KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development (HRD), has scored three top-10 finishes in his last three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts. While he’s earned those finishes at three fairly different racetracks, he will encounter a new challenge altogether Sunday afternoon when he makes his first road-course start in NASCAR’s third-tier series.
When NASCAR announced at the end of the 2012 season that the minimum driver age requirement for the Camping World Truck Series would be lowered from 18 to 16 on all racetracks that are road courses or 1.25 miles or shorter, plans were put in place to allow Custer to run a nine-race schedule that would allow him to get acclimated with racing a different vehicle and a higher level of competition.
Because the Truck Series schedule is contested on a variety of racetracks and does not typically race at facilities where the 16-year-old Custer would be eligible to participate more consistently, he will make back-to-back series starts for the first time this weekend, as well.
One of the advantages Custer has enjoyed thus far in 2014 has been the ability to test at racetracks prior to competing in each of the five races he has run thus far. However, that changes this weekend. When Custer turns his first lap around Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, it will mark the first time the Ladera Ranch, California native will have done so in any kind of race vehicle.
Fortunately, Custer is no stranger to making both left- and right-hand turns. He has five NASCAR K&N Series road-course starts to his credit, all of which have come in the last year and a half. At Road Atlanta in October of last year, Custer started ninth and went on to finish fifth to notch his first top-five finish on a road course. Earlier this month, Custer was running second at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International when he made a move for the lead coming to the checkered flag, but skidded into the sand barrels at the entrance to pit road.
A win this weekend would not only be another first for Custer, it would place his name in the record books as the youngest race winner in Camping World Truck Series history.
COLE CUSTER, Driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development:
Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is the only road course on the Truck Series schedule. Talk about the challenges of racing on a road course compared to racing on an oval.
“The biggest challenge of racing on a road course is that you’re doing so much inside the racecar. You’re not only navigating both right- and left-hand turns, but you’re shifting and trying to make sure you’re hitting your marks and braking zones consistently, lap after lap. There’s so much going on at one time that it’s really easy to make a mistake and overshoot a corner or wheel hop, either of which will cause you to miss the corner and put you in a position where you could wreck. There are just so many chances to make a mistake on any given lap.”
There are a couple of so-called road-course ringers who will be in the field. Talk about that element of the race.
“You expect for those guys to be really good – every one of them. I don’t know that they’ll be so much better than us that we won’t be able to compete with them, but they’ve obviously got a head start on us because at least a handful of them have raced at this racetrack before, so they’ll have a bit of an advantage from that standpoint.”
Road-course races have become more and more like short-track races lately, where we see a lot of beating and banging for position, especially late in the race. What do you attribute that to? Besides the obvious, do you feel that patience wears on drivers after having to be so focused on hitting their marks lap after lap?
“I think you see so much beating and banging because there are so many hard braking zones and there are so many opportunities for a driver to overshoot a corner, or you find a passing opportunity so you stick your nose in there and hope it holds. I think patience does wear away as the race goes because you’re taking it easy the first three-quarters of the race before letting it all hang out, so to speak, for the final quarter. You’re going as hard as you can into those braking zones toward the end of the race, doing whatever you can to get by the guy in front of you. I fully expect to see some beating and banging. It’s just something we come to expect now with road-course racing.”
You’ve been able to test at each of the racetracks you’ve raced at until now. Your first laps this weekend will truly be your first laps at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Do you feel you’re at a bit of a disadvantage as a result of that?
“We’ve either tested or I’ve raced a K&N Series car at each of tracks we’ve raced at so far, and this weekend will be the first time I’ve not had the opportunity to do either. I’ve never raced there before, but I really like the road-course stuff and I think we’ll be decent in the race. I think we’ve got the potential to run inside the top-five and, if we do, then we might be in a position to challenge for the win. I don’t think we’re at too big of a disadvantage. I don’t think too many guys went up there and tested. But we’ll be racing guys who have raced there before in various series.”
What do you like about road-course racing?
“I like that you’re constantly having to wheel the racecar as hard as you can every single lap. You’re never not doing something, and you’re on the edge the entire time. Road-course racing, to me, is all about the driver. It’s on the driver more than the car. I think that’s a big plus about the Camping World Truck Series racing on a road course.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine