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.