THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, Cole Custer.
Q. After that restart, walk us through how it was.
COLE CUSTER: Man, the caution came out there with like five to go, and you just try and keep your calm because there’s nothing you can do about it. But it was just…
Man, we had him covered right there I felt like. Every single restart, it’s a toss-up. This place, it’s always a toss-up, top or bottom. I went with my gut on the top because the resin started working in.
But just didn’t work out. The 7 was able to get to our outside and I tried to block him but from there I was kind of in a tough spot being in the middle. I just tried to make sure I got a good exit and downshifted it and tried to make it off Turn 2. We were able to get a good run and make it happen there. I don’t think it would happen again. But it was just an unbelievable restart that worked out right.
If we didn’t have the car we had either, it wouldn’t have worked out. We had such a fast car. Historically this has just been Gibbs’ racetrack. Those guys put up a great fight, John Hunter and all those guys.
But it’s a very proud moment for our team to come here. It hasn’t been our strongest racetrack. We put it to them.
Q. Tony came in here and was talking about it. Did you guys talk afterward?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, to have Tony as a boss, it’s pretty unreal, just having a guy that has been there and done that in everything.
Before the race, probably 30 minutes before the race we just sat in the hauler and talked about his dirt racing stuff and his drag racing stuff. It’s just cool to be able to talk with a guy that is in so much of everything in motorsports and has been there and done that in everything. You can ask questions, and just to have him be able to get advice from is just huge. It was definitely a proud moment.
Q. Have you heard from Keselowski at all? Are you allowed to celebrate, or do you have to tone it down until you get official word that you’re in the clear for tomorrow?
COLE CUSTER: I don’t know yet.
Q. Or are you telling him to find somebody else for tomorrow?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I don’t know yet. They’re trying to find my phone because apparently he’s tried to contact me, I guess. I don’t know yet. We’re going to find out here soon. I’m fine right now, so I think we’ll find out here in a minute and we’ll find out for tomorrow.
We’ll enjoy it a little bit, but if it needs to be, we’ll be there tomorrow ready to work.
I think he’s had the kid from what I’ve heard. I don’t know. But it’s cool that he has a kid and everything is good there.
Q. Tony talked a little bit about how proud he was of the way that you handled kind of the demotion this year and everything. This has to be validating for you. Obviously that can’t be fun to go through that, but to do what you’ve done this year, what’s it mean to you?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, it means the world. You get kind of knocked down a little bit. When you go to the Cup level, it’s so competitive. Things can just not go right for a few years. It’s just how it is, how tight it is.
I worked with a great group of guys up there, but how it all works out, sometimes it just doesn’t work.
To come down here and still have people believe in you, work with J.T. and really grind it out… We really didn’t start out the year very good. We came here the first race and we sucked. We ran horrible.
To come back here and really just bring a bullet and everything that we’ve learned throughout the year and communicated, I probably asked J.T. 10,000 questions this year, and he’s truly looked into every single one.
I’ve never had somebody who — I’m a pain to work with. I’ll admit it, I’m a pain to work with. I ask a lot of questions and I overthink a lot of things. He looks into every single one.
I think we both care so much about what we do and being able to bring a fast car to the racetrack, and I just can’t thank him enough for believing in me.
Q. Tony said he watched your leadership role grow off the track. Do you agree that that happened?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I think being able to work with a group — we were a pretty young group. J.T. has been around for a long time, but obviously a rookie crew chief this year. And our engineers are younger guys.
But being a part of a new group and being able to build that throughout the year, that’s one of the most proud things I’ve been a part of because I feel like they leaned on me to be a leader.
I feel like it’s a very proud moment to be able to build what we built this year and go from a team that was solid at the start of the year but build it into a championship team now.
Q. Those two restarts that were at the end when the caution came out, understandably you were a bit frustrated over the radio. Were you kind of expecting those cautions to come out, and if so, how were you able to refocus and just kind of tackle the task at hand?
