The light has come on for Cole Custer in 2019. Whether it’s simply a maturing driver or maybe even the addition of Mike Shiplett as his crew chief, Custer has arrived as a top fight prospect in the NASCAR world.
After a pedestrian two seasons of Xfinity competition, Custer has exploded for three quick wins so far this season. His latest coming at Pocono, capitalizing on a mistake from Tyler Reddick in the final corner of the race.
— Vincent Bruins (@VincentJBruins) June 1, 2019
Custer dominated at Richmond, leading 122 laps after Christopher Bell ran spun. He then led 155 laps at Dover before getting shuffled late in the going. Custer was even able to steal a win from the hands Kyle Busch at California earlier in the year.
Custer has already topped his laps led total from 2018, leading 464 laps in just 12 races. It took him 33 races last season to lead 389.
He and his No. 00 Ford have come up to the level of Christopher Bell, who was the class of the field in 2018. Bell now has company in the form of Custer and Tyler Reddick, creating a ‘Big Three’ in the Xfinity Series that has been wildly entertaining to watch so far this season.
What’s next for Cole Custer?
Custer’s emergence brings up an interesting question — what in the world does Stewart-Haas Racing do with him in 2020? Assuming he continues at this pace, Custer’s production is going to demand a Cup ride next season, just like the situation of Christopher Bell. Similar to Bell, there’s no obvious destination for Custer.
Stewart-Haas is full at the Cup level with Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez and Clint Bowyer. The only potential opening could be the No. 14, with Bowyer’s deal reportedly up at the end of this season. SHR has struggled to put full seasons of sponsorship together for the now 40-year-old Bowyer. Still, Bowyer won two races in 2018 and currently sits 10th in the 2019 standings. It’s reasonable to think that SHR would want to keep Bowyer around for a few more seasons.
If they do opt to go that route, where does that leave Custer? Could he hop to another Ford team? Or would Stewart explore the idea of a satellite operation with someone like Rick Ware? Custer has made a handful of starts in the No. 51 for Ware, with SHR support. We’ve seen Joe Gibbs expand his operation over the years, taking in teams like Furniture Row Racing and now Leavine Family Racing — could Stewart do the same with his team?
That remains to be seen. But for the 21-year-old Cole Custer, his Cup window is officially open.