Cole Custer doesn’t know how to act his age, and that was a really good thing Saturday.
At 16 years, seven months and 28 days, Custer should be taking Driver’s Ed. Instead he taught a bunch of truck-racing veterans how to hold a lead and then ace a restart, winning the UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Starting out on the pole he led all 102 laps before this race’s first caution. Then things got wild late – four cautions in the last 28 laps – and Custer had to overtake points leader Matt Crafton on a restart.
He made the pass, found clean air out-front and became the youngest winner in the history of the Camping World Truck Series.
What makes Custer, who drives a Chevrolet for Haas Racing Development, such a prodigy?
“He adapts, he learns, he doesn’t say much. He’s like a computer,” said Custer’s crew chief, Joe Shear, Jr.
Custer pulled a veteran move in getting past Crafton, who had the race’s strongest car, but who had to go to the back at the race’s start after his crew discovered an electrical problem post-qualifying.
“I got (Crafton’s) timing down on the restarts,” Custer described. “I could see how Matt was going to the gas, so I was able to get past him.”
Custer said he so closely mimicked Crafton’s pace that he would have had to hit the brake had Crafton slowed any. But he had down the pattern and pulled away. Darrell Wallace Jr., edged out Crafton for second and Custer took the victory, leading 148 total laps.
Shear and Custer made a gutsy move during one of those cautions, taking on four tires when others went with two. It cost Custer track position, but they had confidence his driving ability would prevail if he had the freshest set of tires.
“I think there were like 30 laps to go. I really thought everyone would take four on,” Shear recalled. “When we were putting the left-sides on and everyone else pulled out, I thought, ‘Ah-oh.’ “
Custer, raised in California, started driving go-carts at four years old, working his way through various midget cars from five through 12. At 14 he began late models. By the time he was old enough for a real driver’s license, he’d already caught NASCAR’s notice.
Shear is particularly impressed with how level-headed Custer has remained in the face of all the attention.
“I think it’s just hilarious how humble he is about how his career is starting,” Shear said. “It’s amazing how quickly he’s adapted. I’m looking forward to many more of these.”
“Everybody wants to go to (Sprint) Cup,” Custer said. “I mean, who wouldn’t?’
Sounds very realistic, even if you haven’t yet had your junior prom.