By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
AVONDALE, Ariz. — From backing up his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford into the Championship 4 to confirmation that’ll he’ll be back with the Xfinity team next year, life has been pretty swell for Cole Custer.
Last Saturday, with a ravaged Mustang and on fire, Custer did his best Tow Mater (Cars) and Alana Haim (Licorice Pizza) impression by limping his machine backwards to the start/finish line at Martinsville Speedway.
Well aware that every position is up for grabs and can make a difference on who’ll punch their ticket to Phoenix and who’ll be eliminated. A 19th place finish was all he needed to get the final Championship 4 spot, eliminating Austin Hill in the process.
“That was a crazy one. I think my heart didn’t stop racing until about Monday, but it was a cool race, just chaos,” Custer on his road to the Championship 4.
“I think the thing that was most crazy about is that you couldn’t control a lot of your own destiny at the end because some guys were so desperate they were gonna probably move somebody out of the way or could have caused a wreck.
“Obviously, there was a wreck at the last lap, but there were so many things you couldn’t control.”
When madness happens, stress is the least of Custer’s concerns as he’ll hope Saturday will be the evening he’ll capture his first NASCAR championship. In a season where he came back to Xfinity after three dreadful seasons in the Cup Series despite having his lone win at Kentucky in 2020.
“I think at the end of the day you can’t stress too much about all the little things,” said Custer. “You have to just make sure you go out there and have a solid car and give yourself a shot to win it at the end. I think people can get too wrapped up in the little things, but you just have to go out there and execute the race how you want to.”
Regarding what exactly Custer wasn’t worry about, he elaborated on the importance of track position but also think of the big picture.
“I think if you get the pole or if you’re P1 in practice, those little things where it’s like, ‘Oh, I want to be the fastest car every single time out there,’” said Custer.
“You’ve just got to keep yourself in the game. If you’re in the game, you’re gonna have a good shot at the end.”
In seven previous NXS races in Arizona, Custer has scored two top-fives which took place in 2019 and won the pole earlier this year.
As far as Custer’s previous Championship 4 bids in 2018 and 2019, it was the 12-time series winner who was the bridesmaid. Losing the title to Tyler Reddick on both occasions when the finale was held at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Since then, Custer has gained more experience as a racer. More importantly, emphasized on the importance of teamwork. More so when the No. 00 SHR squad have been through highs and lows, but they’ve persevered when it mattered most.
Such trait Custer couldn’t be proud of as he’ll hope to bring SHR its first NXS title and Ford’s first since Austin Cindric three years ago.
“I think for us as a team this year it’s been such a year of building,” said Custer. “I think it’s been one of the most proud years I’ve been a part of just because we’ve turned a fairly young team at the start of the year with our personnel.
“I think being able to turn what was a solid team at the start of the year to a championship-competing team and I think one of the best in the garage.
“So that makes me very proud from my standpoint to be a part of that and to build something like that, so it’s very, very cool to be a part of. I think everybody at SHR in the Xfinity group and the Cup group works well together and just being a part of that has been huge.”