In the midst of his third full-time Cup Series season driving the No. 41 for Stewart-Haas Racing, Cole Custer is feeling like the third time’s the charm.
Still searching for his first top 10 of the season, Custer is optimistic that could change in Sunday’s race at Dover Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), where he has never finished worse than 11th.
“Honestly, it’s been a really frustrating year from the standpoint of having some really fast cars,” Custer told NASCAR.com. “We’ve shown we can run top five in the stages and get a pole and have top-10 cars. It’s just a matter of putting it all together. We’ve just had something happen on pit road, a motor blow. I think we’ve gotten wrecked a few times. So, it’s just little things that keep happening that we really haven’t gotten the finishes we deserve. If we can clean some things up a little bit and hopefully some luck turns around, I think we can get ourselves right where we need to be.”
As the season is progressing, the No. 41 team is beginning to show front-running speed — qualifying top three in three of the last five races, including earning the Bristol Motor Speedway (dirt) pole, the first in his 85-race Cup Series career.
One of the younger drivers in the garage, only 24 years old, the return of practice and qualifying is paying dividends, especially with the Next Gen car. And it’s also led to an increased comfort level and positive mindset heading into race weekends.
“You get a lot more comfortable with things,” Custer said. “When you’re a rookie, you don’t know what to expect. Everything is new every single weekend and there’s a lot of pressure ’cause it’s your first Cup season. Once you’ve done it a couple years, you know what to expect, all the nerves drop down a bit and you’re able to relax and find a groove.
“I think that’s one of the craziest things about Cup racing — that the packages and the cars, everything pretty much changes every single year. You have to get used to change, get used to adapting to different things. Where in Xfinity, they’ve run the same car for the last five years or so. There, you kind of get a feel for that one car but in the Cup Series, you get a lot of different things thrown at you.”
It was also his third season in the Xfinity Series (2019) that was his breakout year. Driving the No. 00 for SHR, Custer blazed his way to seven victories, 17 top fives and 24 top 10s in just 33 races. Returning to the series for a part-time stint in 2022, he flashed his dominance again with a triple-overtime win at Auto Club Speedway, where he led 80 laps.
Now, he’s hoping the familiarity of success can continue to carry over to the Cup side. His next challenge: the “Monster Mile.”
Heading to Dover, the site of his 2020 Next Gen test experience, Custer is combining all of the knowledge to make a strong push Sunday.
“It’s hard to take a lot from that test,” Custer said. “A lot of things were different from the last time we were there. But at the same time, I think it was nice to get an idea of what the car felt like and how it was honestly fairly similar to what we drove in the past. But obviously, a lot of things have changed since then. So, it’s going to be kind of a reset and making sure you’ve taken everything you’ve learned this season into this weekend.”