Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Hass Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Stewart-Haas Racing, met with media members Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway prior to practice and qualifying sessions for Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

COLE CUSTER, No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse  — IT’S BEEN 10 YEARS SINCE YOUR FIRST NATIONAL SERIES WIN HERE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE. WHY DON’T YOU GET TO START US AND TELL US WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU TO BE BACK HERE TODAY? “It’s always been really special for me going to New Hampshire. You know, I won a K&N race here, and then next year won that truck race here and it’s always been a fun place to go. It means a lot to win here just because of how hard it is for the teams to get the cars right around these flat corners and for the drivers to try and manage that. It’s always a place, the fans are so awesome here, it’s awesome to come back here and I think reliving that day when I first won, you know, ten years ago now, which is hard to think, is definitely pretty cool and pretty special.”

WITH GENE’S ANNOUNCEMENT THIS WEEK, I GUESS THERE WAS ALREADY SOME PLANS WITH THE XFINITY TEAM, BUT KEEPING A CUP TEAM WAS A SURPRISE. ARE YOU HOPEFUL OR ARE YOU INVOLVED IN ANY OF THOSE DISCUSSIONS WITH THOSE PROGRAMS ABOUT YOUR FUTURE FOR NEXT YEAR? “I think for me, whenever I went back to the Xfinity Series, my goal was always to go back to Cup. So, I’ve been trying to work on what I can do to get myself better over the past year and a half. At the end of the day, you try and do as best you can and you hope it all sorts itself out. But I really don’t have much to say or anything right now that’s solidified or anything. So we’re just kind of focused on New Hampshire and trying to win here.”

I ASKED YOUR DAD IF YOU WERE A CANDIDATE FOR THAT CUP CAR AND HE TOLD ME TO ASK YOU. SO HE PUT THE ONUS ON YOU ON THIS. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE A CANDIDATE FOR THAT CUP CAR OR SOME PEOPLE PREFER NOT TO RUN FOR FAMILY? “Yeah, I’d love to. At the end of the day, that’s what my career’s been, I guess. It’s always tied to that relationship. At the end of the day, I think what Gene Haas has done in this sport, it would be a dream come true to get to run that Cup car. I’m focused on this weekend and trying to figure out how to win here. But obviously for me, I’ve tried to go back to the Xfinity series, prove what I can do and try and make the most of it. And you just kind of try and hope it all sorts itself out from there.”

DOES IT BLOW YOUR MIND, THINKING BEING A 16 YEAR OLD WINNING A TRUCK RACE AND WHAT YOU ACCOMPLISHED AND WHAT THAT’S LIKE NOW THAT YOU HAVE 10 YEARS ON IT? “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy to think. I mean, at that time, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was just trying to go out there and hit the gas and go fast. Hopefully you had a car underneath you that could do it. But now I think you just have so much more knowledge of what goes into it. On the bad days, you’re able to make more than most of it. So before I feel like when you’re that young it’s like if you get thrown a curveball and your truck’s not very good that weekend, you’re overall just struggling, it’s harder to know what to do to make the most of it. As a veteran you just kind of know how to grind away and make the most of a day. But that was one of those magical days where you have everything work out right, you have a great truck, and it all works out.”

I TALKED TO TY GIBBS ABOUT THIS, AND IT’S KIND OF AN INTERESTING DYNAMIC WHEN YOUR FAMILY’S INVOLVED WITH THE RACE TEAM, RIGHT? BUT HE ALSO SAID THAT IF HE’S RACING AGAINST SOMEBODY THAT HE THINKS SHOULD GET A SHOT, HE WILL SAY SOMETHING TO HIS DAD OR HIS GRANDDAD OR HIS MOM. WITH THE TWO XFINITY OPPORTUNITIES OPENING OVER THERE, DO YOU HAVE THAT SAME KIND OF INPUT BECAUSE YOU’RE THE GUY THAT’S ACTUALLY RACING AGAINST THESE GUYS IN XFINITY. “I can’t say that there’s been a huge dynamic with that, but he’ll at times ask me about some guys, you know, about who’s a good candidate for whatever it is, I guess. He’s got a lot of experience, he can handle it, you know, but I think it is a good thing where I can kind of maybe give him a little bit of feedback on things.”

