Cole Custer optimistic about title run—but cautiously so

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Ford, sic in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2018 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

When he showed up for Championship 4 Media Day at The Edition in Miami Beach, Cole Custer didn’t exhibit the bluster or braggadocio of a driver who had blown away the competition in last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Custer didn’t qualify for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 Round last season, but his performance at Homestead was head-and-shoulders above that of any of the title contenders. Custer led 182 of the 200 laps and finished 15.405 seconds ahead of runner-up Sam Hornish Jr.

But that was last year—and Custer knows it, as he ponders Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“I don’t know if you can really expect to do the same thing, because things change,” Custer said. “You know, little things that we have to kind of account for. And obviously Christopher (Bell) and Tyler (Reddick) got to go down there and test, so I bet they got faster.

“But I think you’ve just got to work off your notes from last year and do your homework, and I think there’s no reason why you can’t compete for a win.”

Another major difference. In his second year in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Custer is battling Bell, Reddick and Daniel Hemric for the Xfinity Series championship.

“It would mean a lot, especially just to our whole team, because as a new team last year, I think everybody had to work so hard to get to the point that we’re at now, so it would mean a lot to all of our people to get this championship and bring it home.”

Greg Engle