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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

Stewart-Haas Racing makes pit crew changes to all four Cup teams

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Stewart-Haas Racing has made changes to all four of its pit crews heading into Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NBC Sports has confirmed.

The changes come with two of the organization’s four teams qualified for the playoffs through wins — Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer — and Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola in position to make the playoffs via points.

The changes:

— Shayne Pipala becomes the front tire changer for Harvick’s team. He replaces Eric Maycroft, who moves to Michael McDowell’s team (Stewart-Haas Racing provides the pit crew for that Front Row Motorsports team).

— Ira Jo Hussey becomes the front tire changer for Bowyer’s team. He replaces Daniel Coffey.

— Matt Holzbaur becomes the tire carrier for Bowyer’s team. He replaces Josh Sobecki. Holzbaur had been with Michael McDowell’s team.

— Daniel Coffey moves to Almirola’s team as front tire changer. Coffey replaces Ryan Mulder.

— Ryan Mulder moves to Busch’s team as front tire changer. He replaces Shayne Pipala.

The changes come after Bowyer expressed his displeasure with his pit crew’s performance last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, saying:

“Can’t … maintain the position one … damn time on pit road. It’s about … ridiculous. I’m tired of it.

“I’ve had enough. Three spots every … damn time I come down pit road.”

At Chicagoland, Harvick led going into the final pit stop but got beat by Kyle Busch, who went on to win the race. Harvick finished third.

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Ben Rhodes fastest qualifier at Eldora

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Ben Rhodes posted the fastest lap in qualification for the Eldora Dirt Derby with a lap of 86.801 mph, but he will have to wait until after his qualification race to know if he will lead the field to green. With his fastest lap, Rhodes will be credited with winning the pole.

He beat dirt midget racer Logan Seavey (86.747 mph) by .013 seconds. Seavey is making his Camping World Truck Series debut.

Tyler Dippel (86.368), Grant Enfinger (86.146) and Stewart Friesen (85.997) round out the top five.

Wendell Chavous (81.919) and Cody Coughlin (86.264) hit the wall during their qualification runs. Chavous qualified 33rd. Coughlin qualified 24th.

Points leader Johnny Sauter posted a time of 81.908 mph and was 34th among the 39 trucks that took time.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Kyle Busch joins Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features a guest appearance by Kyle Busch.

Rutledge Wood will host with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton joining Busch from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

  • We’re live from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte for another edition of Wednesdays with Dale Jr. Today, we’ll be joined 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch.
  • The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota Camry will talk about his 2018 season. He currently leads the Cup Series in race wins (5) and playoff points (30). He’ll discuss being part of the “Big Three” along with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. and how this group of champions have separated themselves from the rest of the field.
  • What are his thoughts entering this weekend’s race at New Hampshire?
  • Busch will also give his take on several other topics, including tonight’s Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway. Kyle Busch Motorsports has three trucks in the field. Should NASCAR add a dirt race to either the Cup or XFINITY Series? We’ll get his answer tonight.
  • Plus, Kyle and Dale Jr. will answer questions provided by the fans who use the hashtag #WednesDale
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online 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 enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

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

5-hour Energy to end NASCAR involvement at end of season

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Furniture Row Racing announced Wednesday that it is seeking sponsorship of the No. 78 car for next season with the announcement that 5-hour Energy will not return after this year.

5-hour Energy became the major co-primary sponsor this season on the No. 78 team with Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats for 30 Cup races. 5-hour Energy joined Furniture Row Racing in 2017, serving as a majority primary sponsor on the No. 77 car with Erik Jones.

Wednesday’s announcement comes just days after reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. won at Kentucky Speedway for his fourth Cup win of the year.

5-hour Energy has been a primary sponsor in NASCAR for nearly a decade, including the seven in Cup.

Rise’ Meguiar, President of Sales for Living Essentials, parent company of 5-hour ENERGY, issued a statement on the business decision.

“Since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2017, the team has delivered on every promise. In addition to being a championship team, winning races and putting 5-hour ENERGY in victory lane multiple times, they have also become part of our family.  We cannot thank Barney Visser, Joe Garone, Martin and the entire Furniture Row Racing team enough for the pride they have given us.  They are a first-class group on and off the track.  Although 5-hour ENERGY has made the business decision to leave NASCAR, we will be fans and friends for life, and we look forward to finishing strong in 2018.”

Said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing, in a statement:

“I want to first send a sincere thank you to everyone at 5-hour Energy for being an excellent and loyal partner. The way 5-hour Energy has activated its programs over the years demonstrated a commitment and creativity as a NASCAR race team sponsor. We understand that companies do change business strategies, but friendships last forever and that’s how we feel about 5-hour Energy.”

“Being a perennial championship contending team with a talented driver in Martin, Furniture Row Racing continues to be committed in offering a new sponsor not only success on the racetrack but also the benefit of a strong marketing platform with our powerful team of partners – Bass Pro Shops, Auto-Owners Insurance, Toyota, Furniture Row and Denver Mattress.”

This decision by 5-hour Energy comes as Truex’s contract with Furniture Row Racing ends after this season. He was asked last weekend at Kentucky about where things stood with a new contract.

“We’ve got some stuff to figure out, for sure,” Truex said. “I don’t plan on doing anything different. Just give the team some time to figure things out. We’re all kind of trying to figure it all out together so we can make it happen.”

So what needed to be figured out?

“Just sponsorship commitments and all the stuff that goes along with that,” Truex said. “Figuring out how much money we have to spend, when do we get it, how much are we getting and where can we spend it. Just trying to figure out all the details honestly. There’s a lot of puzzle pieces to be put together that we haven’t finished yet. Honestly, we haven’t been in a big hurry to get it done. In due time.”

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