COLE CUSTER: It’s tough. You just can’t control it. The caution came out with five to go or something.
You’re frustrated because it’s like, Man, we had him covered there. But it is what it is. We’ve done this long enough where you’ve got to keep your cool and you’ve got to take a deep breath, and it is what it is. You’ve got to make it happen that next one, and it about didn’t happen. It about went south.
We were able to keep our calm still after that and make it happen on the last lap. It was a pretty proud moment for all of us.
Q. Tonight was much different than last night, obviously. What would you attribute that to?
COLE CUSTER: You know, honestly, I’ll say the Championship 4 in this deal raced so well. John Hunter, Justin Allgaier, Sam Mayer, everybody raced so well. We raced hard, but we didn’t hit each other. That’s what people should really look at.
We were able to make moves and race our tails off and still not wreck each other. It’s just hats off to everybody. And I think everybody in that Championship 4 deserves to be a champion. Justin Allgaier is just an unbelievable race car driver and deserves to be a champion. John Hunter also. What they’ve done this year is unbelievable. Sam Mayer, how much he’s growing.
It’s awesome to be a part of that Championship 4, and very proud to be a part of it.
Q. Cole, you were talking about J.T. and asking him all the questions, but he’s been there from day one and watched you grow up. Did that give you more of a comfort level, or how did you feel about that?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I mean, I’ve known J.T. since I was five years old. His first job in the top three series was with Jason Leffler in 2004 with Haas CNC Racing. I was around there because my dad Joe worked at the team. He’s just always been a Hickory boy and he’s just the nicest guy in the world.
I knew I wanted to work with him this year, and because he believed in you. Like he’s such an awesome person, and he’s so smart, too. He won’t say it, but he’s one of the smartest people out there.
Being able to bounce ideas off him and have someone who truly believes in you is a huge part of it.
Q. (No microphone.)
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I think he helped a lot with just how you want to have that relationship go. You need somebody who believes in you.
As a race car driver, you need to be involved, but you also don’t know everything that goes into it because you’re not the one working on it. You have to know your place a little bit.
But at some point you’re the one holding the steering wheel, and unfortunately you’re the only person out there that can tell them what’s going on.
Having that relationship go right and really be able to bounce ideas off each other is very important.
Q. Of course this was your first oval win since you came back. You won at Portland and Chicago. Knowing how much was on the line, you wanted to win at this track. Then the overtime put you in a spot where you had to deliver. Tony was proud of you for being mature and going about it that was the polar opposite of Friday.
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I think it was kind of frustrating this year because we were almost like the road course guys. Like we could be good on road courses but we couldn’t make it happen on the ovals.
Just what these guys have done in the Playoffs is just unbelievable. We’ve showed up at Bristol and we were a top 5, could have won that race. Every single race in the Playoffs we probably could have won.
To be able to really turn it around and make it happen was unbelievable. That’s just a testament to everybody at our team. I think J.T., Davin Restivo, he doesn’t get enough credit here, but he was my engineer in 2019, and when we won a lot of races, and he’s Riley’s crew chief now, and he’s a huge part of what we’re doing.
Mike Shiplett, him and Davin came over in ’19 and they’re a huge part of what we’ve done here. Richard Boswell, Jabo, Jeff Meendering, everybody that’s put into this team has really grown us into what we are now.
Q. Going into Turn 3 about halfway through the race, the sun was setting. How difficult was it to see going into Turn 3, and how drastically did the track change over the course of the night?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, it definitely got tighter and tighter as the night went. Especially when it went tonight, there was so much grip, you’re just pushing it into the corner harder so that just puts more load on the right front tire, I guess, and just made it all tighter. We had to adjust the car. Once we adjusted the car, we were right back where we needed to be.
But we had to keep up with the racetrack, because it definitely changed a little bit through the night. The resin came in. We haven’t seen that all weekend, but it finally came in, and you had to try and keep up with it.
