With the NASCAR Cup Series set to race at Circuit of the Americas for the first time, Cole Custer will use the supporting events to gain track experience. On Tuesday, Rick Ware Racing announced Custer will run the Xfinity Series‘ Pit Boss 250 in the #17 Ford Mustang.
Custer is no stranger to RWR. In 2018, he made his Cup début for the team in the #51 as part of a three-race schedule. While he never finished higher than twenty-fifth (first race at Las Vegas) in the three starts, considering as RWR is one of the weaker teams in the Cup Series, he surprised in his final start at Richmond when he qualified tenth. To date, Custer’s qualifying effort still marks the team’s best starting position in a Cup race by a wide margin; the second highest spot is twenty-first by Cody Ware at the Daytona Road Course in February.
“I am excited to have Cole behind the wheel of the #17 RWR entry for the upcoming race weekend at COTA,” team owner Rick Ware stated. “Cole is a great driver, and we were excited to work with him in 2018, when he made his NASCAR Cup Series début with RWR.”
RWR currently fields four Cup cars in addition to the #17 Xfinity Mustang. The latter is part of an alliance with SS-Green Light Racing and has been run by multiple drivers, all of whom also compete at the Cup level for RWR. The #17 is twenty-fourth in the owner standings.
“Obviously, when we first started looking at running COTA in the Xfinity Series, we were looking for another Ford team,” said Custer. “I made my NASCAR Cup Series début in 2018 with Rick Ware Racing, so SS-Green Light with Rick Ware Racing made sense.”
He raced full-time in the Xfinity Series from 2017 to 2019 with Stewart-Haas Racing, scoring nine wins with runner-up championship finishes in the final two years. Custer moved up to Cup with SHR in 2020, reaching the playoffs with a win as he garnered Rookie of the Year honours. Across the first twelve races in 2021, he is twenty-sixth in points with a best finish of tenth at Talladega.
While Custer has not made an Xfinity start since exiting the series, it is not unreasonable for Cup drivers to run races in the lower divisions at the same track to gain driving experience. Circuit of the Americas is a new addition to the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Truck Series schedules; while the weekend is one of the eight with practice and qualifying for Cup, double duty drivers feel they need all the track time they can get.
“COTA is one of the new tracks on the 2021 schedule and it’s a tough race track,” he added. “With limited practice, I wanted to log all the laps I could before Sunday. That’s the biggest reason why I’m trying to get as much seat time as I can.”
Custer’s best Cup run at a road course is ninth at the Charlotte Roval in 2020. He finished thirteenth at Daytona in February. In the Xfinity Series, he has nine top tens in eleven starts at such tracks with a highest finish of fourth at Road America in 2018; Road America is also a new Cup circuit for 2021. He has three top tens in as many Truck road races, nearly winning at Mosport in his last run in 2016. His most recent starts in what are now the ARCA Menards Series East and West have all also come at road courses.
The Pit Boss 250 will take place on Saturday, 22 May, with the Cup Series’ EchoPark Texas Grand Prix the next day.