Ford Performance NASCAR: Cole Custer and Cody Ware Daytona 500 Advance

Cole Custer, driver of the No. 41 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing is in his third season racing in the NASCAR Cup Series with Ford while Cody Ware, driver of the No. 51 Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing is beginning his first.  Both drivers participated in a media session this afternoon to talk about the upcoming Daytona 500 and the season ahead.


COLE CUSTER, No. 41 Ford Mustang – DO YOU FEEL YOUR SOLID EFFORT IN LOS ANGELES IS A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME THIS YEAR?  “For sure.  I think it’s a mindset going into this year.  We want to go into this year and hit hard and be able to figure out this car faster than any other team and try to figure out how to get us back to the front where we belong at Stewart-Haas Racing.  It was a great way to start off the year, a great confidence-builder.  Is it, like you said, what’s gonna apply everything from that racetrack.  It’s kind of an oddball racetrack, but I think you can take a few things to other racetracks like Martinsville and the short tracks and things like that.  Everybody went there trying as hard as they could, so it was good to have the pace that we had and have a solid run.”


WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THE LEARNING CURVE TO BE FOR XFINITY DRIVERS COMING TO CUP WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR?  “It’s gonna be a reset for everything.  There is not much really similar about it.  It’s definitely hard on the Xfinity guys and it’s definitely the year to start in Cup because it’s kind of an even playing field for everybody, but for all of those guys they’re gonna have to re-learn every single year how to pretty much re-drive these race cars.  The steering is different.  The tire is different.  The aero is different.  There’s nothing that really translates a lot, so it’s gonna be interesting for those guys who move up, how they’re gonna adapt to it.”


WHAT RESONATED WITH YOU ABOUT LAST WEEKEND THAT WAS DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS HAVING GROWN UP IN THAT AREA?  “It was cool.  I had tons of texts and tons of messages from friends who went to the race and that’s one thing that’s always cool about your home racetracks is that you’re able to see friends and family and just kind of have that atmosphere there.  Overall, it was just really cool to be back home and be able to put on a great show that we had.  I think NASCAR knocked it out of the park and really had a great racetrack that was racy and they did a great job promoting it, and I think it was a real home run for everybody.”


HOW DID YOU HOOK UP WITH SECOND HARVEST?  “Overall, we have our sponsor Wow Wow Waffles that is sponsoring us for a few races this year and they made a huge donation to Feeding America and the Second Harvest Food Bank, so being able to work with them and they’re all on a mission to fight hunger and it’s been really cool to get involved with the food banks and pack bags for local schools and the community.  It’s been really cool to kind of work up with their initiative and it really gives you a great mindset because volunteering is something I wish I did more of before and now it’s something that I’m doing every month pretty much.  It’s definitely rewarding to see the people that you’re helping in your community.”


DID IT OPEN YOUR EYES TO PEOPLE WHO AREN’T AS FORTUNATE AS YOU?  “Yeah, for sure.  That’s what it’s all about.  We get so wrapped up in our own lives and our own problems.  You’re able to help out people that really need it in our community, so it’s something that has been really cool to get involved in and I’m really looking forward to do it in the future.”


WHAT CHANGES DO YOU EXPECT IN THE NEXT GEN CAR FROM THE TEST TO THE RACE?  “For Speedweeks to what we had in September it’s gonna be a lot different.  They had a more recent test at Daytona in early January, if I’m right, and they changed a lot from the September test to that test.  It seemed like they were a lot more racy at the January test and all the drivers were pretty happy with the car and how it drove and how it drafted, so I think they’ve made some huge gains on it since the September test when I went out and tested.  I think we’re all looking forward to it.  If everything from the test lines up, it should be a really great Daytona 500.”


