An Interview With: CHRISTOPHER BELL, COLE CUSTER
THE MODERATOR: We’re going to roll into our press conference for tonight’s Ford EcoBoost 300. We’ve now been joined by our fifth?place finisher, driver of the No. 20 Rheem Toyota, Christopher Bell.
There was some confusion; did you miss pit road, or did they tell you, you were pitting or not pitting? Can you take us through what happened there?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, it was just a miscommunication. I don’t know if my spotter didn’t get told what our cue word was, but I told got the cue word to pit and then all of a sudden, I started pitting and he said, not now, not now. But that didn’t matter whenever you get beat by 17 seconds. I’m glad that didn’t have an effect on the outcome of the race.
Christopher, as far as the race itself, you guys battled through last year’s title decider here, too. Were you guys battling some of the same issues that you fought last year in this race today or was it different gremlins?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It was oddly familiar. I don’t know, I don’t get it. For whatever reason whenever the tires start falling off here, I just struggle. I don’t know what we’re missing to get me comfortable where we can go around here. But yeah, I’m okay for 10, 20, and then after that we just fall apart for some reason.
THE MODERATOR: We’ve now been joined by our second?place finisher, driver of the 00 Haas Automation Ford, Cole Custer.
Christopher, even after the pit road miscue, you still managed to come out ahead of the other three title contenders, but were you already sort of figuring that you weren’t going to be able to stay up there or did you ?? was it kind of still unclear at that point?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, that second to last run, I don’t know if I just did a better job blocking or what, but we definitely seemed to maintain a little bit better, and then whenever we pitted, I didn’t know ?? you don’t know how many laps that we pitted earlier than the other two guys, but I was pretty happy whenever I drove by them because I think we only had 30?something laps to go at that point, and my car had been okay for that distance.
Then yeah, there wasn’t much of a chance once they got up to speed. They just ran me down and drove away.
Cole, this might have been in some people’s eyes one of the best races you’ve ever driven, but you wind up in second place. Just your feelings on your performance tonight and coming through in the clutch the way you did.
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I mean, like I said, I think I said it on TV, Tyler can rip the fence here. I don’t know, I can match his lap time there, out there at the end, but he was just a tick better where he could be on my bumper when he was behind me and do a slide job, and I could keep up with him and I just ?? there at the end I felt like I needed to find a way to close the gap.
I was just like three car lengths back the whole time, so I was like, I need to try and figure out a way to close the gap, and I just got in the fence a little bit. It’s been a great year, so we have a lot to hang our hats on. It sucks running second again, but we can still stay positive about how great of a year we’ve had.
Cole, can you just describe that move when he dove down and took the lead? Just from where we were sitting up in the press box, it was amazing. I’m sure it sucked from your seat, but it was pretty sporty.
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I mean, I was just focusing ?? I probably could have gone a little bit faster when I was leading, but man, I was like, I don’t need to give it to him. I just need to try and stay consistent here, run the top, and that’s what I was doing.
Then I just hear this motor just flying by me, and I was just like, oh, my God, so I’ve got to get off the wall and try and cross him over. It’s easier to do a slide job easier in 1 and 2 than it is 3 and 4, so he probably timed that out and got it figured out, and then I tried to do one in 3 and 4 just out of desperation, but it’s hard to make it work down there.
Cole, can you talk about your mentality after the unscheduled stop, keeping your composure there, and did you feel like you could drive up there, and also the team’s role and Tony’s role in keeping you calm and getting you back into position to contend for that title?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I think there’s just nothing you can really change about it, so you just kind of take it how it is and make it the best you can. It worked out good because we were able to get our lap back and then kind of race our way up through there, and it was still we had to adjust on the car a lot throughout the day. But it was just something ?? I mean, freaking out is not going to help you at all, so you might as well try and take your lumps and move on.
It was appropriate some who believe that the three of you were the ones fighting it out for the championship, and it really did come down to the three of you. If you could just talk about how that was for the season and how it did culminate. Obviously going in you knew these were the two guys you were going to need to beat, and obviously this is going to continue next year when you guys move up to Cup, as well.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, it’ll be a lot of fun racing Cole and Tyler for Rookie of the Year next year. It’ll be interesting to see how each of us adapt to the next level. I guess Cole and Tyler have a little bit of a head start on me with a couple Cup starts, but yeah, it’ll be a lot of fun. I’m ready for the next chapter.
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, that was a really fun race there for a while. We were like under a blanket there for probably like 20 laps or something. Hopefully it was a good race. From where I was sitting it was pretty exciting. But it’s definitely been a cool year. I think we made each other probably all a little bit better.
Does losing to Reddick here tonight make you guys want to go beat him for Rookie of the Year next year that much more?
COLE CUSTER: Haven’t really thought about that.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t really ?? I don’t know.
COLE CUSTER: We’ll worry about that when we get there. There’s a lot that’s going to happen probably throughout the year, at least from my point of view.
Cole, obviously you had a vastly improved season from start to finish this year. I just wondered where do you think ?? what are some of the things or what are the areas that you think you most improved or where you think you guys really picked up over the last couple of seasons?
COLE CUSTER: You know, I think it’s been a little bit of everything, honestly. I think Mike this year brought a lot of experience in what he wanted to do with the car and what worked and what didn’t, really. So, when I’d say something stupid during practice, he’d usually know what to do with the car.
I think I worked traffic probably a little bit better, just gaining experience, knowing how I wanted to work my line and everything coming to the racetrack, so it’s just a combination of everything, honestly. I don’t think you can really pinpoint one thing.
Cole, I know it comes up short, but how pivotal after the loose wheel was that drive that you put up through traffic to un-lap yourself before the stage break there because that really was the moment that put you back on course to even give yourself a shot.
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, that was pretty huge for sure. If we were a lap down there or even had to take the wave?around, we’d have probably still gotten up there, I guess, but it definitely would have made our day ?? we were up there a lot faster and got to adjust on our car more and stuff like that.
It definitely would have made our day a lot harder if we didn’t get that back. So, it definitely was a key point in our race probably.
THE MODERATOR: Cole and Christopher, thank you for your time this evening, and we wish you best of luck next season.
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