for a reason. It’s one of those tracks where you have to try and go down this long straightaway and then come to a stop, pretty much, in the corner, and how you manage your brakes and how you manage the throttle – everything about it is just difficult. And you have to finesse the car around the corners. It’s one of those tracks that’s not easy for a driver to figure out and try and get a rhythm.”