Ford Performance NASCAR: Cole Custer Race-Winning Press Conference
COLE CUSTER: We just had an extremely good car the whole weekend really. I mean, we came down here and tested a couple months ago, and really the second that we hit the track, we knew we were going to be really good the whole time. Really this whole year we've had so much speed, it's just what can happen during the race or how the track is going to change or just what's going to go wrong. I think we really did a good job this weekend trying to get our car to race good and trying to just ‑‑ comfortable to drive and move around a little bit, so I think that's the biggest thing that we tried to do, and obviously our car was unbelievable and can't thank everybody enough, and I think it's a perfect way to end the season.
JEFF MEENDERING: Well, like Cole said, we tested here, and it almost goes back to that test. The entire test we were a tenth to two tenths quicker than anybody else that was at that test. Honestly it was great preparation by all of our guys in our shop, our engineers. They did a wonderful job preparing for that test, and just obviously it carried over.
TONY STEWART: These guys had an awesome race car, Cole, and proud of the team, proud of the pit stops. The pit stops were awesome today. Luckily we didn't need to worry about that too much because didn't get any cautions. But just Cole did an awesome job. I mean, it's just phenomenal to see when he got out on the lead like that. He just did such a good job of taking care of his tires in the last half of every run. It really showed up on the stopwatch. He just would drive away further and further the last half of the run. He did an awesome job of taking care of his tires. That's something that's hard for Ricky to do, so I think it showed his maturity, and I'm real proud of these guys, and I think it sends a statement to everybody what hopefully they can look forward to next year with this team. I'm proud of these guys, and I think it's obviously a perfect way to go in the off‑season for these guys. Proud of them. Man, it just really makes me wish we could have got through Phoenix last week because he would have had a shot for sure of winning a championship. Just really proud of him.
To have a brand new team, a rookie crew chief and a rookie driver, I don't think I could be more proud than I am right now.
Q. How much have you seen Cole grow and mature this season?
TONY STEWART: He's only about maybe a quarter inch taller maybe. (Laughter.) Hasn't been that big of a deal.
I'll be honest, when I met Joe and the first time he brought Cole to the shop when I was there around the same time that we were there together, I think the first probably ‑‑ I don't know, I don't even think the first three or four times he came to the shop he even looked at me. I think he looked at the floor the whole time, and was about probably the eighth or tenth time that he finally spoke to me, and I'm like, wow, you do talk.
I think this year in particular ‑‑ I mean, we knew he was good last year in the truck, obviously, and to start the year I thought he got ‑‑ I thought he was consistent all year from square one in the first race. Just was a matter of putting the whole day together. But you could see in his driving style he was gaining confidence, and both of these guys, I don't think it was just Cole, I think it was Jeff or Kevin, whatever you're going to go by today, I think they both grew together, and I mean, it's a good thing. It reminds me when Greg Zipadelli started as rookie driver and crew chief together. This is a good pairing right now. They've got trust in each other. And I think for Cole, he's definitely established himself as one of the greatest drivers of the year in the XFINITY Series. His mile‑and‑a‑half record ‑‑ his average on the mile‑and‑a‑half tracks was No. 1 in the series. He definitely showed strength in tracks that you have to be good at. I'm proud of him. I think he's grown a lot through the year. I think the second time around at these tracks I think was huge for him in these cars, and the same for Jeff. I think they really both grew a lot and grew together.
Q. Cole, is there a point in your career that you've ever driven a vehicle that fast or that smooth, and how much did the experience last year driving for JR Motorsports pay off tonight?
COLE CUSTER: It was pretty crazy. Even at the end there, I can't really explain it. It feels like you're going two miles an hour out there just barely in the gas, but you're half a second better than the whole field. It's weird when your car is good and your stuff is good, it's just fast. You can't really explain it.
But it was unbelievable how fast that car was. Yeah, and it was good to run that race last year here. It was definitely a learning race for sure, but I think ‑‑ the biggest thing was learning throughout this whole year was the bigger thing.
Q. Tony, everybody talks about who are going to be the next stars of NASCAR. Tonight you have a 19‑year‑old win the championship as a rookie. You have a 19‑year‑old win his first race and finish, I believe, fifth in the standings as a rookie in his first season. Are they just right in front of us?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don't think you've got to look very far. There's a great crop of young guys coming into the sport. The big buzz this year with ‑‑ especially this weekend with Matt and Dale Jr. running their last races tomorrow is what's going to happen in the sport. Well, the sport is going to be just fine. There's plenty of good talent that's coming along that are making names for themselves that will take the places of the guys that are leaving.
I remember Brian France called me down to Daytona one day because I was in big trouble for whatever it was, I can't remember, one of the multiple things I did to get him mad. But went down there, and he told me something that always stuck with me. He said, this sport has been here long before you got here, and it'll be here long after you're gone. It really is the truth. There were great drivers here before I got here, and there's great drivers coming behind us. There's a lot of really good talent. Just you used to see them ‑‑ before it used to be guys that got their opportunity in their late 20s and early 30s, and then there was guys in their mid 20s and then guys in their early 20s and now you've got teenagers that are getting great opportunities but stepping up to the plate and getting results out of it at the same time. They're getting great opportunities but they're producing results at the same time.
Q. Cole, tonight the one driver that was able to compete with you for the lead was Tyler Reddick, and you both are returning next year in the XFINITY Series. Do you feel like this is something we're going to see next year coming to realization tonight?
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I mean, I think Tyler has been pretty unbelievable this year. He's definitely ‑‑ again, all of them have gotten their cars really good the last second half of the year I feel like, and Tyler has really stepped up to the plate I feel like. It was fun racing with him. I think we did have the better car there at the end, we just could hang on to a run longer. It was fun racing with him, crossed each other over a few times, but yeah, I think obviously he's going to be a good team with JR next year, and I think we're going to be even stronger next year, so I think we'll have some good competition.
Q. Could all three of you briefly describe and evaluate how you feel about the stages this year and how you think that's played out and if you feel like there's anything that could be adjusted?
JEFF MEENDERING: I mean, I think the stages are great. Obviously coming up four points short coming into the Chase, I probably didn't play the stage game well enough over the course of the season, and I feel like I definitely learned from that. Going into next year, we'll definitely race different next year throughout the season to set ourselves up better for the end of the year. I enjoy that type of racing.
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, I mean, I think it's good. I think it just creates more things to talk about during a race really. I don't know if it changes our perspective a lot. It might change our strategy a little bit. But I think it's good that you're having cautions, you know, in the middle of the race where it could have just been going green, and it creates some chaos and everything and some strategy, also. I think it's been a good thing for everything this year.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I think it's been good in all three series to be honest, especially if you get something that happens with about 10 laps to go in a segment. It's been fun to watch the strategy of guys that go ahead and pit or guys that stay out for the points, and the guys that go ahead and pit when that segment is over, they stay out and that gives them some track position, so it gets some movement in the field because of that. I think it's ‑‑ it's been a little bit of chaos, I think, for the crew chiefs. From the driver standpoint they're just feeding off the crew chief from that. But it has created a lot of excitement, I think. I think it's been a positive thing for the sport. I know it wasn't very popular at the beginning of the year with the fans, but I think it's really created a lot of excitement and a lot of scenarios that I don't think we would have had without the stages. Like I said, I think in all three series, I think we've seen that it's been a pretty positive deal and created a lot of movement in the field.
RIS NASCAR Editor. Has been with RIS since the middle 90's. Writes on each of the three main series of NASCAR.