Last weekend I caught up with Stewart-Haas Racing’s NXS No. 00 driver Cole Custer while he was racing in the K&N Pro West Series at the road course in Sonoma. As the above photo indicates, he was not driving his familiar SHR No. 00 Mustang. Rather, he was driving the No. 22 Sunrise Ford owned by Bob Bruncati in the Procore 200.
I hope that you will enjoy responses that Custer gives to a variety of questions that I posed to him while hanging out in his hauler in Wine Country.
WorkingOnMyRedneck: Cole you have become a force to be reckoned with in the Xfinity Series this year and now considered to be a part of “The Big Three” that are dominating the series. Evaluate your season so far and what was the biggest reason for your marked improvement?
Cole Custer: I think that there is a combination of things. This is my third year in the series, I definitely have more experience, and I know what I want in my car when I get to the race track. I think that having a new crew chief, Mike Shiplett, has brought a lot of experience to the team. I think that we are just going to keep getting better and better at these race tracks.
WorkingOnMyRedneck: Do you think that you click better with Shiplett than you did with Meendering last year.
Cole Custer: I don’t know. This year is just different.
WOMR: Week-in and week-out you are in a position to win races. What race or races, this summer, are circled on your calendar to win and why?
CC: Definitely Chicago because it is a track that I have always run good, and it is one of my favorite race tracks. You can slip and slide all over. It is fun to race there because you can race from the bottom to the top of the race track. Chicago is track where I have always ran good and that is why I am really looking forward to racing there.
WOMR: You have a smile on your face when you were just talking about slipping and sliding round on a race track. Do you enjoy racing on the older, slipperier, worn out surfaces versus the newly paved race tracks?
CC: Yeah, for sure. The newer paved tracks are a lot more edgier to drive. When you get to slip and slide around it is a lot more fun to race on. When it is slippery it opens up a lot more racing lanes.
WOMR: Do you think that an old slippery track makes for a driver’s race versus just setting up you car for pure speed?
CC: Yeah for sure. If the track is more worn out it definitely puts the race in the drivers’ hands. A slippery race track makes for more fun, from the driver’s point, and it makes it easier to pass other cars on that track.
WOMR: When SHR first started up your team I was talking to Harvick and I asked him how involved he would be in helping your team to get up and running. He said that he was going to be really involved. Iis he still involved now that you are “running with the big dogs”?
CC: In the beginning Harvick ran 5 or 6 races in the No. 98 car to help us get pointed in the right direction. His initial input really helped our team figure where we were at. I was able to call him every single weekend to help me to get an idea for the next race track. He was a huge influence in getting our team going, for sure.
WOMR: Has Harvick taken more of a back seat now?
CC: Yes, now that we are doing well, he now more focused on the Cup side.
WOMR: Speaking of help and influence on your racing career, who is you “go to guy” these days?
CC: For the most part it is still Kevin. If I have a question I will ask him, but I try not to bother him as much these days.
WOMR: When you were in the Truck series you were a good solid race car driver, but since you have been in the Xfinity cars you have markedly improved. Do the trucks and car drive significantly differently?
CC: Yes the drive differently. But is more natural to race a car than to race a truck! Once I got to the Xfinity Series I started working harder at getting to be a better race car driver.
WOMR: Last year you got a few rides with Rick Ware Racing. Do you have anything set up to race a few of the Cup races in the remaining races this year?
CC: No nothing is planned this year, just the Xfinity races. I am just focusing on that this year.
WOMR: Cole, how did you pull this deal to race for Sunrise Ford at Sonoma in the K&N Pro West Series together?
CC: I wanted get some more road course experience prior to the upcoming NXS road courses in the schedule. We run about four road courses in the NXS, so this is a good way to get my mindset ready, braking points, upshifting and down shifting, etc, for the upcoming road course for NXS. It definitely helps a ton. I was able to call Bob Bruncati to try to put this deal together for Sonoma. I can’t thank him enough that he has given me this opportunity to run this race for his team and try to get him a trophy.
WOMR: Have you raced here a Sonoma before?
CC: Yes I have race here a couple of times in the K&N Pro West Series, but not with the carousel part of the track. The track configuration was the old short chute that NASCAR always race on.
WOMR: Speaking of Bob Bruncati, how long ago did you start trying to put this Sonoma deal together?
CC: I started working on this deal early in the year, about February trying to put all the package together for Sonoma.
WOMR: It is June, and this is the time that “Silly Season” starts happening. do you have anything for 2020 that we can talk about? I think that I already know the answer, but I have to ask the question!
CC: Not really. right now we are just trying to win Xfinity races and the championship. We are just focused on that. I think that I am in a good spot to win Xfinity races and whatever happens, happens.
WOMR: (With a chuckle in my voice I had to ask the next one!) Now the next obvious question is do you have anything on the books that you can’t talk about?
CC: (Cole added to the fun of this question by busting up big time) No not at this time.
WOMR: I asked Cole to pick a number from 1-10. He picked number 3 so I went to my collection of stock questions and asked him this question. If a fan spots you at a restaurant is it ok for them to come over to you for an autograph?
CC: Yeah I don’t have any problem with them coming over to ask for an autograph.
WOMR: Since you are an LA kind of guy, and you do know how erratic they drive on the 5, the 10, the 405, in fact just pick any highway in LA, transferring those highway road frustrations to the race track, what is “your middle finger moment”?
CC: (Again there was a chuckle before his response). I think that it is lapped cars that bother me. I just get frustrating in the moment. I know that they are doing the best job that they can, I just get frustrated in the moment.
WOMR: If you are on an oval and your are running in a position for the win what do yo expect a lapped car to do?
CC: I would expect that car to get out of the preferred groove. I expect them to just stay out of the way and not run in the groove where the leaders are racing.
WOMR: My website is called WorkingOnMyRedneck.com. When I am working on my Redneck I am either at a race track watching NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA, dirt winged or non winged sprint cars, midgets, or dirt super late models. What are you doing when yo are working on your Redneck?
CC: I am doing country music concerts. I really like Billy Currington and Blake Shelton.
I hope that you have enjoyed the responses that Cole Custer had to some of the questions that I posed to him while we were just hanging out in his team hauler at Sonoma last Friday. The one thing that I have learned from my several interviews with this young hard charger is that he is a very down to earth young man that is focused on honing his craft to become a championship race car driver.
You may be seeing this driver hoisting the hardware the third Saturday in November!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!