Not many race fans in Southern California know about Cole Custer, who has competed for 16 years. Considering he just turned 20, it’s a remarkable stretch for the former Ladera Ranch resident who graduated two years ago from Tesoro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita.
He burst onto the scene racing quarter midgets at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino. He has competed in various series before driving for Ken Schrader Racing in 2013 as a 15-year-old in the K&N Series, winning a race at Iowa Speedway from the pole. In 2014, he started racing in the NASCAR Truck Series for Haas Racing Development and became the youngest pole winner in a NASCAR national series. He raced for JR Motorsports in 2015 in the Truck Series and made his Xfinity debut in 2016 in the team’s Mustang. He raced at Auto Club Speedway, 15 miles west of Orange Show Speedway.
In 2017, he competed in the Xfinity Series full-time, finishing fifth in the standings and winning his first race in the finale at Miami-Homestead Speedway.
During this week’s NASCAR media tour in Charlotte, N.C., Custer made it clear racing the Cup level was his goal.
“Everybody wants to get to the Cup level, but however it plays out, it plays out,” Custer said. “There isn’t really a time frame, honestly. We’re just trying to get some experience and also trying to win this Xfinity championship, so however it plays out, it plays out. I think you just have to focus on what you’re doing and do the best you can.”
Custer also told the media not to be misguided by the lack of news from the Stewart-Haas Racing shop during the off-season.
“I’ll tell you right now there is no calm offseason, ever. It’s always a struggle, so there’s always stuff to learn with the Hawkeye system,” Custer said. “That’s the biggest thing, honestly. We’re just trying to figure out how to get our cars to fit the scan. That’s the biggest thing. Everybody is working really hard right now to figure that out and it’s definitely gonna help us this year because we’re in way better shape than we were last year, so to be able to fluff and buff on our speedway cars and to focus more on the tracks that we need to work on, that’s gonna help us a lot.”
Late in the season, the Xfinity cars will be the first to compete on the Charlotte Motor Speedway “roval,” which will combine the oval and road course.
“It’s gonna be interesting, that’s for sure. It’s a really tight track, I guess. It’s gonna be interesting,” Custer said. ” We’re gonna see when we go there. We’re gonna be the first cars to find out, so nobody really knows what to expect. It could be good, it could be not what we need, but it’ll be interesting for sure.”
There is also a chance he might get to race against his boss, retired two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart.
“It would be awesome if Tony ran an Xfinity race with us. It would be really cool to have him as a teammate and get to bounce ideas off him,” sad Custer, whose father Joe is an executive with SHR. “He’s obviously one of the best all-time, so it would be a dream come true to be his teammate.”
Custer also made it quite clear that while he prefers oval racing, he has a high level of interest in road racing.
“Oval racing is where I’m from and probably what I more specialize in, but I really do like road racing,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, something I feel like we need more of. I wish we went to more road courses like Road Atlanta and just different kinds of actual road courses because we have some really great ones in North America. Hopefully, we can keep running more. You’re just doing a lot more.
“Even though oval racing is really hard and you have to be real precise and you’re always on the edge, road course racing is fun because you’re banging gears, you’re driving it sideways, you’re spinning the tires, you’re hard on the brakes. It’s just a lot of stuff going on and it’s really fun.”