● Cole Custer, driver of the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), looks to score a breakthrough NASCAR Cup Series performance during Sunday’s M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway akin to the success he’s enjoyed there in previous NASCAR’s Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series outings, and in the ARCA Menards Series.
● Sunday’s 160-lap, 400-mile race will be Custer’s 96th career Cup Series start and his sixth at Pocono. His best Cup Series results at the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” came during his 2020 Rookie of the Year campaign, when he posted finishes of 16th and 17th, respectively, in the Saturday and Sunday races of the June 2020 weekend doubleheader.
● Custer scored a victory and two pole positions in his three Pocono Xfinity Series starts behind the wheel of the No. 00 SHR Ford from 2017 through 2019. He never started worse than third, never finished worse than seventh, and led a total of 95 laps in the three events. He qualified third and finished seventh in 2017, then qualified on the pole in both the 2018 and 2019 races, finishing fifth in 2018 and scoring the victory by .228 of a second over Tyler Reddick in 2019 after leading a race-high 58 laps.
● Driving the No. 00 JR Motorsports entry in both ARCA Menards Series events in 2015, Custer left the June race after just 18 laps with a broken axle, but then returned with a vengeance in the August race, which he started fifth and won by a 4.991-second margin over Grant Enfinger after leading 18 laps.
● In his lone NASCAR Camping World Truck Series outing at Pocono, Custer drove the No. 00 JR Motorsports entry to a fifth-place finish in the 2016 race.
● Custer will be pulling double duty on the racetrack this weekend as he’ll be behind the wheel of the No. 07 SS Greenlight Racing Ford Mustang for the fourth time this season during Saturday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 Xfinity Series race. In his first race of the season in the No. 07 Ford, the 24-year-old from Ladera Ranch, California, led a race-high 80 laps enroute to his victory from the second starting position Feb. 26 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. He followed that up with a third-place run March 26 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, before seeing another strong run ended with an accident five laps from the finish of the July 2 race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
● Riding along with Custer on 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’ve had some strong outings at Pocono on your way to the Cup Series and are now looking for one of those breakthrough runs this weekend. How would you describe trying to master the racetrack?
“It’s tough. It’s tricky. It’s called the ‘Tricky Triangle’ for obvious reasons. The straightaways are so long, it gives you a lot of time to think about how you’re going to mess up the next corner (laughs). It’s a tough place to get around because all the corners are different. I think everybody loves it because it’s a challenge. With three different, really difficult corners, it’s one of those styles of tracks you haven’t seen a bunch before. It’s a triangle and you don’t ever race at other tracks shaped like that. There’s nothing like it.”
With 20 races in the NextGen car behind you, what are your thoughts about the racing so far this season?
“I think it’s definitely a closer field of cars. I think you can see that you have guys who start off the race not as good as they want to be and then they get it better just because there’s only so far off you can be, I guess. There still are good cars and bad cars, but it’s in a tighter box, so I think it’s made it a little bit more competitive. You see teams that haven’t run up front in the past. I mean, they’re right up there winning, and competing for wins, so it’s made it good, I think. Like I’ve been saying all year, the cars are on edge on the bigger tracks, especially just because you don’t always have the downforce that you would want when you go to places like that, but it makes the drivers work that much harder and makes for some exciting racing.”
You’re well into the dog days of summer. How do drivers deal with the mental and physical aspects of keeping yourselves fresh week in and week out?
“It’s an extremely long season. We have one of the longest seasons in sports. We race a lot of races and the biggest thing is you just have to keep yourself feeling good and you have to keep yourself in a positive mindset. I think if you’re dragging it out every single week and you’re taking the last week a few days into your next week, it starts dragging on and you start not feeling great and you start getting down on yourself. You have to just put the last week in the past, usually, and move on to the next week and keep yourself feeling good.”