Still in the infant stages of an already successful stint on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, California native Cole Custer has wasted little time in making his mark at Gateway Motorsports Park.
As a 16-year-old with no fear, Custer made history two years ago when he toured the 1.25-mile oval in a then track record time of 136.426 mph to earn the pole position in the Driving for Lineman 200, a race where he would eventually finish sixth.
Then, a year ago he sat through a two-hour rain delay before the race, then took advantage of a mistake by Tyler Reddick on the last restart to claim his second Camping World Truck Series win. The margin of victory over Spencer Gallagher: 0.871-seconds.
So what drama does the now 18-year-old Ladera Beach, Calif. native have planned for the ‘16 Drivin’ for Lineman 200 on Saturday?
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“We just want to go in and run a clean race and give ourselves a chance,” Custer said on Wednesday. “We really enjoy racing at Gateway. It’s a straight, fast track and we’ve been able to have two good races there the last couple of years. We’re looking forward to coming back to and hopefully having another good result.”
Currently 11th in the Camping World Truck Series point standings and trailing two-time defending series champion Matt Crafton by 65 points, Custer looks to carry the momentum of a second-place finish at Iowa Speedway last week. He will be one of the drivers to beat at Gateway Motorsports Park when the flag is dropped at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Lineman 200 will be proceeded by the Vatterott College Silver Crown Showdown (USAC Silver Crown Series) 60 lap race at 3:30 p.m. and the ARCA Midwest 50, which is set to begin at 6 p.m.
Gates open at 8 a.m. with the first Camping World Truck Series practice session set to begin at 8:30 a.m.
Seizing his opportunity
After earning the No. 2 qualifying spot at Gateway a year ago, Custer remained in contention for the title from start-to-finish but was destined for a top three finish until Reddick missed his shift on the final restart.
Seizing the opportunity, Custer took the lead and finished just ahead of runner-up Gallagher.
“It wasn’t an easy night. We struggled a little bit the entire race,’’ Custer recalled. “But I saw my chance on the last restart and just basically went for it. Fortunately, it worked out for us and we were able to win the race.’’
Things have worked out nicely for Custer, who began racing quarter midgets at the age of 4 and in 2011 won the USAC National Focus Young Guns title.
Custer then joined the K&n Pro Series East in 2013 and at 15 became the youngest winner in series history when he won at Iowa Speedway.
Custer began his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in 2014 when he joined Haas Racing Development, where he ran nine NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events. On Sept. 20, he won the UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway from the pole, becoming the youngest winner in the history of NASCAR’S national touring series at 16 years, 7 months and 28 days.
Now after running in 10 events a year ago where he finished 22nd in the final point standings, Custer is running his #00 Chevrolet Silverado for JR Motorsports.
“There is more stability driving on the (Camping World Truck) series this year on a full-time basis in that I know where I’m going to compete each week. I’m getting used to the tracks that we run and learning a little more from week-to-week,’’ Custer said. “This is a competitive series and each week we’re all trying to beat each other.
“But at the same time, the response I’ve gotten from the other drivers has been great. When I’ve had questions, they’ve been there to answer them to help me out.’’
Custer will make his ninth start of the season in the 32-car field on Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park. After a slow start in his first three races where he fared no better than 17th, Custer has three top 10 finishes in his last five races.
“We didn’t get off to a very good start. We just didn’t run well early,’’ Custer said. “But in the last four or five weeks, we’ve started putting together some strong races and good finishes. LIke I said, we ran well last week at Iowa and hopefully its a good indication of things to come as we move forward in the next few weeks and the rest of the season.’’
Fan Fest on Friday
A fan fest will be held Friday at the track, with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series garage open to the fans from 5-6 p.m.
The “Party at the ‘plex” will run from 6-10 p.m., with $20 kart rides at the Gateway Kartplex. NASCAR drivers Ben Rhodes, Cameron Hayley, John Wes Townley and John Hunter Nemechek have RSVP’d to race against the fans.
Special discount for military
GEICO and Gateway Motorsports Park will be offering a 60 percent discount on tickets to active military personnel as well as armed forces veterans and their families.
Each discounted ticket will also include one food voucher which is good for a bottle of water and hot dog, and may be redeemed at any concession stand on the day of the race. It also includes one cold pit pass and one discounted coupon for the Gateway Kartplex, which can be used anytime throughout the year.
For tickets and information, persons should call Gateway Motorsports Park at (618) 215-8888 or by visiting www.gatewaymsp.com.
NASCAR DRIVIN' FOR LINEMEN 200 BROUGHT TO YOU BY ALTEC SCHEDULE
Friday, June 24
5-6 p.m. -- NASCAR garages open to the public.
6-10 p.m. -- Party at the 'Plex at the Gateway Kartplex -- performance by STEELE, kart racing, entertainment. NASCAR drivers have been invited to participate.
Saturday, June 25
8 a.m. -- Spectator gates open.
8:30-9:25 a.m. -- First NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice.
9 a.m. -- Inaugural Buckingham "Climbin' For Linemen" competition (infield near Turns 3 and 4).
9:30-10:20 a.m. -- First USAC practice.
10:30-11:55 a.m. -- Final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice.
12:30 p.m. -- USAC qualifying.
1 p.m. -- ARCA Midwest Tour practice.
1:45-2:30 p.m. -- NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver autograph session (infield area).
1:45 p.m. -- STEELE performs during driver autograph session.
2:15 p.m. -- ARCA Midwest Tour qualifying.
3 p.m. -- USAC driver introductions.
3:30 p.m. -- Vatterott College Silver Crown Showdown (USAC Silver Crown Series, 60 laps, 75 miles).
4:45 p.m. -- NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Drivin' For Linemen 200 Brought To You By Altec qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds).
6 p.m. -- Illinois Lottery Presents ARCA Midwest 50 (40 laps, 50 miles, timed event).
7 p.m. -- NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Drivin' For Linemen 200 Brought To You By Altec driver introductions, followed by national anthem, sung by Bo Steele of STEELE.
7:30 p.m. -- NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Drivin' For Linemen 200 Brought To You By Altec (160 laps, 200 miles).