Custer: Harvick Was My Video Star At TMS In ’18

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 29 2019
Cole Custer took the checkered flag in the Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway last November – thanks in part to Kevin Harvick. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Cole Custer’s first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Texas Motor Speedway was aided and abetted by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick. This time around the high-banked/1.5-mile oval, Custer basically will be flying solo.

Custer scored his first Xfinity Playoff win here last November after going to school on Harvick, the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, two-time Xfinity Series champ and five-time Xfinity race-winner in Cowtown.

“I’ve talked with Kevin a lot, especially my first year (2017), trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I went to the racetrack,” Custer said Friday afternoon before the opening practice for Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300. “But I don’t want to bug him too much, so I try to figure it out on my own. I have a basic idea from what he told me and his ideas are really, really smart. It’s like trying to be a sponge.

“The biggest thing for me was I watched a lot of Kevin’s in-car (footage) from the first (spring) Xfinity race last year and how much he can back the corner up and get big runs off the corner. I think if you can try and make the straightaways longer and keep the momentum up it’s going to help you a lot in traffic and making passes during the race. That’s the biggest thing _ just trying to keep the momentum up and keeping speed in the car.”

Custer will join an elite list if he goes back-to-back in Saturday’s 200-lap/300-miler set for noon (CDT). Only four drivers have scored consecutive Xfinity Series victories at TMS since the facility opened in 1997 _ Mark Martin (1999, 2000), Kyle Busch (2008 sweep, 2009 sweep, 2010 spring), Carl Edwards (2010 fall, 2011 spring) and Erik Jones (2017 sweep).

“You can’t really think about it that way,” said Custer, driver of the No. 00 SHR Ford Mustang. “You’ve got to try and figure out what’s going on this weekend and how you can make your car better and how the track’s different. They put a lot of that (traction) compound down so it’s going to change the track a ton and we’ll have to figure that out.”

In four starts at TMS, Custer has that one victory, four top-fives and an average finish of 3.750 that currently is best-in-series. Xfinity Series qualifying is scheduled for 9:10 a.m. (CDT) Saturday.

Custer advanced to the Playoffs Championship 4 last year before finishing as runnerup to champion Tyler Reddick in the final standings. Custer also made the Playoffs as a rookie in 2017 en route to finishing fifth in points. Custer’s Xfinity resume includes victories at Homestead-Miami Speedway, TMS and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Custer already has checked-off one major box this season with his win two weeks ago on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway. That win locked him into the 2019 Playoffs. “It definitely takes some stress off,” said Custer, a 21-year-old resident of Ladera Ranch, Calif. “We’ve never won this early in the year so it’s pretty nice to go out there and race and not have to worry about points, or you haven’t won yet.

“It was pretty crazy that we won because I was planning on staying in the infield and going around and touring the Cup campgrounds with the track president. We did that and that was pretty cool and we partied with those guys.”

Through five races this season, Custer has one win, three top-fives, four top-10s  and a series-best average finish of 6.0_ stats that place him second in the standings to Reddick. Custer trails the Richard Childress Racing driver by seven points (220-213); Custer is seven points ahead of Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Everybody wants to keep stacking up playoff points,” said Custer, who is working with crew chief Mike Shiplett. “We need to go out there and try to win races and do everything we can to maximize what we can on the track.”

Given that mindset, Custer noted team co-owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas currently have no plans for him to contest Cup this season. “It’s really hard to put those deals together that are part-time _ a lot of stress involved in that. Tough to do it that way,” Custer said. “And the Xfinity cars drive completely different from the Cup cars this year. Last year they were kind of comparable. So it’s better to just focus on the Xfinity Series.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 29 2019
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