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Cole Custer glad to not make any headlines in Cup debut

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One of the more surreal moments of Cole Custer‘s Cup debut came in the middle of Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Looking out the windshield of his No. 51 Ford, Custer bore down on none other than seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

“It was definitely kind of surreal racing against some of those guys out there,” Custer told NBC Sports two days after his 25th-place finish in the Pennzoil 400.

When Johnson made his Cup debut in October 2001 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Custer was 3 years old.

Now 20, Custer is the latest member of NASCAR’s youth movement at the Cup level, albeit one race for now. Custer’s full-time job is driving Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 00 Ford in the Xfinity Series.

After starting 30th, Custer quickly found out his level of aggression in the lower series won’t cut it in the premier series.

Cole Custer pits during his Cup debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

“The restarts are always pretty crazy so it’s hard to just jump right in there and be really aggressive when you don’t really know what the car’s going to be doing around 10 other cars,” Custer said. “Just getting used to that and what it felt like and everything. That was probably the biggest thing and really just trying to get used to the track bar adjuster and just really the whole weekend. I’ve never had to do a qualifying trim setup. Just the whole weekend in general was a new experience.”

It wasn’t his first time in a Cup car. Custer took part in a Jan. 31 – Feb. 1 organization test at the 1.5-mile track. Then he drove the No. 32 Ford owned by Go Fas Racing.

“I was definitely pretty nervous, just trying to get used to not really knowing what to expect,” Custer said. “You do all the preparation you can leading up to it, watching a lot of video and looking at data and stuff like that. But it still really isn’t enough because you still have to try and get a feel for the car and what it feels at the end of the straightaways and the corners and the motor. It’s just a lot to take in.”

On Sunday, he drove the No. 51 owned by Rick Ware Racing with support from SHR.

Custer attempted to approach the race like it was any other, despite the fact he was racing against drivers like Johnson for the first time on their level.

With his parents, sister, aunts and uncles present, Custer outran Daniel Suarez, rookie William Byron and AJ Allmendinger. Custer took the checkered flag in one piece while veterans Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray wrecked.

“For a first race I think it’s acceptable that we brought our car home,” Custer said. “Didn’t really have any scratches on it or anything.”

But it took until last November for Custer to be convinced he was worthy of competing in the Cup Series.

It came when he put together the most dominating performance of his young career in the Xfinity Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

After earning seven top 10s in the previous eight races, Custer led 182 of 200 laps and beat Sam Hornish Jr. by 15.4 seconds.

“When I was going into Xfinity last year I didn’t have the highest confidence or anything,” Custer said.

He attributed it to a lackluster final season in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016. He failed to win in 23 races and had five top fives. He had won one race in each of the previous two seasons as a part-time driver.

“By the end of (2017) I felt I had a decent amount of confidence and we won that race and that kind of makes you feel like you can kind of do it,” Custer said.

Custer believed a good day for his first outing would have been a top-20 finish. But he still managed to give Rick Ware Racing its best finish at a non-restrictor-plate track in 33 Cup starts (Justin Marks finished 12th in the Daytona 500).

Custer was surprised by one thing.

“It was actually not the hardest race in the world,” Custer said. “I thought it was going to be a lot harder. I thought the Xfinity race was actually a little harder than the Cup race, just because Saturday I was running around a lot more and had practices and qualifying and the race. So there was a lot more going on. The Cup race wasn’t too bad, I was surprised by that.”

As a native of Ladera Ranch, California, there was only one downside to his busy weekend.

He didn’t get the chance to enjoy his favorite fast food chain, In-N-Out Burger.

“I didn’t have any in Vegas because I was doing double duty, but I’m definitely going to get something next week in Fontana,” Custer said. “That’s always my No. 1 place to go.”

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Cole Custer to make Cup debut at Las Vegas

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Cole Custer will make his Cup debut with Rick Ware Racing in the March 4 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the team confirmed Wednesday.

The 20-year-old Custer, who is in his second full season in the Xfinity Series, will drive the No. 51 car. That car has a charter and is guaranteed a starting spot. Custer took part in the Cup test at Las Vegas last month.

Haas Automation will be Custer’s sponsor.

“This is a dream come true to compete in the Cup Series,” Custer said in a team release. “I can’t thank Rick Ware Racing and Haas Automation enough for the opportunity to race at Las Vegas. It’s going to be a new experience for me, but I feel that we can have a productive day by completing all the laps and seeing the checkered flag.”

Custer has two career starts at Las Vegas. He placed third in the 2016 Camping World Truck Series race and was 11th in last year’s Xfinity race.

Custer will drive a Ford for Rick Ware Racing. Justin Marks drove for Rick Ware Racing in the Daytona 500 when the team fielded a Chevrolet. Harrison Rhodes will make his Cup debut this weekend in Atlanta for the team. That car also will be a Chevrolet.

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Harrison Rhodes to make Cup debut at Atlanta

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Rick Ware Racing announced Thursday that Harrison Rhodes will drive the team’s No. 51 car next weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It will be Rhodes’ first Cup start.

