Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development (HRD), brimmed with confidence heading into the Kroger 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Saturday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Fresh off his first Camping World Truck Series victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, the 16-year-old from Ladera Ranch, California, knew he had the wherewithal to win back-to-back races. And a win at Martinsville meant earning one of the coolest trophies in NASCAR – a grandfather clock.
But just before the halfway point of the 200-lap race around the .526-mile oval, Custer began to experience brake failure. On lap 102 his brakes faded completely, and as he entered turn one, he clocked another truck, incurring heavy front-end damage. Extensive repairs were needed, and his HRD team responded, allowing Custer to return to the racetrack.
With the goal being to nurse his battered machine to the finish, Custer treaded lightly, as his Haas Automation Chevy was close to overheating. As the laps wound to a close, Custer reported that his truck’s water temperature was rising rapidly. He had no choice but to bring the Haas Automation Chevy to pit road, where it was decided a terminal engine problem would rear its head if the overheating continued. Custer took his truck to the garage area, where he was credited with a 29th place finish.
“We were pretty fast at the start,” Custer said. “We got pushed around a little bit. I was having to pump the brakes down the straightaways to make sure I could get the truck slowed up enough before diving off into the corners. I must not have pumped them up enough and they ran out as we went into turn one. That ended our day, really. We couldn’t catch a break after that. I wish it could’ve gone better, but I learned an important lesson about saving your brakes at Martinsville.”
Custer, who is running a nine-race Truck Series schedule for HRD in 2014, started fourth in the 36-truck field and ran inside the top-10 until lap 54, when he was tapped from behind and muscled out of the preferred, bottom groove. His truck sustained significant damage to the left-rear quarter panel, and as a result, Custer hit pit road for an unscheduled pit stop when the caution flag waved a handful of laps later. With four fresh tires, Custer was determined to make his way back to the front of the field. He was on his way to doing so until the lap-102 incident.
“Survival became the name of the game after that,” Custer said. “We were on pace to at least finish the race. The water temperature started climbing and the engine started laying down, so I pulled it off the track rather than blowing it up trying to finish the race in the position we were in. It wasn’t the finish we were looking for, but we’ll be back again in two weeks at Phoenix.”