CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 24:  NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Cole Custer poses for a photo during the 2017 Media Tour at the Charlotte Convention Center on January 24, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Cole Custer eager for jump to Xfinity Series with Stewart-Haas Racing

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Cole Custer is in a position that likely makes him the envy of many of his fellow young drivers – not to mention a lot of fans who dream about being race car drivers.

Custer, who turned 19 on Monday, is essentially having a brand new team being built around him. He’s moved up from the Camping World Truck Series (finished 10th last season) to a full-time Xfinity Series ride in 2017.

What’s more, it’s the first time Stewart-Haas Racing has built an Xfinity team since its formation. While Custer’s father, Joe, is former general manager at SHR (he’s now in a similar position with the organization’s Formula One team), this isn’t a case of nepotism.

No, the younger Custer has earned his way into an Xfinity ride with his talent, and it just so happens that it’s with the same team his father is an executive in.

Custer earned two wins, nine top-fives, 24 top-10s and five poles in 42 Truck races over the last three seasons.

He also made five scattered Xfinity starts in 2016, earning one top-five and a pair of top-10 showings.

But now in 2017, Custer moves up to NASCAR’s junior league – comparable to Minor League Baseball’s highest level, Triple-A.

While such a move may intimidate or be heady for another 19-year-old, it’s not for Custer. He’s been around racing his whole life and is ready to step up to the next level.

Even though he admits there will be some things to get used to, he’s up for the challenge. And with a new team that has a lot of experience among its members, Custer is cool, collected and, most importantly, confident.

“Coming from the Truck Series, it’s a new competition level,” he said Tuesday during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “I’m going to have to step up a little bit and it’s going to be a different challenge, but I think we can do it and we have a great team.

Custer is so confident in his own skill and his team’s ability that he’s already upgraded his expectations for the season, not fearful to boldly predict that if everything goes right, the new first-year team could wind up winning the Xfinity Series championship.

“I think so,” Custer said. “We have some great people that are smart and capable enough to do it. “At the start of the year, my expectations are a little bit lower, like just being in the top-10. But from what I’ve seen in the off-season, we have some awesome people that will make some fast cars and I think we’ll have a shot at it.”

Admittedly, there have been growing pains within the new team. While some members are SHR mainstays, there are also several new members to the organization. Trying to get them all to gel and mold together has been a challenge at times.

“It’s definitely been tough,” Custer said. “Our guys are working extremely hard right now, getting cars together. I can’t stress enough how hard they’re working.

“You’re creating a fab shop that never hung Xfinity bodies before. You learn how to do that and everything else that goes with it. It’s not easy but we have some awesome people that are really smart and that are going to get it together, so I think we’re going to have a strong team.”

While Custer has a literal luxury of having the minds of several drivers to draw from – including team co-owner Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick – it’s Kevin Harvick that Custer is leaning upon and trying to learn the most from.

“I’ve related to him more since he runs a lot of Truck and Xfinity races, so he can help with that,” Custer said. “He’s kind of my go-to guy right now, but there’s a lot of great drivers at Stewart-Haas, so if I get a little information from any of them, I think that would be a great thing.”

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NASCAR America live at 6 p.m. ET: Daytona 500 recap, Kurt Busch interview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America recaps all the major stories that came out of the 59th Daytona 500, which was won for the first time by Kurt Busch.

The episode airs from 6 – 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Krista Voda hosts with Dale Jarrett from Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton and Kyle Petty join them from Burton’s Garage.

Voda will interview Busch just under 24 hours after the biggest win of his NASCAR career.

If you can’t catch the show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500 winning car has a new home for the next year

59th Annual DAYTONA 500
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Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500-winning Ford Fusion has finally stopped rolling after adding an extra few hundred feet to its mileage log.

One day after capturing “The Great American Race,” the No. 41 was placed on permanent display for the next year at Daytona International Speedway’s Daytona 500 Experience Museum during Monday morning’s traditional race winner’s breakfast.

It was the first win for Stewart-Haas Racing in its first regular season race in Ford colors and power.

Check out some of the photos of the car and the festivities:

And then, last but not least, the Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 championship trophy is safely ensconced in its new home at Stewart-Haas Racing in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

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Atlanta to host 2,500th race in Cup history, last on current surface

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Photo courtesy Atlanta Motor Speedway
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This weekend’s NASCAR action at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with all three major series running, will provide some interesting storylines.

First and perhaps most important, Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 will be the last race ever held on the current track surface.

A complete repaving of the 1.54-mile high-speed quad oval track is slated to begin later this spring.

To make Sunday’s race all the more unique and momentous, it will also be the 2,500th race in Cup history.

AMS, which first opened in 1960, has had the same racing surface for the last 20 years, since its last repaving in spring 1997. That makes it the second oldest current surface in NASCAR.

During that time, it has played host to 31 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, 19 Xfinity Series races and 15 Camping World Truck Series events.

Among some of the highlights over the years on the outgoing surface:

* Dale Earnhardt’s 0.01-second margin of victory over Bobby Labonte in 2000. It would be Earnhardt’s 75th career Cup win and the second-to-last win of his storied career (won at Talladega that fall).

* In his third Cup start after the tragic death of Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, Kevin Harvick would take the re-numbered No. 29 to victory lane at Atlanta, capturing a 0.006-second margin of victory over Jeff Gordon.

* Carl Edwards’ first Cup win and the first of two wins for him in both Atlanta races in 2005.

* AMS’s first-ever night race in 2009.

* Sunday marks AMS’s 102nd 500-mile race. No other track on the circuit has hosted as many races of that length.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday could also be a big day for defending and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Having won both the 2015 and 2016 Cup races at AMS, Johnson is looking to become the first driver in track history to win three consecutive races there.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen won four times in as many years (1961 to 1964) at AMS, but they were not consecutive. Another Hall of Famer, Cale Yarborough, also won three straight spring races (1967 to 1969), but failed to win any of the fall races those same years at the track.

Johnson is also looking to extend his overall supremacy at the track, being the only active driver to have ever won there five times in a career (all on the current racing surface).

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most wins ever at AMS with nine triumphs.

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Alex Bowman driving for GMS Racing in Atlanta Truck race

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 05: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, walks through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 5, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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Alex Bowman isn’t getting much time off between NASCAR starts.

Two weeks after he drove Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s No. 88 in the Advance Auto Parts Clash, Bowman will make his first start this year in a race that counts. He will drive GMS Racing’s No. 24 truck in the Camping World Truck Series’ Active Pet Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bowman is filling in for Justin Haley, who at 17, is too young to race on tracks 1.5-miles long or bigger due to NASCAR rules.

The defending K&N East Pro Series champion, Haley turns 18 on April 28.

The race will only be Bowman’s second start in the Truck Series. He made his first in 2015 at Michigan International Speedway for JR Motorsports. He started 16th and finished 11th that day.

Bowman continues to capitalize on his performance last season when he helped fill in for Earnhardt in the No. 88 while he recovered from a concussion. Bowman made 10 starts in the No. 88, which included winning the pole for the fall race at Phoenix Raceway. That qualified him for the Clash, which he finished third in.

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