Q. We saw you get kind of a prolonged chance to sit in your car when you pulled into Victory Lane. What emotions were running through your head and what were you thinking?
COLE CUSTER: Just a lot of relief. It’s such a pressure situation. You’re just trying to keep your cool during that whole time. Just a lot of pride in what our team has done. It’s just a great day of being able to build what we built this year and really close it off how we wanted to.
Q. I suppose from the very first race from Daytona on to the last one here in Phoenix, you and your teammates did a lot of development for the car. Can you address the areas in which the car has been improved until the very last race?
COLE CUSTER: I can’t tell you that. Then everybody would know (laughing).
No, I think it’s just a lot of little things. It’s not like one thing like, Oh, man, we just found something. It was just a lot of little things of how you — springs and shocks and just what we’re doing, heights, things like that. I think just little things like that, they add up.
And we’ve really just started to put it all together because it’s so tough. You look at the Cup Series, a half a second covers the whole field. It’s just those little things matter a lot in what you’re doing. It’s not like somebody finds something unbelievable. It is just those little things. And once you find them, it makes a big difference.
Q. (No microphone.)
COLE CUSTER: Yep, Xfinity next year, yep.
Q. (No microphone.)
COLE CUSTER: I think we’re running the same body. I think Ford is running the same body next year for Xfinity. I think. I’ll have to make sure on that.
THE MODERATOR: The Mustang that was unveiled was just for the Cup Series.
Q. When Tony was in here, he said he had to look at the replay on the board like three or four times and still had not figured out how you did what you did on that restart lap. Can you go through what you remember of that, what you did and how you got down to the prime real estate entering Turn 3?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, well, when the 7 and the 20 both were — I was in the middle. I was pretty much in a no-win situation. At that point I realized that. Then I was like, I’ve just got to make the corner here, make sure I do something decent because if I just drive it in there, I’m just going to wreck. I knew I was in a no-win situation, so I tried to make it good on exit.
From there, I tried to downshift it, get a good exit and get a good run into Turn 3. From there I had a good run in there so I could just try and take it from the 7 car, and from there our car was good and was able to turn and make it happen on exit.
Q. I look at what John Hunter did, and he moved up to the Cup Series, didn’t work out, and he went back and he worked his tail off. I see you running around the neighborhood, see you doing the right things. If things don’t work out the first time, is there something to be said for never giving up? It must have been hell for you to take a step back, but to get a championship, which was something you never had on your resume, to take these steps, when you do get back to Cup, will it make the journey more rewarding?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I think that’s what you learn as you get older and stuff. You’ve just got to keep working at it.
When you’re younger, you’re just trying to figure it all out. But once you get older, it’s trying to figure out those little areas where you’re missing it a little bit. I think having this year where you get knocked down a little bit and you’re able to sit back and really realize what you need to do better.
I think I tried to improve all those things this year, trying to work with my team and really get what we needed in the cars, and you’ve just got to keep working at it.
I don’t know if I’ve been the guy who always has the most talent really. I think I can drive a car, but I feel like if you just work at it enough, you can go out and if you have a good group around you, you can go out and make some stuff happen.
Q. Great night for SHR, Riley with another top-5 finish to close out the season. How much have you guys leaned on each other throughout the season but especially in the playoffs?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, huge. Riley has been a huge part of this. If they had made the Playoffs, I would have been scared. They had a lot of bad luck this year. But they made it happen in the Playoffs.
It’s cool to see. He’s really putting it all together. Just how our teams have worked together this year, too. Just being able to bounce ideas off each other and really be able to get our cars better and better and better has been huge.
He’s been easy to work with, too. Always wants to talk about things, isn’t arrogant. He always wants to be better.
I think it’s definitely been a good relationship, and they’re a huge part of being able to — without them, we wouldn’t know half the information we have now. We wouldn’t be where we’re at.