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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Q&A with Stewart-Haas Racing rookie Cole Custer

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Cole Custer has two NASCAR wins in the last three years, but so far the 19-year-old’s racing career is defined by two moments that didn’t see him in victory lane.

When he tackled John Hunter Nemechek last year and a month ago when Austin Dillon got his own point across by slowly forcing Custer into the outside wall under caution at Phoenix.

The latter took place four races into Custer’s rookie campaign in the Xfinity Series. But ask him what his “Welcome to the Xfinity Series” moment was in his first 11 starts dating back to last year and the incident is downplayed as not being that big a deal.

“I guess you could say Phoenix a little bit,” Custer told NBC Sports. “I honestly don’t know. There hasn’t really been a huge moment where anything huge has happened.”

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Two races later, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver achieved the biggest statistical moment of his short Xfinity career. He earned his first top five at Texas Motor Speedway, which surprised Custer given the 1.5-mile track’s recent repave and reconfiguration.

“I didn’t think I was the best at going to new tracks and new surfaces,” he said. “I think since we had such a great car and I adapted to the surface pretty good, we ended up having a fast car from the get go, really, and were able to have a solid day.”

It made him the second rookie to earn a top five this year after William Byron at Phoenix. The result came in the sixth race of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity program.

The following Q&A had been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: Since you’re going to be at Bristol this week, if you were competing in the Cup race what would you choose as your introduction song?

Custer: That’s a tough one. I wish they did it for the Xfinity Series. You definitely have to think about it a lot before you choose. I don’t know, off the top of my head. Maybe something like 21 Pilots. I really like their music. … Maybe “Ride” by 21 Pilots or something.

NBC Sports: What’s the most emotional you’ve gotten about a sporting event that wasn’t auto racing?

Custer: Probably (Carolina) Panthers’ games back when they were terrible. I was probably a bigger Panther fan when they weren’t good than when they are good, kind of like right now. I would get really mad. It would ruin my whole day when they would lose.

NBC Sports: Why do you think you had stronger emotional reactions when they were horrible than when they were good and going to the Super Bowl.

Custer: I don’t know, its frustrating when people make mistakes. It’s frustrating losing.

NBC Sports: What’s your least favorite part of race day?

Custer: Maybe right before qualifying, you’re pretty nervous just cause you have to lay down a fast lap in a short amount of time. That’s probably the most nerve-wracking.

NBC Sports: What’s the biggest difference for you going from JR Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing?

Custer: They’re both great organizations, have great people. Stewart-Haas has a lot of great people, a lot of great resources. I think they build a lot of fast cars. I think having Tony (Stewart) around and seeing him and how much he helps and cares, that’s pretty awesome and seeing all the racers here. It’s awesome to see.

NBC Sports: What’s been the biggest hurdle for the team in getting this season underway and this program started?

Custer: Pretty much just everything. We had to build a team from nothing. Having to get everything in place and build brand new cars and having to do all this stuff, it’s just not easy for anyone to do and let alone be fast when you go to the race track. I think we did a great job channeling all of it.

NBC Sports: You’ve gotten to race with Kevin Harvick a couple of times this year. What’s been a lesson you’ve learned from him that’s helped you on the track?

Custer: Probably just being patient during the races. He helps me every week in going to new race tracks and giving me advice on what his experiences have been there.

NBC Sports: What’s it been like getting to know your crew chief, Jeff Meendering, through these first few races?

Custer: It’s been great. He has a lot of background and a lot of knowledge. He’s a really smart guy and really level-headed. I think we go well together. He’s given me some really fast cars this year. I just have to learn how to bring things home clean and not making any huge mistakes during the race and I think we’ll have some good finishes. He’s definitely one of the best, though.

NBC Sports: How has your relationship with Tony Stewart grown over the last few years?

Custer: He’s just been awesome. He’s helped me so much in just communicating with my team and giving me advice and he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. You see him on TV and he’s a little bit different than what he actually is. He’s really soft-spoken, a really nice guy and one of the best. It’s been awesome to work with him.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Busch. He puts last week’s disappointment behind him with another fast car and (this time) a clean day in the pits.

Dustin Long

Denny Hamlin. He sweeps New Hampshire and Toyota continues its dominance at this track.

Daniel McFadin

Kyle Larson. After charging through the field from the rear in July and finishing second, the No. 42 team finishes the job today.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kevin Harvick. He hasn’t been heard from much recently, but this is the kind of track Harvick is at his best. He wins and moves on to the Round of 12.

Today’s Cup Series race at New Hampshire: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – The middle race of the first round of the playoffs offers teams that had a bad start a chance to recover or fall further behind.

The pressure builds with the 16-team field cut to 12 after next weekend’s race at Dover.

Here are the details for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern):

START: Marc Del Vecchio, chief technology officer, ISM Connect, will give the command to start engines at 2:07 p.m. Green flag is set for 2:15 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 300 laps (317.4 miles) around the 1.058-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Cup garage opens at 8:30 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Marine Corps Veteran, “The Singing Trooper,” Daniel M. Clark will perform the Anthem at 2:01 p.m., followed by a flyover from two F-15C Eagles from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race at 2 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 1:30 p.m. The Performance Racing Network radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. on goprn.com and affiliates. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 81 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin led 54 of 301 laps to win the July race. Kyle Larson placed second. Martin Truex Jr. was third. Kevin Harvick led the final six laps to win this race last year. Matt Kenseth was second. Kyle Busch placed third.

 STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup

 

Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer tied at top of Xfinity playoff standings

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Justin Allgaier and Cole Custer are tied for the top spot in the Xfinity playoff standings after the playoff opener at Kentucky Speedway.

Each driver has 2,057 points.

Allgaier finished third after bouncing back from losing a tire on Lap 19 and going two laps down. He was two laps down for 27 laps and one lap down for 30 before getting back on the lead lap.

Custer, who finished fifth, won the first two stages of the race, earning two playoff points in the process.

The top five in points are Allgaier, Custer, Elliott Sadler (-2), Daniel Hemric (-5) and William Byron (-6).

Click here for the points standings.

Results from Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway

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Tyler Reddick scored his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win, leading a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Reddick beat teammate Brennan Poole by 14.5 seconds in the playoff opener.

Reddick is the seventh different winner in the last seven series races. He led twice for 66 laps. Reddick had not led any laps until Saturday night.

Playoff contender Justin Allgaier rallied from two laps down after a right front tire went down early in the 200-lap race to finish third. Ryan Preece placed fourth. Rookie Cole Custer, who won both stages, finished fifth.

Click here for race results