KANNAPOLIS, N.C.– Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development (HRD), had a handful of goals at the onset of the 2014 racing season. Those goals were lofty, but Custer proved that he was more than capable of reaching each of them. In his most recent start at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, at the age of 16 years, seven months and 28 days, Custer checked the biggest box on the list – to become the youngest driver in NASCAR national touring series history to win a race.
For Custer, earning that first win wasn’t just for his own personal achievement. It was also for Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation and owner of HRD in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. With the win at Loudon, Custer delivered Haas his first victory in NASCAR’s third-tier series. And, with that win at Loudon, Haas Automation Chevrolets have now been to victory lane in NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series competition.
The first win for Haas Automation came in June 2004, when the late Jason Leffler took the checkered flag at the Federated Auto Parts 300 Nationwide Series race at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway. Almost 10 years later, Kurt Busch was able to deliver a Sprint Cup victory for the largest CNC machine tool builder in the western world when he was able to hold off six-time Sprint Cup champion and eight-time Martinsville (Va.) Speedway race-winner Jimmie Johnson to win the STP 500 this past March.
Haas Automation had been a sponsor in the Nationwide Series for two years before getting its first victory in that series, and for 12 years in the Sprint Cup Series. It took Custer just seven starts into his first limited Truck Series season to score his victory.
Custer will hope to ride the wave of momentum generated by his victory into Saturday’s Kroger 200 at Martinsville when, for the first time in his brief Truck Series career, he will return to a racetrack where he’s raced previously this year. In his series debut at the Virginia short track in March, Custer ran inside the top-10 for much of the race, but a number of beating-and-banging incidents and late-race caution flags led him to an 11th-place finish.
As Custer rolls into Martinsville, he looks to improve on his finish in March. And if he’s able to make a little more history along the way by winning another race, he certainly wouldn’t mind at all. While that accomplishment wasn’t necessarily on his list of preseason goals, he certainly isn’t opposed to amending the list and giving his No. 00 team another box to check.
COLE CUSTER, Driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development:
You’ve had a few weeks now for everything to sink in since winning at New Hampshire. Talk a little bit about how things have been for you since then, and if the scope of the win has really set in for you.
“The last few weeks have been pretty crazy. I’ve done a lot of interviews, and we’ve had a lot of things happen. I’ve gotten a lot of congratulations. It was a pretty big deal for this team. It was a really awesome day. But, winning one race isn’t enough. We need to keep going and try to get more. Hopefully we’re able to do that at Martinsville this weekend. We expect to be strong at Phoenix, too. But, our focus is on Martinsville this weekend and trying to win another one there.”
Talk a little bit about what it meant to earn the win not only for yourself, but for Gene Haas and everyone at Haas Automation.
“It was really awesome to get the first Truck Series win for Gene Haas and everyone at Haas Automation. They’ve helped me so much in my career. They’ve invested so much in the sport, and it’s amazing to see someone who’s invested so much get wins in all three series. It was pretty awesome to put my name next to Kurt Busch, who won in the Sprint Cup Series, and Jason Leffler, who won in the Nationwide Series. It was a huge day and a great one for Gene and everyone at Haas Automation.”
For the first time, you’ll return to a racetrack where you’ve raced previously this year. Talk a little bit about that, and what differences you’re anticipating from the first trip to Martinsville to this second one.
“I was kind of, in a way, heading into the unknown going to Martinsville the last time. I didn’t really know how these guys were going to race, how fast they’d be, where we’d stack up. It was a first race with a lot of firsts in it. It turned out alright for us, but I expect to be much better there this time around. We have some new things to work on and I expect that we’ll have a shot at the win.”
You made your Truck Series debut at Martinsville in March. You had a decent run in that race, but I’m sure you played it a little conservative as it was your first time racing some of the veterans of the series. Now that you’ve got a number of starts under your belt and the respect of your peers, do you feel you can be more aggressive in this, your second race at Martinsville?
“Martinsville typically gets a little rough. Our recent success really doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean that we can just go around punting guys out of the way. Nobody likes to get punted, I know that much. I think you have to be aggressive at Martinsville, but you can’t just go crazy out there either and drive through everybody. I think it’s going to get a little rougher in this race than the first, for sure.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine