KANNAPOLIS, N.C.– Phoenix International Raceway, much like Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, is a flat, rhythmic racetrack that demands precision on both corner entry and exit. Lap after lap, drivers have to attack each corner with the precision of a surgeon, with the penalty for misjudging the entry numerous positions in the running order and a lap or two to reestablish their tempo in order to regain their lost ground.
Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development (HRD), is a driver with a penchant for getting around flat racetracks quickly. With a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory earlier this season at New Hampshire, it would be tough to rule Custer out of contention for his second victory this weekend at Phoenix.
At New Hampshire, Custer started from the pole with a record qualifying lap of 28.877 seconds at 131.897 mph. He then led three times for 148 of the 175 total race laps around the 1.058-mile oval en route to scoring his first career Truck Series victory in just his seventh series start. At 16 years, seven months and 28 days, he became the youngest race winner in NASCAR national series history.
Custer’s flat-track success isn’t limited to the Truck Series. In fact, three of Custer’s four NASCAR K&N Pro Series victories have come at relatively flat racetracks – Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, New Hampshire and Phoenix, the site of Friday night’s 150-mile race.
Custer’s K&N Pro Series West win earlier this season at Phoenix came in just his third start in the series. The 16-year-old driver started from the pole and led 62 of 80 laps en route to claiming the victory.
So while this weekend will mark Custer’s first Truck Series start at the “Diamond in the Desert,” he’s already proven that he knows how to get around the mile oval. Given his history of success at Phoenix and on other racetracks that put a premium on driver ability, combined with his impressive 2014 Truck Series stats, there’s little doubt Custer should be a contender this weekend.
COLE CUSTER, Driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development:
Where do you have to be good at Phoenix? Can you be good everywhere, or do you have to sacrifice at one end of the racetrack to be successful?
“To be successful at Phoenix, you have to be able to roll the center and get a good run off. But you have to sacrifice a little at both ends because they are such different corners.”
This is your final start of the 2014 season. Was your season a success? What would it mean to finish the year on a high note by picking up another win?
“We had a very successful 2014. A win here to close out the year would be a great way to not only end the season, but to get us geared up for 2015, as well. I feel like Phoenix is a racetrack where we can achieve that goal.”
Describe a lap around Phoenix.
“Diving off into turn one, you’re probably running 150 mph. It takes heavy braking to get slowed down, and then you’re headed for the dogleg. Running through there wide open is one of the coolest things we experience through the whole season. Going into turn three, you’re at high speed again. You use a lot of brake into the corner and you’re trying your best to roll the center. You’re hard on the gas coming off turn four, and that’s a lap around Phoenix.”
Can you make a connection between racing at Phoenix and racing on a dirt track? On dirt, you’re always searching for a different line. Does Phoenix seem the same?
“At almost every racetrack we go to, we have to search for grip. Since Phoenix has relatively fresh pavement that’s always dusty, you’re always trying to find grip.”
You tested at Phoenix. Talk about how that went.
“Our test at Phoenix went well. It’s hard to tell where you’re at, really, because the conditions are always so different when you come back for the race. But I feel like we had a good test and that we’ll be ready to go this weekend.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine