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Does Cole Custer Deserve a 2nd Chance in the Cup Series?

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Joshua Lipowski

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After three underwhelming years in the NASCAR Cup Series, Cole Custer has spent the 2023 season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He has impressed in that series with two wins, four poles, and being the 4th seed in the Xfinity Series Playoffs. This begs the question, does Custer deserve a second chance in the NASCAR Cup Series?

How Much of His Cup Series Struggles Were His Fault?

The stats do not lie when it comes to the Cup Series career of Cole Custer, but it is also important to remember the context surrounding his career. Custer’s rookie season of 2020 featured seven top-10s, two top-5s, an average finish of 19.2, and his first career win at Kentucky Speedway. Custer was not great, but COVID did not help his rookie campaign.

He did regress in 2021 and 2022 with only five top-10 finishes combined with zero top-5 finishes. However, this all came while Stewart-Haas Racing was at the beginning of its downturn. In 2021, SHR won only one race, Aric Almirola in New Hampshire.

If Almirola had not won that race at New Hampshire, SHR would have gone winless in 2021, and they would have had only one Playoff driver, Kevin Harvick. Chase Briscoe and Kevin Harvick made the Playoffs in 2022 with wins, but Almrola and Custer finished 20th and 25th respectively.

In 2023, Ryan Preece has not done any better in the 41 car with only one top-10, one top-5, and being 27th in points currently. So, it does beg the question of how much of the struggles that Custer had in the Cup Series were his fault or the team’s fault. Once he moved back to the Xfinity Series, he started winning races again.

Now, yes, the Xfinity Series does not have nearly as stiff of competition as the Cup Series, but Custer was not exactly given an ideal hand. Maybe he will not get another chance with a top team, but, his performance this season could be enough to give him a chance in the Cup Series with another organization.

Where Could He Go Next Year?

Cole Custer has one race team that seems like an obvious option for 2024. It is a race team that has yet to announce its plans for its second car in 2024, and it could be at the beginning of a rise. That team is Rick Ware Racing.

Now, Rick Ware Racing is in an interesting spot with signing Justin Haley, but they have yet to announce his car number for 2024 as of yet. Custer has also run a few races for the team in 2023. That means they have one extra chartered entry that could be available for 2024 as long as it is not revoked for being in the bottom three in owner points for three straight years.

The #51 charter and the #15 charters were swapped heading into 2023 according to Jayski. The current #51 charter finished in 34th in 2021, and 34th in 2022, and it currently sits in 35th place right now, two points behind the Spire Motorsports #77. Rick Ware Racing could be in danger of losing that charter if NASCAR chooses to revoke it. We discussed this in full when we talked about the possibility of Zane Smith to Rick Ware Racing

If RWR does not work out, then maybe the Kaulig Racing #31 or #16 is an option. Custer could also be a candidate for the Live Fast Motorsports #78 car, but that is another team that could be in danger of losing a charter if they continue to struggle in 2024. He could be a candidate for the #10 car if Aric Almirola retires, but, will SHR be willing to bring him back?

In that case, 2025 may be his date for return to the Cup Series, which may not be a bad thing. Many other rides may open up that could be better options for Custer in 2025, but, there could also be merit for him staying in Xfinity. After all, he is winning races, and, if he wants to keep doing that every week. Xfinity may be his best bet.

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