AS YOU LOOK TO HOPEFULLY FILL THAT OPPORTUNITY AT THE CUP LEVEL, BACK TO BACK XFINITY CHAMPIONSHIPS WOULD BE A PRETTY BIG FEATHER IN YOUR CAP. I KNOW IT’S EARLY TO REALLY THINK TOO MUCH ABOUT THAT, BUT COULD YOU USE A TRACK LIKE THIS WHERE YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS TO KIND OF SPRINGBOARD YOURSELF TOWARD ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP? “For sure. I always look forward to coming to New Hampshire and this is a place that’s always special coming back to. So I always look forward to it and you just hope that you have everything underneath you to go and compete for a win. I think at the end of the day we should have a shot at this weekend. Our guys are doing a great job. We just have to break through. I feel like we’re top five or so every single weekend and it’s very strange to be leading the points but also a little bit frustrated that you haven’t won yet. I think it’s coming. We just have to keep knocking on the door.”

THE PATH SEEMS TO BE LEADING YOU BACK TO THE CUP SERIES EVENTUALLY. WHAT WOULD THE APPROACH BE DIFFERENTLY NOW THAT YOU’VE HAD A COUPLE OF YEARS OF DIGEST AND LEARNED FROM WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH IN THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS IN XFINITY?  “I think at the end of the day the biggest thing is just how you communicate with your team. I think at the Cup level, the top 30 guys, you give them something underneath them that they can go fast with, give them a good car, a fast car, they’re going to go fast. The top 30 guys all have talent. It’s just how you communicate with your team to get that consistently. How you work with your team to fix problems and really be able to hone in on getting the car exactly how you want it every single weekend and consistently. So you just have to really be able to communicate with your team to try and fix those problems and I’ve tried to do that over the last year or so and really try and gain knowledge in that area.”

ARE YOU A TOP 30 TALENT IN THE SPORT? “I hope so. Yeah, I think I can definitely do it. I think when you look at what I’ve done at the Xfinity level, I think the guys that I’ve raced against that are in the Cup level now, I think there’s no reason why you can’t.”

FOR SOME ATHLETES TO HAVE MOVED FROM CUP BACK OVER TO XFINITY, WE WOULD HAVE NEVER HEARD FROM THEM AGAIN. YOU PROSPERED. YOU WENT OVER THERE. YOU WON A TITLE. WHAT ADVICE WERE YOU GIVEN OR WHAT DID YOU SAY TO YOURSELF TO BE SO SUCCESSFUL IN THAT TRANSITION? “I think the biggest thing is you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror. You’ve got to figure out the ways that you can be better. You just can’t put it all off to the side and say that you’re good enough and that you don’t need to work on anything. You got to try and work on yourself and try and keep making gains in those areas. Cause at the end of the day, like it’s never always a perfect situation. You got to try and make the most of it and work with your team and try and fix problems. There’s very few weekends except for maybe the weekend when I showed up here 10 years ago, the truck’s just perfect. You’ve got to go out there and really work at it to make it how you want it to be. So you just got to work on those areas to keep that getting better and better.”

