Rookie Advantage at Dover
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Dover (Del.) International Speedway probably isn’t a racetrack where you’d expect to hear of rookies excelling. After all, it isn’t too high up on the list of favorite places to race for a lot of experienced NASCAR drivers.
The “Monster Mile,” as it is affectionately known, is a high-banked concrete oval with a penchant for chewing up cars and veteran drivers alike. Yet, for some reason, the sun seems to always shine on at least one of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie drivers when it makes its annual visit to the northern Delaware facility. For Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development (HRD), he hopes that trend continues in 2014.
Custer’s Haas Automation teammate Kurt Busch won the inaugural Camping World Truck Series race as a rookie at Dover in 2000. Scott Speed accomplished the same feat in 2008. In fact, in the 14 Truck Series races contested at Dover, top-performing rookie drivers have claimed two wins, five top-five finishes and 11 top-10s. Only three times have rookies been denied a top-10 result in those 14 races.
Friday’s 200-miler will be the second of nine scheduled Truck Series events of 2014 for Custer, and he is counting on making the most of each of them. In his series debut at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in March, Custer was sitting in position to earn a top-10 finish in the closing laps. The Haas Automation driver ran inside the top-10 for much of the race, but a number of beating-and-banging incidents and late-race caution flags hampered his ability to advance in the closing laps. Since taking the checkered flag that Sunday afternoon, Custer has been counting the days to May 30 and his opportunity to climb back aboard the No. 00 Chevrolet and get back to racing in the Truck Series.
While Custer will make his first Camping World Truck Series start at Dover this weekend, he is no stranger to the concrete oval. He finished 14th there last year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and hopes that the experience he gained in that race might be what he needs to add his name to the list of strong rookie performances at Dover.
COLE CUSTER, Driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development:
You’ve raced at Dover once before, in the K&N Series. Talk a little bit about that race and what you learned that may help you as you prepare to make your first Camping World Truck Series start there this weekend.
“I think having the experience of running that K&N Series race will help me a lot this weekend. I feel like I know what to expect this weekend, as far as what line to run and what to anticipate as the race goes on. I learned a lot about tire wear. I learned in that race just how important it is to take care of the right-front tire. The groove widened out quite a bit and I expect we’ll see that again this weekend. So, I’d say that race really helped to prepare me not only to get around the track, but also how to manage the race.”
Each year that the Truck Series races at Dover, at least one rookie driver is able to make some noise and record a strong finish. Why do you think that is? And do you think you can be the driver to make that happen this year?
“It’s different how rookies tend to run well at Dover. One reason might be bravery. You’ve got to be brave to hold the throttle wide open as you dive off into the corners. I think there’s a connection there between bravery and age. I think we can have a good run at Dover this weekend. We ran well in the K&N Series race there last year, we qualified fifth and had a good race. I think we’ll have a good run this weekend, too.”
Talk a little bit about the physical demands that Dover puts on a driver. Is it more demanding than some of the other racetracks?
“Dover is definitely one of the more demanding tracks we go to. As a driver, you have to make sure your neck is in shape, your arms, your whole body, really. Your heart rate really gets going at Dover. It’s typically one of the harder races of the season, but there are typically a few caution periods that allow you to cool down and relax for a few minutes. But, it’s definitely more physically challenging than, say, Martinsville, because the G-forces are so much greater.”
Short of winning at Dover this weekend, what are your goals? What do you want to accomplish?
“My goals going into the weekend would be to finish in the top-10. To finish in the top-five would be really good for us. Our goal is to live in that range all season. I feel like if we’re able to do that, we’ll be in a position where we might be able to knock off a win. So, if we can run in that range all season, I feel like we’ll be in a position to contend for a race win.”
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