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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

NASCAR teams, groups approved for millions in federal COVID-19 loans

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Several NASCAR teams and related organizations were approved for between $150,000 and $10 million in loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPE), according to data provided Monday.

The U.S. Small Business Administration posted a list of PPP loan data on the U.S. Department of the Treasury website. The Paycheck Protection Program was included in the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was established to help businesses weather the financial stress of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Among the many NASCAR teams, racetracks and related organizations (with data including the range of the loan and the number of jobs retained):

* Richard Childress Racing ($5-$10 million, 334 jobs)

* Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates ($2-5 million, 179 jobs)

* Roush Fenway Racing ($2-5 million, 179 jobs)

* Roush & Yates Racing Engines ($2-5 million, 192 jobs)

* JTG Daugherty Racing ($1-2 million, 88 jobs)

* GMS Racing ($1-$2 million, 89 jobs)

* Kyle Busch Motorsports ($1-$2 million, 71 jobs)

* JR Motorsports ($1-$2 million, 88 jobs)

* Germain Racing ($350,000-$1 million, 41 jobs)

* Richard Petty Motorsports ($350,000-$1 million, 43 jobs)

* Dale Earnhardt Inc. ($350,000-$1 million, 55 jobs)

* DGR-Crosley ($350,000-$1 million, 67 jobs)

* Premium Motorsports ($350,000-$1 million, 46 jobs)

* Pocono International Raceway ($350,000-$1 million, 142 jobs)

* Hattori Racing ($150,000-$350,000, 16 jobs)

* Jimmie Johnson Racing ($150,00-$350,000, 8 jobs)

* Motor Racing Outreach ($150,000-$350,000, 9 jobs)

* Rev Racing ($150,000-$350,000, 12 jobs)

* Starcom Racing ($150,000-$350,000, 20 jobs)

* Kaulig Racing ($350,000-$1 million, 36 jobs)

* Mesa Marin Raceway ($150,000-$350,000, 16 jobs)

* Bill McAnally Racing ($150,000-$350,000, 19 jobs)

* Young’s Motorsports ($150,000-$350,000, 0 jobs)

* JD Motorsports ($150,000-$350,000, 0 jobs)

In a statement accompanying the data, the SBA said the data was for businesses that were approved for PPP loans but “does not reflect a determination by SBA that the borrower is eligible for a PPP loan or entitled to loan forgiveness. All PPP loans are subject to SBA review, and all loans over $2 million will automatically be reviewed.”

Contributing: Nate Ryan

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Bump and Run: Should Cup race on the Indy road course?

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Should the Cup Series remain on the oval at Indy or should it move to the road course like Xfinity did this weekend?

Dustin Long: I’d rather see what the Next Gen car could do on the oval before abandoning that for the the road course. Stay on the oval for now.

Daniel McFadin: I’m firmly in the #MoreRoadCourses camp and Cup should give Indy’s a shot. It doesn’t need to replace the oval race, but Saturday’s Xfinity race was more memorable than any Brickyard 400 in my memory.

Jerry Bonkowski: Both. I think NASCAR should hold a weekend doubleheader at Indy next season (and beyond), with a road course race on Saturday and oval race on Sunday. For even added measure, switch them around for every other subsequent year.

Chase Briscoe said before the season started he felt he needed at least 8 Xfinity wins to move up to Cup. He now has five victories through 13 races. How many wins will he get this year?

Dustin Long: Twelve.

Daniel McFadin: I had my doubts Briscoe could get to eight wins, mostly because he’d never had more than one win in his previous two Xfinity seasons. But he arguably should be at six wins. I think he’ll at least get to nine wins.

Jerry Bonkowski: I can see him winning nine races at least … and maybe as many as 12. He is definitely on a roll and no one else is even close to him, not just in wins but overall performance.

Kyle Busch has one win in the last 38 Cup races. Does he win in any of the next four points races (Kentucky, Texas, Kansas and New Hampshire)?

Dustin Long: No. Team hasn’t shown elite level speed to contend for wins. He’s led 130 laps this season and 100 of those laps came at Bristol. Can’t lead, can’t win.

Daniel McFadin: I think he wins one of them. If he doesn’t, then his team will be on red alert when teammate Denny Hamlin is on a roll right now.

Jerry Bonkowski: I think Texas offers him the best opportunity to win at in the next four tracks. He’s won there three times there in his Cup career (he’s also won three times at New Hampshire, which would be my secondary choice for Busch). There’s just something about Texas that seems to bring out the best in Busch and the No. 18.

Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.