FROM A MENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVE, WHAT KIND OF TOLL DOES THE GRIND OF THE SCHEDULE TAKE ON YOU?  “It’s an extremely long season.  We have one of the longest seasons in sports.  We race a lot of races and the biggest thing is you just have to keep yourself feeling good and you have to keep yourself in a positive mindset.  I think if you’re dragging it out every single week and you’re taking the last week a few days into your next week, it starts dragging on and you start not feeling great and you start getting down on yourself.  You have to just put the last week in the past, usually, and move on to the next week and keep yourself feeling good.”


WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE NEXT GEN CAR?  “For me, it was extremely durable, especially when you beat and bang – especially front to rear.  If you hit somebody in the back of their car, you wouldn’t cave the nose in like the last car and knock your radiator out, so they’re really durable in that sense.  Also, just to feel the tire and how much drive we had and, honestly, how much grip we had at that small of a racetrack was pretty surprising.  I think they knocked it out of the park, like I said before.  The car performed good.  The racetrack was good.  The event was good, so I can’t give you any negatives right now.”


WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE STADIUM RACES AND, IF SO, WHERE?  “I could definitely see them doing more because it was such a success.  Honestly, I think the drivers liked it, so I think a race like that would be good to keep for like an All-Star Race or a non-points race just because when points are on the line it can get a little bit outrageous I guess you could say.  In the future, I don’t know.  I think soccer stadiums are cool – even overseas.  I think a race overseas would be pretty crazy.  Logistically, it would be pretty hard, but it would be pretty cool.”

DO YOU ONLY HAVE ONE CAR FOR THE 500?  “Yes.  I think all of our teams only have one car for the 500.”


SO HOW CONSERVATIVE DO YOU HAVE TO BE WITH THE DUELS ON THURSDAY?  “That’s one of the things I probably need to ask my crew chief, Mike.  We only really have one car.  I think we will have a backup car ready if something does go wrong, but it’s something we don’t have a lot of parts and pieces right now.  Everything is a little bit hard to get right now, so it’s one of those things that I think you’re gonna have to go out there and race.  You can’t just go out there and ride around because that’s not what we do.  I think you have to be smart in certain circumstances.  If you know it’s getting crazy coming down to the end and you don’t have a great shot at starting good anyways, you might as well just drop back and make sure you don’t get wrecked.  It’s one of those things that if you find yourself in a bad spot, you’re probably gonna have to get out of it because you don’t want to risk wrecking your primary car.”


IS THERE ANY CONCERN ABOUT RUNNING AROUND TEAMS THAT HAVE TO RACE THEIR WAY INTO THE 500?  “Yeah, that’s always one of the interesting things about the Duels.  We’re all racing hard up front and in the pack, and you also have the guys who are trying to make the race that are racing their guts out, so it’s one of those races where there’s not really a safe spot – at any superspeedway race.  You just kind of have to keep an eye on them, know who they are and what they’re racing for and kind of keep that in mind.”

CODY WARE, No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Ford Mustang – WHAT LED TO YOUR DECISION TO GO FULL-TIME CUP RACING AGAIN THIS YEAR AND DID THE NEXT GEN CAR HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THAT?  “Yeah, for sure.  Obviously, last year was a lot of struggle for us throughout the season.  We saw a little bit of success here and there, but, overall, definitely a long road.  With the Next Gen car coming into play, I really felt like I was cautiously optimistic about the parity that was gonna be seen in the field, so after doing a little bit of testing between the Charlotte Roval and Charlotte oval testing, kind of seeing how I stacked up against some of the guys with an equal car and things like that, definitely gave me the confidence to dive in and make the commitment for the full-time Cup Series this year.  That was after weighing some options of some other series, whether that being doing some Indy Car stuff, IMSA stuff, things like that.  And then obviously having the L.A. weekend go as well as it did for us and the race team as a whole just gave me a lot of confidence going into the Daytona 500 and the season as a whole.  I think as the year goes on we’ll obviously see a lot of R&D and development go on with some of the bigger teams, but hopefully with that being said with our Stewart-Haas alliance we’ll also be somewhat on the cutting edge of that and be able to get some of that information as it comes along throughout the year.”


WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THE WEEKEND THAT GAVE YOU SUCH ELATION?  “It was just really exciting.  Thankfully, I’ve got a lot of experience racing modifieds at Bowman Gray, so having a lot of that quarter-mile short track experience definitely paid off, but to finally see kind of what we’d all been hoping for, to have a fair shot with these new cars and to be more competitive with our alliance with Stewart-Haas and Ford Performance was really good, so it definitely has me excited.  Before, it was definitely like a cautious optimism and now I’m just really excited to get going with this racing season because it’s given me a lot of confidence in myself as a driver, too.  It’s like, ‘Hey, you’ve been held back a little bit by these cars in year’s past,’ and now we have a chance to really do some hard racing.”


WHAT ARE SOME REALISTIC GOALS FOR YOU THIS SEASON?  “I think realistically we want to obviously start by improving our average finish.  I would like to see us competing for top 25s and top 20s on a regular basis.  We were always right around the high twenties to 30th place, typically, so to see an average spot boost like that would definitely be the first part, and then, for me personally, to see a little bit of improvement on the superspeedway and road courses where we can eventually be competing for those top 15s and top 10s is definitely where I’d like to be.  My goals and expectations for the year, even if it’s a pretty big hill to climb, is to be 25th in points.  Obviously, last year there’s a lot of heavy hitters that were right around that area as well, but I think you have to set high goals to try to achieve the best and that’s what we’re looking for this year.”


WHAT WERE YOUR NEXT GEN CAR TAKEAWAYS FROM LAST WEEKEND?  “I would say surprising in a good way.  I think the older cars would not have driven as well at the L.A. Coliseum.  I think having the Next Gen cars with the independent rear suspension really made navigating the quarter-mile racetrack with those tight turns as well as we did it there possible, so to bring those new cars out there in kind of a risky, dicey situation for teams, the drivers, the series as a whole, really paid off in dividends and gave small guys like us here at Rick Ware Racing the opportunity to show that given some parity and given some equal race cars that we can go out there and race with anybody.”


CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT HOW THE ALLIANCE WITH SHR WILL WORK?  ARE YOUR CARS COMING RIGHT FROM THEIR SHOP?  “Yes and no.  For the Daytona 500, our cars are being prepped by Stewart-Haas.  Actually, our cars from the L.A. Clash were built in-house at our own race shop.  Moving throughout the year we’re gonna see a lot of information trade.  The big part of this alliance that makes it mutually beneficial for both us and SHR is obviously having the 51 and the 15 for them to be able to try different things, to be able to try experimental setups or try different things.  They’re gonna have another two cars to work off of and build information off of, so for them it gives them more cars to learn from, and for us in exchange we’re getting a lot of that setup information and alongside also having the Ford engine lease program for the year is gonna be a big step in power for us compared to year’s past.  So, I think for all parties involved it’s gonna be a really good thing to just have more cars and more information for everybody going into this new car.”


HOW EXCITING IS IT TO SEE A CAR THAT IS IDENTICAL TO WHAT’S ON THE STREET RACING ON THE TRACK THIS YEAR?  “It’s really cool.  I think that NASCAR and all the manufacturers knocked it out of the park.  I think the new Mustang, Chevys and Toyotas all look really good.  Obviously, moving towards independent rear suspension and things that you see on street cars, moving away from a lot of the antiquated stuff like solid rear axle and things like that I think definitely for the younger and newer crowd that’s gonna be watching these NASCAR races is gonna actually give them something to relate to and latch onto as we get these cars into the modern era.”


WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SHARE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH JOURNEY?  “It’s a double-edged sword.  Obviously, I get a lot of enjoyment and happiness out of getting to share that and hopefully help others in the process, but there’s also been a little bit of backlash here and there.  People like to make comments like, ‘Should you be out there?  Is it even safe?’  And I think that, for me, it’s something where it’s worth the potential risks involved with it because mental health is such a major problem in this country and the world as a whole, and I think with COVID and the quarantine and things in the year’s past really highlighted how many people really deal with things like that, so the first step to kind of ending that stigma is if you’re somebody that has a platform to be able to open up about it and talk about it and show people that they’re not alone, that’s the most important thing about all that.”


YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT CREW CHIEF THIS YEAR, SWITCHING FROM MIKE HILLMAN JR. TO BILLY PLOURDE..  WAS THERE A SPECIFIC REASON FOR THE CHANGE?  “Me and Mike still have a really good relationship.  Initially, his plans were kind of set back a little bit and focused on the Xfinity side of our race program for this year, and so Billy was kind of gonna be the goal to replace him on the Cup side.  It wasn’t a decision as far as me not wanting to work with him.  Actually, when we first started talking about the Next Gen car my initial plan was to have Mike Hillman as my crew chief for this season, but I think he’s trying to relax a little bit more.  He’s getting older and kind of step away a little bit.  He’s still part of the race team and it’s still really cool to share the success for both of our cars at the Clash last weekend.  We still have a good relationship, but I think working with Billy this year is gonna be really good.  He’s got a lot of experience with Chevrolet and working closely with Germain and RCR and things like that, and to be able to have a guy that’s got a lot of passion and drive to prove himself as a crew chief and obviously myself, who wants to prove myself as a driver here in the Cup Series, I think it’s gonna be a really awesome combination going into this year.”


WHAT KIND OF TOLL DOES THE GRIND OF A CUP SEASON TAKE ON A DRIVER?  “It’s definitely difficult.  Last year was my first full season in the Cup Series and alongside that with doing a few Indy Car races, the IMSA race at the start of the year and things like that, it was definitely probably a lot more than I bargained for initially, but I think everything that we did as a race team and myself as a driver, we did last year has definitely given me a lot of prep and a lot of coping mechanisms and tools to take care of myself both mentally and physically throughout the year.  I do feel like as much of a struggle last year was for me both on and off the racetrack, it’s prepared me well and given me the best shot I have to go forward with this new car and give it 110 percent.  There’s definitely still gonna be times where we’re gonna have struggles and we’re gonna have to fight through the tough stuff, but I’ve got the most confidence I’ve had going into a racing season in my entire racing career goes and for once I’m definitely going in with more optimism and enthusiasm than negativity.  I think every day you wake up is a struggle with mental health, but I think it’s just about managing it as well as you can and focusing on the positive stuff and just tackling it so that I can make the most of this.”


WHAT ANIME ARE YOU WORKING YOUR WAY THROUGH?  “RIght now, I’ve actually been watching Edens Zero, which is a new Netflix anime, and then I’ve actually been re-watching Inuyasha and Cowboy Bebop, some of the classics from Toonami and stuff, so always watching something.”


WHAT WAS THE PLANNING PROCESS LIKE TO GET TO THIS POINT WITH RWR?  “It was always gonna be a process and, for us, we’d always had our mind set with the Next Gen car in mind as far as stepping up to that next level.  As the Next Gen program got delayed, so did our plans to step up our program.  Looking from the very beginning and the inception of this car, looking at the parity and how much of an equalizer this car was gonna be, we wanted to make sure that when we reinvested and put all of our eggs in one basket we wanted to make sure we did it in the right way.  So, obviously, downsizing was a first step, going from four charters down to two charters and reinvesting that money back into the race team was step number one, and then trying to pick the best alliance and the best manufacturer to go with.  For the past year or so we’ve been talking to various race teams and manufacturers and things like that to make sure that when we step up and make this big investment that we did it the right way, and so finally working with Joe Custer and everyone over at Stewart-Haas Racing it seemed like the best fit, and Ford Performance was definitely excited to have another team on board as well, so to have all that come together and then to start to be able to work with Stewart-Haas through all the Next Gen testing was really exciting.  Obviously, my first chance to drive it was the Tuesday or Wednesday after the Charlotte Roval road course race, so to get to hop in and see the change back-to-back and also to see the speed that we had with the new car in comparison to the Gen 6 car just with a little bit of time with Stewart-Haas and the new car was really exciting for me and the race team as a whole.  To see that and to see the testing at the oval, the testing at Daytona went really well as well, so to have that all come together at the Clash last weekend for me and Preece to be able to race.  He made it into the main event, super bittersweet for me, but to still be racing there until the end of the LCQ to try to make my way in as well was just really exciting and really took a weight off my chest and reminded myself too that, ‘Hey, I can do this and I belong here just as much as anyone else does.’  Just really excited to get to Daytona.  The L.A. Coliseum is not anything like we’d traditionally be racing, but it’s still a good indicator and we got a chance to show what we can do, and it’s got all of us jacked up for this year.”


