● Cole Custer, driver of the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will be making his 94th career NASCAR Cup Series start during Sunday’s Atlanta 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It will be the series’ second race on the 1.54-mile oval after it underwent a wholesale offseason reconfiguration and repave. The banking was increased from 24 to 28 degrees, the racing surface narrowed from 55 to 40 feet wide, and it has been completely resurfaced with fresh asphalt and an improved, high-tech drainage system. Prior to the series’ first race on the redesigned racetrack last March, competitors benefitted from a full, 50-minute practice session. This weekend, just two rounds of single-car, single-lap qualifying will precede Sunday’s 260-lap, 400-mile race.
● In March at Atlanta, Custer started 20th and saw his race end just short of its midpoint after getting caught up in a multicar accident not of his doing. In three Cup Series starts at Atlanta prior to this season, Custer scored top-20 finishes in each and made incremental improvement each time. He was 19th in his first outing in 2020, and was 18th and 17th in last year’s March and July races, respectively.
● In three Atlanta starts in the Xfinity Series, Custer’s best was his most recent, when he qualified his No. 00 SHR Ford on the pole and finished second by .191 of a second to Christopher Bell in the February 2019 race. Custer finished 10th in his Atlanta Xfinity Series debut in 2017 before returning in 2018 to qualify fourth but seeing his race end early after a lap-10 accident.
● Custer’s first appearance at Atlanta came in the February 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, when he started sixth and finished 17th in the No. 00 entry for JR Motorsports.
● 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.
You had your first chance to experience the new Atlanta layout in March. What did you think about the race?
“Atlanta, now, is such an oddball racetrack, really unique, because we’re pretty much superspeedway racing similar to Daytona but on a mile-and-a-half racetrack, which is way smaller, way tighter, and give you much less room for error. We’re really packed up tight, which makes for some exciting racing because you’re side-by-side and inches apart the whole race. So you’re just hoping you’re not involved in one of the big wrecks.”
How would you describe the racing on the new layout, and what are you expecting this weekend?
“It’s kind of like a hybrid between mile-and-a-half racing and speedway racing. We have a lot of the aspects of speedway racing, we’re all really close in a pack, but at the end of the day I think handling matters a lot more when you go to Atlanta because it is a tighter-radius corner than it is at Daytona and it is a lot tighter of a racetrack. And looking at this weekend, it’s going to be really hot and slick, which is going to make the cars pretty out of control. We’re going to see who has the handling figured out.”
How much do you think everybody is looking back on the March race to help decide what to do there this weekend?
“I think everybody’s going to be looking back at the last race a ton. When you look at it, that race was really unexplored, we had no idea what to expect. It was so much different than we’ve had in the past there at Atlanta Motor Speedway with the way they repaved the racetrack, completely different aero package and motor package, and that made the racing completely different from what you saw there in the past. So now for us drivers, we’re going to go back and look at that race and try to figure out what moves worked, what didn’t, and try to get a feel for what we’ve got to do inside the car.”
With eight races to go in the regular season, what kind of urgency is there to win?
“For our 41 team, we’re looking at every single race like we’ve got to go out there and win. There have been a lot of different winners this year, so you pretty much have to win to make the playoffs. We’ve had the speed at times to run up front and do what we need to do, but we just need to be consistent with it and hopefully put everything together one of these weekends coming up. Hopefully that’ll happen at Atlanta.”