With Saturday’s Kroger 250 we again, were able to witness excellence in the form of 17-year-old Cole Custer. Making history in 2014, Cole Custer became the youngest pole sitter ever at Gateway Motorsports park, before becoming the youngest winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. JR Motorsports announced they would field a Camping World Truck Series entry for ten races, for the first time in 2015 with driver, Cole Custer.
Custer’s, career began very young as he started running laps behind former Xfinity series driver Randy Lajoie’s race shop in Kannapolis, NC. From then on, Custer went on to grab multiple national titles racing quarter midgets around the country. Moving on to stock cars, he became the youngest winner in K&N Pro Series history at age 15.
The son of Joe Custer, executive vice president at Stewart Haas Racing, it looks as though Custer will someday be fielded by one of the premier names in the Sprint Cup Series. But, just because he has all the right people around him does not mean he doesn’t have pure talent.
I watched Custer hard on Saturday afternoon. One point I found truly remarkable was his ability to battle back from a pit road speeding penalty. Being able, at 17 years old, to battle back like that and keep his mental toughness shows this kid has a very bright future ahead.
Then, Custer did not hesitate and put the bumper on Matt Crafton which moved the No. 88 and No. 29 of Joey Logano out-of-the-way to see Custer take the lead with less than five laps to go. Most 17-year-old kids running with guys such as Joey Logano, an experienced Cup veteran, would have been alright running third at Martinsville – Custer was not. The race then saw Matt Crafton battle back to Custer and as they got tangled up, Custer spun out. Although many people think it was Crafton who spun Custer, I think it was Custer who spun himself out trying to keep Matt Crafton behind him, truly doing whatever it takes to win.
After the race, with a mature response from Cole Custer, who did not blame anything on anybody, he took the blame for the incident. Although he said he wasn’t trying to put the bumper on Crafton that hard, I believe he was, to do what was necessary to win. He wanted to win so badly, he didn’t think about it and just operated on instinct.
This kid was not running for points Saturday, he was running for the win. I would rather see somebody like that be ‘this close’ to winning and finish 16th, instead of running third and not try to win. Regardless I was heavily impressed with the young talent of Cole Custer, and am truly excited to see this driver continue his development.
To look deeper into this, Cole Custer is somebody who reminds me a lot of Jimmie Johnson. Johnson has this rap that he is a pure clean racer and would not bump somebody to win. I totally disagree, although Jimmie Johnson conducts himself as a professional off the track, he would step on your throat to win any race. I have watched him race throughout his career and I have seen him drive over people to get to the front. Somehow he finds a way to do it in a respectable and justifiable way. To be honest, I’m not sure how, maybe that’s one of those vague talents that makes Johnson so great.
Custer reminds me of Johnson in that sense. He will do whatever it takes to win and has such a pure driver ability that is among the best of the sport. He will not hesitate to make a race winning move, but will conduct himself with maturity and professionalism off the track.
This kid has the world in front of him. He is somebody already well equipped in the JR Motorsports organization, one of the most premier organizations in NASCAR’s two lower tiers. He also has an ‘in’ at Stewart-Haas Racing, one of the most premier companies at the Sprint Cup Series level. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run a full-time schedule next season at JR Motorsports and then move into the Xfinity series afterward. Who knows, he may jump the Truck series into Chase Elliot’s ride next season.
NASCAR is in good hands and as somebody who loves covering this sport, I have a lot of excitement about the next generation. I can’t imagine the battles that will take place between guys like, Cole Custer, Chase Elliot, Kyle Larson, and Chris Buescher, just to name a few. It gets me excited just thinking about that.
For all the hype this kid is receiving, it’s for a good reason and is well justified. So for all the fans who saw Custer race for the first time Saturday at Martinsville, keep your eyes out for this kid, because he is NASCAR’s next big thing.