By: Ashley McCubbin
When you discuss drivers who may be part of the conversation for the win at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Cole Custer isn’t a name that comes to mind. After all, he scored a 22nd-place finish in his first appearance at the intermediate track in a NASCAR Cup Series car.
However, you should not let that dictate how this upcoming weekend could go.
“it’s been so long since we’ve been to Homestead,” Custer told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “I think we’ve grown so much since then, so I don’t know if it’s even comparable, honestly. For us, it’s just gonna be a matter of having a car that you can drive into the corner deep and carry a lot of throttle. That’s pretty much what the 550 package is.
“At Homestead, you will have to worry more about your long run speed just because the tires do wear out a lot, but being able to be really confident with your car and move it around the track on restarts will be a huge deal.”
While noting Homestead was the 12th race of 36 on the schedule last season, Custer was able to run 15 more intermediate events during his rookie campaign in 2020. He would only place outside of the top-20 on four occasions, with four top-10’s including his victory at Kentucky Speedway.
He has also shown he knows what it takes to be successful at Homestead in the Xfinity Series. He picked up the checkered flag in 2017, and backed it up with a pair of runner-ups in the two years that followed. Though relating the success together has been tough, as Custer says the Cup Series is a complete 180 from Xfinity.
“That was one of the things that was really tough for me, just getting used to what the 550 package was and how the Cup cars drove,” he admitted. “I mean, it was the exact opposite of what the XFINITY cars were, at least from how my philosophy was on driving those cars. It took me a lot of learning on how I was gonna change my driving style to fit the Cup car better and it’s just a matter of giving up way more downforce, less motor and you have to figure out how to carry the throttle pretty much is the biggest thing — just being able to drive into the corner deep and figure out how you can keep your long run speed in your car, how much you want to trim it out and things like that.”
Differences aside, repeating similar success on Sunday will certainly mark an improvement from last year’s benchmark, and will take Custer being able to rim ride against the outside wall with the best in the business.
“I think the guys that you see who are really good at it they’re able to enter right on the wall and be as close to it as humanly possible,” he commented. “The closer you get to it, the more grip you have. There is also risk with that, so it’s a matter of balancing the risk versus reward and knowing what time to do it and what time to push it. I think that’s one of the big parts of it is just managing the risk.”
If Custer is able to keep everything in check, a solid run would certainly continue a good trend to kick off his sophomore campaign following a pair of top-15 finishes to kick off the 2021 campaign.
“It’s been a solid start,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for us right now is just kind of keeping that consistency. I think, especially these first five races, it’s kind of something where you want to make sure that you keep yourself in the game. You don’t want to put yourself behind and then you’re kind of fighting to get yourself back up there, so it’s trying not to put yourself in a hole right now is probably one of the biggest thing and I think we’ve done a really good job at that, and it’s just a matter of building on it week by week and I think we’ll be right in the mix of it.”
If he wants to be in the conversation, a strong performance this weekend could get his name brought up more often in knowing this weekend could be a “telltale sign” with how often the 550 intermediate package is utilized.