Rookie Cole Custer Sets Up the XFINITY Series Playoff as One to Watch

Cole Custer, the driver of the #00 Haas Automation Ford, walks through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 15, 2017, in Joliet, Illinois Photo – Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Heading into Chicagoland Speedway this weekend, rookie Cole Custer with Stewart Haas Racing wasn’t one to get a lot of attention, but it’s clear Custer is a quick study, soaking up what it takes to race in one of NASCAR’s top-three series. After leading 41 laps of the race, his seventh-place finish at Chicagoland on Saturday afternoon puts him in eighth-place for the first race of the XFINITY Series playoff season. 

“I was happy with that today,” says Custer after the race. “That is the best speed we have had all year in the Haas Automation Mustang. It was really good. The four of us up front kind of gave it to the (No.) 7 car but that is how it is sometimes. I was happy with our run. I think we showed a lot of speed today.”

Last year, Custer was racing with JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, finishing tenth in the overall point standings. With JRM’s exit from the Truck Series, Custer moved into the XFINITY Series with Stewart Haas Racing this season and has amassed four top-fives along with 12 top-tens in 25 starts.

Custer gained attention from his success in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series where he earned recognition as a future star of the sport in the NASCAR Next initiative. His rise into one of NASCAR’s top divisions has been a journey he knows is important to enjoy.

“It’s been awesome,” says Custer.  “We definitely had a lot of success there (in the K&N Pro Series) and we’re just trying to keep it going now.”

As a 19-year-old rookie in the XFINITY Series, Custer’s journey continues into the playoffs over the next seven races. Custer is among a rookie class of four qualifying for the series’ top-ten including William Byron, Daniel Hemric, and Matt Tifft. Together they represent one-third of the 2017 playoff field. That’s significant for Custer, a Ladera Ranch, CA native.

“It means a lot I think for a first-year team,” says Custer as he walks toward driver introductions at Chicagoland Speedway. “It was one of our goals, just to make the playoffs. We did that so, hopefully, we’re just trying to get some playoff points today and trying to set ourselves up for a good run.”

Looking beyond today’s race, Custer says he’s looking forward to the playoffs with some good tracks for him where he’s learned a lot and one that’s maybe not as much.

“Dover, I think will be good for us,” continues Custer. “There’s not many I don’t look forward to…maybe Kansas will be a little bit tough. But really all of them I’m looking forward to.

“Phoenix will be good, I’ve had some success there in the past. We didn’t have the best car there at the start of the year, but we’ve learned a lot since then.”

One question, Custer had a hard time answering as a rookie is, ‘which playoff round will be the toughest to get through?’

“I don’t know. We just have to get into them and find out, I don’t really know yet.”

The NASCAR XFINITY Series championship playoffs start at Kentucky Speedway next weekend. This year’s playoffs may hold some historical significance with four rookies in contention for the title. Together they certainly bring the potential for more surprises along the way.