WHEN YOU WERE ORIGINALLY TOLD THAT YOU WEREN’T GOING TO STAY IN CUP AND GO TO XFINITY, I’M SURE MOST PEOPLE IN SUCH SITUATIONS WOULD THINK, WELL, I SHOULD STAY HERE, RIGHT? BUT ONCE YOU GOT BACK INTO XFINITY LAST YEAR, WON A CHAMPIONSHIP, WHICH TONY STEWART SAID THIS WAS THE REASON WHY WE DID THIS, DID YOU FIND ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR THAT YOU THOUGHT YOU HAVE SHOWN SINCE YOU GOT BACK IN XFINITY THAT WILL MAYBE HELP YOU IN A RETURN TO CUP? “I think the great thing about our Xfinity season last year, and even this year a little bit, is that it’s not easy. You know, it’s not like we go out there and win every single race just because our cars are way better than everybody’s, or I’m way better than everybody, or whatever it is. It’s not easy. The Xfinity series has 15 guys out there that can go out there and win and if you’re off, you’re gonna run 15th. So, having to really work at it and try to work with your team to get the cars better and better and better throughout the year, and have it all come together in the playoffs last year I think just showed a lot of, I think just some more maturity and being able to really work through problems and make the most of things.”

WHAT IS THAT LIKE, KNOWING THAT THERE’S FOUR, FIVE, SIX, YOU SAY 15 GUYS THAT CAN WIN ANY WEEK AND HOW ARE YOU APPROACHING THAT? “I think it’s just great for the XFINITY series. There were a lot of years when Kyle Busch would win 10 races or 12 races. I think in 2019, my last year before moving to Cup, it was me, Tyler, and Christopher Bell that won a lot of races. That doesn’t really happen anymore, I feel like. You have so many guys that the package has really stayed really similar with the cars. So I think a lot of teams have honed in on how to make their cars better and it’s equalled the field out. But I think it just makes it more competitive and I think it’s good for the series.” 

IS IT ENJOYABLE? “I think so. You want to be the guy who wins 10 races a year. That would be way more enjoyable. But I think it is cool to get to go and grind it out with a bunch of guys and not have it be easy. You’ve got to go out there and really work for it.” 

WOULD YOU HAVE RATHER BEEN IN A SITUATION WHERE YOU HAD A TEAM THAT YOU COULD COMPETE IN THE TOP 15 ALL THE TIME AND KIND OF SHOW WHAT YOUR POTENTIAL WAS IN YOUR FIRST CUP STINT? IS IT A GAME CHANGER WHEN YOU’RE NOT, AND THEN YOU HAVE TO GO BACK, AND PROVE YOURSELF? AND MY FOLLOW UP TO THAT IS, IF INDEED, WHO ARE THE GUYS THAT WE SHOULD BE LOOKING AT IN XFINITY RIGHT NOW THAT HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO ONE DAY BE SUNDAY DRIVERS? “I think the hard part about Cup is it’s not like there’s just a ton of them, so you take them when you can get them. It’s not like you’re going to get one every single year, an opportunity to go Cup racing. A lot of guys, you’ve got to take that shot, no matter what the car is a lot of the time. You see a lot of guys, like, say, Truex, he didn’t get to Gibbs until later in his career. Different guys that have gone that path, but at the end of the day, if you can go Cup racing, you go Cup racing. It’s definitely, it’s the place every driver wants to be and compete against the best.”

SO WHO ARE THE DRIVERS WE SHOULD BE LOOKING AT AS THE NEW DRIVERS TO BE RACING NEXT YEAR? “You know, I think Chandler Smith does a good job. I think Carson Kvapil, obviously, he was really impressive at Martinsville and Dover. I’d have to really look at the list but that definitely kind of top of my mind, I guess.”

WHEN YOU WERE SAYING YOU NEEDED TO LOOK AT YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR AND EVALUATE EVERYTHING, LOOKING BACK AND ANALYZING WHEN YOU WERE IN CUP, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS MISTAKES THAT YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD GIVE ADVICE TO ANOTHER YOUNGER DRIVER COMING ALONG?  “I think just knowing how you need to communicate with your people. If that isn’t right, it’s just not going to work and you just have to make sure that you can go out there and really work with your team and try and fix problems the best you can. And if you’re not able to talk with your team openly and really fix those problems that’s where it gets tough. So I think that would be the biggest thing that I’d probably learn from.” 

SO HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN IT IS TIME TO MAKE A CHANGE?

“I guess whenever you get that feeling. That is all I can really say.”

Ford Performance PR