Cole Custer: ‘All the bugs worked out’ of Next Gen Car

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After racing around Dover International Speedway for more than 1,000 miles in four days, Cole Custer is “wore the hell out.”

Following two 311-mile Cup races over the weekend, the Cup rookie became the fifth driver to test NASCAR’s Next Gen car, making laps in the prototype around the 1-mile concrete oval.

Following two days of getting to know the car that will debut in 2022, while tired, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver observed there’s not much difference in what he’s been doing in the cockpit compared to his normal Cup car.

“I’m driving the car fairly similar to how you drive Dover every single time you come here,” Custer said Tuesday during a break in testing. “It’s just how much you can get away with. It’s going to be a matter what drivers can get away with more I guess. What driver can drive the car a little bit looser on the edge. What teams can figure out how to keep the cars turning without keeping them on edge. It’s going to be interesting to see who can adapt to it the best. But overall, it’s still the same kind of driving characteristics.”

The two-day test by NASCAR was its first for the Next Gen car since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March.

The car was previously tested:

Oct. 8-9, 2019 at Richmond with Austin Dillon

Dec. 9-10, 2019 at Phoenix with Joey Logano

Jan. 15-16, 2020 at Miami with Erik Jones

March 2-3, 2020 at Auto Club Speedway with William Byron

The car being tested Monday and Tuesday had a 750 horsepower engine and a few minor differences in the aeropackage compared to what Cup teams race over the weekend.

“The first few tests I think the biggest thing was just working the bugs out, finding out from track to track what was going to be the major issues,” Custer said. “So now I feel like we’ve got all the bugs worked out, we can go run competitive lap times. Now we’re just trying to figure out kind of what generally setup wise, what’s going to make it go faster, what’s going to make it gain lap time, what’s going to be best for the long run. Right now, we’re trying to knock out big picture things setup wise. Overall, I feel like it’s too early to tell how it’s going to turn in or how it’s going to work in traffic. We’re too early in the development right now.”

Custer, the second Ford driver to test the Next Gen car, said he was able to make laps comparable to what was produced during the doubleheader races at Dover.

“I think the fastest we’ve gone is a 23.8 (seconds),” Custer said. “I think in clean air you can go mid to high 23. I feel like we’re close and there’s a lot of differences in how the car travels. There’s a lot more travel in the car. It’s a lot higher up on the straightaways. It’s just trying to control that and figure out the best way to go about that.”

John Probst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Innovation, said the test was important because Dover is one of its highest load tracks.

“We want to put heat in the car and laps and mileage on the parts and pieces,” Probst said. “Our goal is to get 500 miles on the car this test and we finished Monday at 226, so we’re on a good pace.

“The most important thing for us is to validate what we think is going to happen. It’s important that when the team adjusts the car, it responds in a manner that is predictable. We’re in a good place in overall development of the car and now we can focus on handling and drivability. So far, so good.”

Custer said the “biggest” difference in the car for him is the steering and feeling of the tires.

“Just how they slip and how much you can get away with getting the car loose. It seems like, with how the steering is and how the tires are, you can’t really get away. And with how the aero is also, you can’t get away with driving the car sideways as much. It’s just little differences here and there.”

Probst said “the most important part of the project” now is getting manufacturer bodies approved by the end September.

“That is a really big milestone for us, and we’re on track to hit it. In terms of on-track testing, we still want to get to a superspeedway, and we’re looking at something at Daytona after the season ends. There is also significant enough interest that we may look into doing other on-track tests.”