KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – For Cole Custer, it’s all new. New racetracks, new vehicles, new procedures, longer races, different competitors – all of which are part of the transition for a young driver as he advances to the next stage of his professional racing career. But for Custer, who will attempt to make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut in Saturday’s Kroger 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, his learning curve may be accelerated thanks to a veteran crew chief who will oversee his limited 2014 schedule and help the young driver adjust to races that are more involved than anything he has experienced thus far in his career.
Veteran crew chief Joe Shear Jr., joined Haas Racing Development (HRD) to oversee Custer’s limited campaign. Shear, an eight-time winner as crew chief in the Truck Series, brings to the team a wealth of experience and a proven history of success. Custer, who will attempt to make his first career start at Martinsville this weekend, will look to Shear for guidance. After all, in 10 Truck Series races at the .526-mile paperclip oval, Shear has two victories with driver Johnny Sauter and is the defending race-winner as crew chief.
Despite his lack of Truck Series or Martinsville familiarity, Custer has plenty of reasons for optimism this weekend as his experience in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series has prepared him for this next step in his career. A regular competitor in the regional series that competes on racetracks ranging from one-third to 1 mile in length, Custer knows what it’s like to battle it out on short tracks. He has an impressive three wins and eight top-10 finishes in just 18 career K&N starts. He became the youngest winner in series history by scoring his first win at Iowa Speedway on Aug. 2, 2013, at the age of 15 years, 6 months and 10 days. Custer turned in a dominating performance that night by winning the pole and leading every lap to break by nearly six months the record for youngest race winner, previously held by Dylan Kwasniewski.
Custer and the Haas Automation team prepared for Saturday’s race by testing last week at Martinsville. But while the test was productive, Custer and Shear know well that the test can only help so much and that there is no replacement for the real first-time Martinsville experience.
COLE CUSTER, Driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development:
Talk about making your Truck Series debut this weekend at Martinsville.
“I’m really looking forward to this weekend. I know it’s going to be difficult as I’ll be racing against guys I’ve never raced before who have a lot of talent and experience. But I’m looking forward to Saturday’s race. We tested at Martinsville last week and it went really well, so that gives me a lot of confidence heading into the weekend.”
You mentioned that you had the opportunity to test at Martinsville last week. Talk a little bit about that.
“The test went really well. We left there feeling like we can be really competitive this weekend. Joe Shear gave me a really good Haas Automation Silverado to work with. It had a lot of speed in it right off the truck. He’s got a great notebook for Martinsville, so I feel like we can have a really good day on Saturday. I know it’s a very tight racetrack and that we’ll be bumper-to-bumper the entire race, so that’ll be a little different from the conditions we had for the test. Part of being successful at Martinsville is being aggressive and not being afraid to stick your nose underneath the guy in front of you if need be. There’s a great experience level in the Truck Series. These guys know how to race, and I’m looking forward to being a part of the field on Saturday.”
You’ve got several starts in the K&N Series under your belt. Do you think the experience you’ve gained there will help you this weekend?
“I think my experience from the K&N Series will help me this weekend. I think tire management will play a part in the race, and that’s something that we had to learn in the K&N races. All the short tracks that we raced on last year all had really tight, bumper-to-bumper racing like we’ll have this weekend. So, I think my experience racing in similar situations and circumstances will absolutely help as I make the transition to the Truck Series this weekend.”
Was the test last week the first opportunity you had to work with your new crew chief, Joe Shear Jr.?
“Joe came to a couple of the K&N races last year to watch and get an idea of how our team worked together. We’ve actually tested in the truck four or five times, now, so I’ve been able to work with him quite a bit. I really like him. I think he’s really smart and obviously has a lot of experience. He’s had a lot of success with (Johnny) Sauter and some of the other guys he’s worked with, and it’s amazing to have a really experienced guy like him as my crew chief.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine