Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Ford Mustang Dark Horse in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, is the defending series champion who comes into this weekend’s event at Richmond Raceway with a streak of three straight top-five finishes overall and three straight at the Virginia short track.

COLE CUSTER, No. 00 Stewart-Haas Ford Mustang Dark Horse – HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE GOING TO A TRACK LIKE RICHMOND WHEN YOU’RE ON A ROLL? “Yeah, we’ve definitely had a solid streak here. Talking with JT and all of our guys after the race we’re hungry for that little bit more. We’ve really been running solid, but I feel like we’ve been maximizing days really good. Our pit crew has been really good. They’ve been on it. Our guys have been really good about adjustments through the race and trying to maximize our day, but we want that little bit more that can lead to winning races. I feel like we’re doing a good job right now, it’s just how we finish the thing off.”

YOU’VE GONE FROM 11TH TO 3RD IN THE STANDINGS DURING THIS THREE WEEK STREAK. WHAT DOES THAT DO FOR A TEAM? “It builds some confidence just because I feel like even on our not best days recently we’ve been able to run top five and have good points and be able to really maximize as good as we could. I feel like when we do have the days that we want and the speed that we want, we’re gonna really be able to make it happen. It’s just trying to get that on a consistent basis, but I feel like all the guys in the shop are working extremely hard right now and I think we have some good stuff coming right now, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

HOW HAS THE CHAMPIONSHIP IMPACTED YOUR MINDSET GOING INTO THE SEASON AND HOW HAS THE SEASON GONE BECAUSE OF THAT? “I think the biggest thing was just how you’ve got to keep intensity up to try and go win races. We did such a good job last year and ended on such a high note, but at the end of the day that doesn’t mean anything or pay anything for this year, so we have to really dig deep to figure out what we need to keep grinding. We’ve done a great job of maximizing our days and making the most of it, but we’re gonna keep working and trying to get that little bit better to get back to Victory Lane.”

ARE ANY TEAMS TALKING TO YOU ABOUT RUNNING ONE-OFF RACES OR FOR NEXT YEAR YET? “We’ll take that as it comes. I feel like I love where I’m at right now with my group of guys. We go and compete for wins and championships every year. That’s a dream come true in any top three series of NASCAR, so to run for great owners like Gene Haas and Tony Stewart and be able to compete for wins and championships is a dream come true. I’m definitely really happy. Obviously, I’m hungry for that next opportunity in Cup. I feel like I have a little bit of unfinished business in the Cup Series maybe, but at the end of the day I feel like you just make the most of what’s in front of you at the moment. I feel like we have a great group of people who can go win races.”

HOW IMPORTANT HAS TIRE MANAGEMENT BECOME AT RICHMOND? “Huge. I mean, Richmond is probably the most similar to being on ice without ice skates. That’s what it feels like after about five laps, so you’re just slipping and sliding around and you have to just manage your tires the most that you can to try and have something at the end of the run because there will be guys that don’t have that long run car and you’ll just eat them up on the long runs, especially with it being a day race for Xfinity. It’s all you can to keep the tires on it. I mean, it will kill them after five laps, so you definitely have to have the car balance good to keep the tires on it, but then you have your job as a driver to try and make sure you don’t overslip the tires and kill them.”

IS A HOT DOG A SANDWICH AND WHAT TOPPINGS DO YOU PUT ON IT? “A hot dog is not a sandwich. I don’t know who came up with that, but I don’t think of a sandwich whenever I eat a hot dog. And then for topping I’m usually pretty simple – usually ketchup, mustard and relish – but when you go to Martinsville I usually get the classic, but I don’t like the slaw. The only thing I don’t like is the slaw on the Martinsville hot dog.”

WHAT HAS BEEN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WAY LAST YEAR STARTED TO THIS YEAR? “I feel like from the start of last year, I mean it’s just such a different ballgame for us from a notebook standpoint. There were so many things that we were trying to figure out at that point of what to bring to the racetrack from a setup standpoint and I feel like we just really built a great notebook throughout the year and now we’ve been able to really unload exactly where we need to be for the most part and have solid top five cars where we want them. I think there’s been a couple of little changes with tires and rule changes with the aero side a little bit in the Xfinity Series from last year, so just trying to adapt to that a little bit, just what we maybe need to do a little bit, but at the end of the day I think we’re right there in the mix and just have to put it all together.”