WILL YOU HAVE ONLY ONE CAR AT DAYTONA?  “Yes.  Right now, we’re gonna be going down to Daytona with just one car per team, so the car we unload with is the car we plan on racing.  Obviously, that’s what we’re sticking with for now.”

WHAT IS YOUR PLAN FOR WATCHING THOSE DRIVERS THAT NEED TO RACE THEIR WAY INTO THE 500 VERSUS PROTECTING YOUR CAR?  “We still want to race and have a good starting spot for the 500.  Hopefully, there are other teams like Stewart-Haas who we can essentially work with and find a good group of guys to race with and draft with during the Duels and knowing that we’re all on the wavelength as far as staying out of trouble and finishing the Duels because I’m really excited to have the car that I have for the 500, being prepped by Stewart-Haas, so I’d be devastated if something happened to it before the 500 on Sunday.  I think I’m not the only one that’s in that boat.  Stewart-Haas is in that boat and I think us and the other Ford guys can hopefully work together and still have a good race, but also be smart about it, too, because there are gonna be a lot of guys that are gonna go for broke, that aren’t even racing the full season, they’re gonna try to make their way in with this new car – not just for Daytona either, but for the west coast swing we need cars and we need chassis and we don’t need torn up race cars the first weekend of the year.”


WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE SEEING RWR EXPAND TO OTHER SERIES AND WIN WITH DRIVERS LIKE ANDREW RANGER IN THE PINTY’S SERIES?  “It’s really awesome.  My father has a pretty diverse background in racing just like I do.  My grandfather and my dad raced in Trans Am when they were living out in California back in the eighties, and he’s done a lot of IMSA racing, NASCAR racing, obviously tried to make it as a NASCAR driver himself before he had an injury at Fontana back in 2000, so to see my dad still kind of live his dream and be a part of all these different styles of racing and be a team owner in Indy Car and NASCAR, doing the 24 Hours last year together, it’s really cool and definitely just makes me really thankful and blessed to be a part of this family race team.  Obviously, with my focus being on NASCAR this year it’s a bummer to not be involved in some of the Indy Car stuff and other things that we’re doing, but still watching – to have guys like Takuma Sato driving for us on the Indy Car side is really cool and I’m excited to finally put the pieces of the puzzle together on the Cup side to where we can hopefully have good operations across all forms of motorsport here in the U.S.”


COULD WE SEE YOU BEHIND THE WHEEL OF AN INDY CAR AGAIN ONE DAY?  “I’d definitely love to.  Hopefully, engine availability is better going forward the next year or two.  I know Honda has had a little bit of a engine shortages for third and fourth cars for a lot of these one-off type races, but I would definitely love to go back and make the double happen between the 500 and the 600.  I did ROP last year and made it through ROP no problem at Indy, so I’d love to actually go back and make a run for Indy 500 qualifying and try to figure out a way to hightail it back to Charlotte for the 600.  Watching Kurt do that a couple years ago was really cool, and to see how well he did in the Indy 500, I’d definitely like to be the next NASCAR guy to try to go do that.”

Ford Performance PR