The 24-year-old Rhodes has competed in the Xfinity Series during the past five seasons for different organizations.

“I can’t believe I have this opportunity to drive for Rick Ware Racing at Atlanta,” said Rhodes in a statement from the team. “I began my NASCAR career with Rick and now six years later I’ll have the chance to race on Sunday. It’s a blessing and a dream come true.”

A primary sponsor will be announced later.

“I’m all about giving chances,” explained Ware in a statement from the team. “There’s no doubt that Rick Ware Racing has built itself on giving opportunities to young, vibrant drivers. Harrison is no exception.
“Even though he doesn’t have any experience in Cup, he has turned countless laps in an Xfinity Series car which will make his transition to our No. 51 Chevrolet that much smoother.”

Even in a season without major changes, there’s much new in NASCAR

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Stage racing returns after its debut last year, but there are many changes for the 2018 NASCAR season. With cars on track Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, here’s a look at some of the notable changes this year:

DRIVERS

The rookie class features new names in iconic numbers. William Byron takes over the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports, while Darrell Wallace Jr. will drive the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Among those in new rides this year include Aric Almirola taking over the ride Danica Patrick had in the No. 10 at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Ryan Blaney moves to the No. 12 at Team Penske.

Paul Menard replaces Blaney in the No. 21 for the Wood Brothers.

Kasey Kahne joins Leavine Family Racing in the No. 95, taking over for Michael McDowell, who moved to Front Row Motorsports to take over the No. 34 car.

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Erik Jones joins Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 20 car.

Chase Elliott is back at Hendrick Motorsports but this year he’ll drive the No. 9 car.

SCHEDULE

MORE: 2018 NASCAR schedules for Cup, Xfinity & Camping World Truck Series

The regular season ends at Indianapolis, taking the spot previously held by Richmond.

The playoffs will have a different look. They open Sept. 16 in Las Vegas before heading to Richmond the following weekend. It marks the first time either track has been in NASCAR’s postseason. The first round ends at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the debut of its roval, which combines the track’s infield road course and high-speed oval.

Dover remains in the playoffs but moves out of the first round and will host the opening race of the second round.

Other changes include Richmond’s spring race returning to Saturday night and Dover’s spring event moves to the first weekend in May.

TEAMS

Richard Petty Motorsports has switched from Ford to Chevrolet and moved into a shop on the Richard Childress Racing campus. RPM also has an alliance with RCR.

Richard Childress Racing has cut from three to two teams and leased a charter to StarCom Racing, which is set for its first full-time season.

Team Penske adds a third Cup car to accommodate the addition of Ryan Blaney.

Rick Ware Racing will race the full schedule after leasing a charter from Richard Petty Motorsports.

Furniture Row Racing goes back to a one-car team this year after shutting its No. 77 operation and selling its charter to JTG Daugherty for that team’s No. 37 car.

RULES

MORE: An inside look at how the Hawkeye Inspection process works

NASCAR will debut a new inspection system this season. It’s unofficial name is the Hawkeye System, but NASCAR plans on announcing a name for it at a later date. The system will allow NASCAR greater scrutinize the entire car and also streamline the process. Some Ford drivers are hoping the new system keeps the manufacturers close since Ford has the oldest body compared to Toyota and Chevrolet.

Cup, Xfinity and Truck teams will be restricted to no more than five people over the wall to service the vehicle on a pit stop, eliminating one position.

Should a team change an engine in its primary car during Daytona Speedweeks for something other than crash damage, the team will be forced to start at the rear of their qualifying race (if the change takes place before then), start at the rear for the Daytona 500 and start at the rear of the field for the next race the car is entered.

No longer will a driver have to sit in their car on pit road while serving a timed penalty during a practice session. Those penalties will be served in the garage.

The phrase “encumbered” is a thing of the past, but the penalty remains.

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Justin Marks to drive No. 51 car in Daytona 500

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Rick Ware Racing and Premium Motorsports have aligned for Justin Marks to drive the No. 51 car in the Daytona 500.

Marks is guaranteed a starting spot because Rick Ware Racing has a charter, which is leased from Richard Petty Motorsports. Marks will drive a Chevrolet Camaro and be powered by ECR engines with sponsors Harry’s Shaving Products and Katerra on the car.

“Racing in the Daytona 500 is a dream come true,” Marks said in a statement from the team. “The team has taken a dramatic step forward for 2018 and I think we’re going to have some real good equipment for this year’s 500. Going down there in the race, without the drama of having to qualify, is going to relieve a lot of pressure and we can focus on our race car’s handling and race ability so were fully prepared for the event. Additionally, it’s awesome to welcome a new company, Harry’s, to NASCAR.  The car looks great, they’re excited, and it’s going to be fun to introduce NASCAR fans to a new way of shaving.”

This will be Marks’ fourth career Cup start and first in the 500. He has one victory in the Xfinity Series in 32 career starts.  Marks is competing fulltime in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Michael Shank Racing. He told “Tradin Paint” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he was looking at running Cup road course races this year.

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