Cole Custer had the shot of a lifetime when he got the No. 41 Cup ride in 2020 as a rookie after a handful of strong seasons in the Craftsman Truck and Xfinity Series at Stewart-Haas Racing. That rookie season resulted in a Cup win at Kentucky Speedway.
However, since that win, things started going downhill, resulting in his demotion from Cup back to Xfinity in 2023.
Custer never seemed to let the demotion get to him, though being moved back from the top NASCAR series to its second rung series would certainly be ego-bruising but it turned out to be just what the California-born driver needed.
He won the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship this season by winning the season finale race at Phoenix.
Tony Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, never lost faith in Custer and is already looking forward to 2024, where the Series champ will run another year behind the wheel of the No. 00 in the Xfinity Series but Stewart told Jim Utter from Motorsport.com that Custer is taking the right steps to get back to the Cup Series.
"It was a calculated decision to move him back, and it was for him to gain confidence," Stewart said. "His confidence has grown, and the leadership side is coming into play as well. I think it's a valid question that, yeah, when a driver makes it to the big show and then has to step back one series, there's a lot of things that could go wrong. But there was a reason we made that decision."
Stewart added that all the hard work Custer has put in has paid off.
"It's character-building. And it's like I told him (after he won Saturday), 'This is why we did what we did, and this what you're doing, the steps that you're making and the progress you've made this year is exactly what we were hoping for.'"
Custer admitted in the same article that he "got knocked down a little bit" when he was moved back to the Xfinity at first, but he understood what was being asked of him.
All the work Custer has done in Xfinity is paying off as he won three races this year. That is a huge reason why Stewart sees Custer getting back in a Cup car in the near future.
"He's doing the right things. He will end up in a Cup car at some point I feel like in the future," Stewart said. "He's doing the work. He's been a great leader at the shop with these guys.
He's a former Cup race winner and now he's a Xfinity champion, so it's very likely that Custer will one day find himself back in the Cup series full-time.
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