BUBBA POLLARD IS MAKING HIS DEBUT. DO YOU PAY MUCH ATTENTION TO THAT? “I think it’s exciting. It’s awesome that he’s getting that opportunity running NASCAR in one of the top three series. Obviously, he’s one of the best race car drivers to ever do it I feel like. At the short track level, I think that’s no easy task to go win the amount of races that he’s won, so the only thing he’s gonna struggle with is the obvious – there’s not much practice, he’s never been in the cars before, so even though he’s obviously a talented race car driver that can probably do it, just trying to adapt and get the balance of the car how he wants it – just go through the weekend how he needs to and get every step of the way right is gonna be difficult for him, but I think he definitely had the potential to go out there and run good for sure.”

IT’S BEEN SIX WEEKS SINCE THE BABY ANNOUNCEMENT. HOW ARE THINGS GOING? ARE YOU READING BOOKS OR WAITING UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE? “We’ll probably start getting on all that stuff soon. We actually just moved houses over the off weekend a couple weeks ago. We just needed a little bit more room for the baby and everything, so that kept us busy, but I think now we’ll start probably putting together the baby room and start getting on things a little bit. My wife, Kari, she’s doing good. She’s definitely been a champ through the whole thing and we’re just really excited. We’re excited to bring another Custer into the world and can’t wait for August.”

CAN YOU GIVE A SENSE WITH HAVING THE CUP AND XFINITY EXPERIENCE HOW YOU KEEP YOUR SKILLS SHARP FOR BOTH BECAUSE THEY ARE VERY DIFFERENT? “I think you just have to keep pushing yourself to find ways to make yourself better. I think it can be easy to get complacent even when you’re running top five and top 10 in Xfinity and winning some races, but you have to keep pushing yourself to figure out, ‘OK, how can I do this move a little bit different in the race’ or try to get ahead on what the track is doing or try and be aggressive on restarts, keeping up with what different moves people are coming up with to try and work on restarts and be aggressive because you just don’t want to get complacent. I think that’s the biggest thing. You have to keep working on different little things that you can try to make yourself better because in the Cup Series everything moves so fast and evolves that it pushes you to keep evolving as a driver, whereas Xfinity I feel like it’s maybe not evolving quite as fast but you can still keep up with it and try to push yourself to be that Cup level driver.”

CAN YOU GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF HOW YOU HAVE GOTTEN BETTER SINCE THE MIDDLE OF LAST SEASON OR THE START OF THIS ONE? “I think it’s just every week the work that you put into studying restarts, passing, I mean you look at this weekend and it’s like that move Shane Van Gisbergen put on in the Xfinity race and Ross tried it in the Cup race into turn one, where he crossed him over. Staying up on things like that to push yourself to keep trying to be that aggressive and try to make those big moves because those things are huge for a driver to keep pushing yourself. I think also one of the big things for me is just how you work with your team to try to stay ahead of things and try and get the cars how you want them to drive because you’ve got to work weeks in advance to really go through all the details. I think being able to really work with your team how you need to and get the cars how you want to when you show up to the track is a huge part of it.”

THIS IS PART OF A LONG STRETCH GOING THROUGH THE END OF APRIL WITHOUT AN OFF WEEKEND. HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS PERIOD? “It’s huge just trying to get your bearings straight. You have to figure out your problems now and try to really address everything and using the off weekends to your advantage to try and get ahead on things because when it goes to that stretch it’s very easy to get behind, so you just have to try to keep up with it right now and really get ahead on what your problems are and try to fix them. I think that will set you up through the whole stretch.”

CAN YOU REMEMBER MUCH ABOUT THE MOVIE ‘CARS’ WHEN IT CAME OUT AND IF IT HAD AN IMPACT ON YOU? “I thought as a kid that it was one of the coolest things having a movie based kind of on NASCAR, so I was definitely a fan of it. Did it change how I looked at the sport or got me into it? No. I was already kind of into it before that, but I feel like as a kid that loved NASCAR it was cool to see other people really excited about it and be making that big of an impact. It was a really cool movie and I was a fan of it.”

Ford Performance PR