It’s been a frustrating season so far for Cole Custer, who hopes things take a turn for the better in Sunday’s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway.
Custer won his first Cup Series race last year in his freshman season with Stewart-Haas Racing, which gave him a spot in the 2020 NASCAR Playoffs. But it’s been a struggle in 2021 and Custer enters Sunday’s 17th race of the campaign 27th in the point standings, 102 points out of the final cut-off spot.
“We definitely wanted to have a better year than we’ve had so far,” Custer explained. “After coming off a win last year and having a pretty solid season for a rookie year, we were expecting some bigger things this year and it just hasn’t been there. We’ve had some rule changes this year, and things haven’t really clicked, yet, the way they did last year. It’s just a matter of grinding it out.
“Everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing is working extremely hard to figure out how we can get some more speed. You’ve got to take it one week at a time and you’ve got to take advantage of every single one.”
Custer’s 56th career Cup start comes at Sunday at Nashville, a track that the series has never competed on. Custer does have some experience at the 1.33-mile concrete track through testing but like the majority of drivers in Sunday’s field he’ll be learning a lot under race conditions.
“I’ve never raced there, I’ve only tested there,” he said. “It was a little bit before my time when they raced there. It was so long ago, it’s really hard to remember. I think one thing you’ll see is a lot of changes in the track through the course of the weekend with all three series there, and the fact we get to practice and qualify.
“Being a concrete track, the rubber is going to build up and you’ll be able to maybe move your line around a little bit. I think that’s going to be one of the biggest things. It’s an interesting track with how both the frontstretch and backstretch are curved, how you kind of raise up and go into a hill in Turn 1. It’s an interesting race track and I think it’ll be cool to go there.”
Despite the many unknowns with the track, NASCAR’s top series returning to the Nashville area for the first time since the 1980s has generated a great deal of anticipation not just in the Music City but with competitors as well. Custer counts himself as one of those looking forward to the overall experience.
“I think everybody’s looking forward to it, to be honest,” Custer said.
“It’s a new track for the Cup Series, so it could shake things up a lot. The teams that are doing well right now, you might see a surprise winner when we go there because it is a new track that we haven’t been to. Also, I think people are also just looking forward to going to that city because it goes back to our roots a lot and everybody can relate to that city a lot.”