Tony Stewart believes that Cole Custer has earned the right to be the next driver of the No. 41 Ford Mustang in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“Gene [Haas] actually controls the 41 car, but we’re all comfortable with the decision,” said Stewart. “I spoke to Gene a lot about it; we feel like Cole has done a great job this year, and Cole has earned his right to be in the Cup Series next year with seven wins and running for a championship. He deserves it.”
Daniel Suarez revealed Thursday night that he and Stewart-Haas Racing could not put a deal together to keep him in the car. Suarez got just one season with the team.
However, Stewart insisted he supports Suarez’s efforts to remain in Cup, and said SHR will try to figure out how they can help him going forward. Suarez is a winner in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and former Xfinity Series champion.
“I think he deserves to be in the Cup Series, it’s just a matter of, how do we fit it all in, and when you got a feeder series, and you’ve got your own program to work young drivers up through, there’s some times you get in scenarios like this where you’ve got more drivers than you have cars,” said Stewart. “So, it’s a tough spot to be in for us as management. But like I said, we’re going to try to work with Daniel to see if we can find a solution to keep him in our system, and hopefully get him back in a car one day, but Cole has definitely earned his spot, for sure.
“Everybody’s worked hard. We wish we could have five cars, but we can’t, so it puts us in this odd position to have to make a change like that.
“It’s bittersweet. We love Daniel. We love what he does. But we also believe in Cole and believe that this is the right time and his opportunity, and he’s really made big gains this year. We talked to him at the beginning of the season and said we need to see some improvement and see some gains, and not only did he respond to that, he responded with a bunch of wins this year and racing for a championship this weekend. The kid has earned his opportunity to get this ride for next year.”
It was confirmed on Friday that Custer will graduate in the Cup Series after three full seasons of Xfinity Series competition. Custer has won six poles and seven races this year and has nine career wins.
“It’s obviously a dream come true,” said Custer. “I’ve been around the garage a long time, and I think when I was a kid, I never thought I’d be good enough to be a Cup driver, so it’s pretty unreal to have that happen.
“I have Gene Haas to thank a lot for everything that’s happened in my racing career. I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done to support me, and I’m going to try to prove him right going into next year and try to have a strong season.”
Custer’s crew chief for next season has not been announced, and he doesn’t know whether Mike Shiplett will join him in the Cup Series.
“There’s always a lot of stuff to learn,” said Custer of racing in the Cup Series, where he’s made three starts. “There’s a lot more competition. We have usually about 10 to 12 cars that we’re competing against here in the Xfinity Series, and when you move up, you’re racing against 25 to 30 of them. So, it’s definitely something kind of different to look at.”