Rookie Cole Custer adjusting to major step up in class

FONTANA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 28: Cole Custer, driver of the #41 Haas/Production Alliance Group, practices for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 28, 2020 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Cole Custer knows he has equipment equal to that of his more experienced teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s just a matter of acclimating to what he needs to go fast in NASCAR’s top series.

Custer has endured a rocky start this season. A problem with the rear end took him out of the season-opening Daytona 500 in 37th place. Last week in Las Vegas, he ran 19th.

“Yeah, we definitely want to run a lot better than that,” Custer said. “I think we have cars that are capable of winning. It is just a matter of trying to figure out the differences in the cars (from the NASCAR Xfinity Series) and make your best guess and study as much as you can before the race.

“I guessed wrong (at Las Vegas). Going into it this week, you’re able to look at a lot of data and things. I have learned a ton since last week, and it’s just a matter of taking advantage of all that and trying to perfect everything as good as you can.”

Custer won seven times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series last year and finished second in the final standings for the second straight season. Moving from the Xfinity competition package to Cup rules, however, is no easy task.

“They are a lot different, especially with the 550 (horsepower) package and how you work the throttle and everything, how you are going to do that is a lot different than Xfinity,” said the 22-year-old driver, who was 22nd fastest in opening Cup practice and 20th on the speed chart in Happy Hour.

“At the same time, you make one little mistake and are a little off in one area, and you will lose a ton of spots. Everybody here is pushing it to the limit. Everyone in the top-25 is probably capable of winning races. It is a matter of trying to perfect every part of it.”

Greg Engle