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With Aric Almirola Rumored to be Retiring, Why Might SHR Not Pick Cole Custer?

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Joshua Lipowski

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While no official announcement has been made, recent reports have suggested that Aric Almirola could be leaning towards retirement. However, it is not Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer who is the favorite for the ride, but it is Noah Gragson according to Bob Pockrass. Why could SHR be looking at passing over Cole Custer despite his good season in the Xfinity Series?

Cole Custer’s Xfinity Series Season

Cole Custer has enjoyed a very good Xfinity Series season in 2023. He is in a position to advance to the Championship 4 heading into this weekend’s race at Martinsville. He’s also run two races with six poles, 13 top-5s, and 20 top-10s, which is a very good season.

After a tough start to the season with only one top-10 in the first six races, Custer has finished in the top 5 in over half of the last 25 races. There definitely is racing talent there, and that is proven by his run this year in the Xfinity Series. Not to mention that Custer has vastly outperformed his teammate, Riley Herbst, who missed the Playoffs.

Under most circumstances, if a driver is mulling retirement, the top Xfinity Series driver could take the spot of the outgoing driver. However, Cole Custer is a different case, as he has experience in the Cup Series before.

Cole Custer’s Cup Series Resume

In the Cup Series, Cole Custer struggled to produce results, and there is no way around it. He won one race in his rookie season at Kentucky, but, aside from that, the season was forgettable with only two top-5s and seven top-10s. After that, Custer struggled each of the next two seasons.

He never found the top-5, and he finished in the top-10 only five times in two full-time seasons. Yes, Stewart-Haas Racing was starting to slip, but every one of his teammates over those two seasons won at least one race. Chase Briscoe made it all the way to the Round of 8 in 2022.

Custer was deemed as the one responsible, so SHR decided to move on to Ryan Preece for 2023. That performance is, and rightfully should be enough to potentially give SHR some pause. If anything, this is what is holding Custer back from being a more likely candidate for this car.

Cole Custer’s Funding

Cole Custer is in an interesting place when it comes to funding. He has primarily relied on Haas to fund his car throughout his career. He has brought in some other sponsors at times as well such as Jacob Companies and BioHaven for his few Cup Series starts with Rick Ware Racing as well.

While Gene Haas has put his name on cars before, how long can that keep up? At some point, Custer may need to pony up funding from other sponsors if he wants a serious chance to get a full-time Cup Series ride. Especially given how his performance was in the Cup Series with SHR, it may take some major sponsorship to get him into another ride.

Smithfield Foods has been a great partner for Aric Almirola. If he leaves, then that sponsor may leave as well, which means a major sponsor may need to come with the driver who gets it.

Could Cole Custer maybe find his way into the 10 car in 2024? Maybe he can, but, it may be difficult.

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Joshua Lipowski

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