Cole Custer entered last Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway 25th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. He left 20th.
Custer, shocked everyone with earning his first career Cup win on Sunday afternoon. He even shocked himself.
“I’m surprised, yes,” said Custer when asked after his win when asked if he was all that surprised in seeing that he just finished fifth a week earlier at Indy.
“We have definitely done a lot better job these last few weeks. We started putting the whole picture together. You just got to have the whole thing working together, whether it’s pit stops, restarts, me doing my job, having the car perfectly right. When you’re just a little bit off in this series, you’re going to pay for it big-time. You can’t be off in one area too much.
“You got to perfect all those areas, work at it. It’s a lot of days when you’re eyes are sore trying to look at film, trying to figure everything out. But it’s just trying to put the whole picture together.”
Also with a win comes a postseason berth. How would he stack up in the 10 race playoff?
“I think we still have a ways to go,” Custer continued. “We have things we can do a lot better for sure. I think we’re to the point now where we can race with these guys. We can take advantage of it when we’re near the front.
“It takes a lot of stress off. I mean, it was definitely really stressful. We kind of dug ourselves in a hole a little bit, not from wrecking cars or anything, just from inexperience, not knowing what to expect going into the races, not having a feel for the cars. I think we started to put the whole picture kind of together during the races.
“It’s a matter of I think we’ve at least gotten to the point now where we can take advantage of things when we’re at the front. Definitely takes a lot of stress off going into the rest of the year. We can kind of get the monkey off our back, focus on what’s ahead, not second guess ourselves.”
On top of all of that, the shock win also puts Custer into Wednesday nights All-Star race at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway. The entry list is reserved for race winners of this year and last, plus a winner in each of the three segments of the Open as well as the fan vote winner.
Custer, was thinking he’d have to race his way in from the Open. Now, he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Custer of the All-Star berth. “I was kind of nervous going into Bristol, trying to make it into the All-Star Race. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of good guys that are probably not going to make the race.
“To be in the All-Star Race right now takes a lot of stress off. Who knows, maybe we can go win the $1 million.
“We were solid at Bristol before. Ended up getting wrecked. We obviously have a lot of confidence now in what we’re doing. Just got to keep it going.”
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver said that the short track package suits him a little better too.
“I think the 750 package is pretty close to what the Xfinity cars were,” Custer said. “We have more confidence going into those races in what we do, how I drive the cars, things like that.
“This win definitely gives you the idea that you can compete with these guys, that you can go out there and race with them. There’s still things that you got to make sure that you do right going into the weekend. You can’t just get lazy. It’s just a matter of you can bring some confidence into it now and not second guess yourself.”
Custer, said the biggest adjustment to the Cup Series is just how different these cars are compared to the series coming up.
“The handling and how they are in traffic is completely different, a lot harder, not ideal. It’s just you have a completely different throttle from clean air to dirty air, how you want to work the throttle. There’s so many competitive cars, how you want to keep your momentum up. You want to make sure you don’t get freight trained. You make one bad mistake, five guys are blowing past you. You got to get all those things working together. If you don’t, it’s a long day.”
It’s just trying to figure out all those things of how to keep momentum up, how to work traffic the best.