Race Weekend Central

Cole Custer Impresses in XFINITY Debut

With a slick and smooth JR Motorsports paint scheme on the car for Cole Custer the 18-year-old drove the same way in Saturday’s ToyotaCare 250.  One of the sport’s more talented teenagers, Custer came home sixth in his XFINITY Series debut.

“It went great,” he said after the race. “We had to start pretty far back in the heat, made some spots up. We passed 12 cars there in the main. The thing was really great. If we had more track position, I think we could’ve contended for a win.”

Having his first go at the new heat racing format for the Dash 4 Cash XFINITY races, Custer started his heat in the 15th spot before inching up the field to ninth. The result ranked Custer 17th on the grid, a place he did not stay for long.

“I think we’re definitely capable of [running inside the top 10],” Custer said. “It was just a matter of doing it and seeing if we could.”

Running top 10 is exactly what Custer showed as his No. 5 Chevrolet was up near the front while JR Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Justin Allgaier paced the field 1-2 for a majority of the 149-lap event. The race went nearly caution free until 13 laps to go when Mike Harmon spun off turn 2. The spin set up a five-lap shootout, setting up a bigger wreck on the restart when Allgaier spun in front of Custer entering turn 1.

“I saw the [No.] 7 spinning right in the middle of the track and that’s where we were,” he explained. “I just tried to walk it down as fast as I could and somebody just didn’t get checked up behind us and hit us in the corner panel.”

In a rather clean race otherwise, Custer believed the competition was more calm than NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, the tour he competes on a full-time basis with in 2016. The level of calm was notable even with the race’s shorter distance.

“We usually have shorter races in the Truck Series and this was a short race,” he said. “Nobody really was trying to charge really hard. The restarts were still very aggressive. The level of drivers is probably a little bit better.”

The late-race wreck, while producing contact didn’t wind up hurting Custer severely. He got a good jump during NASCAR Overtime before drag racing Austin Dillon to the line, losing out by inches for a top-5 finish. It was a run that left race winner and car owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. beyond impressed.

“I would love to continue to work with Cole,” Earnhardt said. “I think he is a great young kid; he’s super, super humble. I think he has a lot of untapped talent. He’s just going to continue to learn and improve and get confidence in himself.”

The proud team owner will indeed get more time to work with Custer soon enough; the next of his four scheduled 2016 XFINITY races will come at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

“We’re only going to be running mile-and-a-halves,” said Custer on his as-of-now limited schedule. “I’m going to have to learn a lot there with the air and how they handle. We had a really good start and we will keep going [toward the front].”

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