NASCAR: 4 drivers who could use a change of scenery in 2024

Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports /
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Cole Custer, NASCAR
Cole Custer, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR – Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports /

NASCAR drivers in need of a chance: No. 2 – Cole Custer

Current team: Stewart-Haas Racing (Xfinity Series)

This is an interesting one. On paper, Cole Custer seems to already have competitive equipment thanks to driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. The issues for him largely loom beneath the surface, and his recent demotion to the Stewart-Haas Racing Xfinity Series team is very much a part of it.

The biggest issue for Custer, whether during his three-year tenure in the Cup Series or even now in the Xfinity Series, is the fact that he is viewed as merely an afterthought for Stewart-Haas Racing. Despite winning a race in his rookie season at Kentucky Speedway, the team’s attention was elsewhere for the next two seasons.

The 2021 season saw the focus largely split between rookie Chase Briscoe and, of course, Kevin Harvick. Briscoe was taking over one of the team’s flagship cars in the No. 14 Ford, and having won nine races in the Xfinity Series the year prior, it was clear that he could immediately compete for a playoff spot.

Alongside Briscoe, the focus and attention also remained on Harvick’s No. 4 team, especially after he saw a magical nine-win season end with a stunning elimination in the round of 8. After such a heartbreak to end an otherwise perfect season, making sure Harvick could replicate his 2020 success was at the top of the team’s priority list.

The 2022 season saw much of the same within the team, and Custer found himself left out in the cold. While some Stewart-Haas Racing teams were showered with the team’s best equipment and resources, the same couldn’t be said for Custer, who saw his numbers fall off drastically after 2020. He finished in 26th and 25th place in the standings in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

With Custer’s regression after his rookie campaign, the team wasted no time sending him back to their Xfinity Series program and promoting Ryan Preece, who had spent three uninspiring seasons at JTG Daughtery Racing with results that largely mirrored Custer’s final two seasons in the No. 41 Ford.

Custer is by no means an old veteran who has already seen his best years. He is only 25 years old and has most likely not yet hit the prime of his career yet, so a career resurrection for him in the near future is far from impossible.

Barring him landing the coveted No. 4 Ford after Harvick’s impending retirement, Custer’s best shot at resurrecting his career lies outside of the Stewart-Haas Racing camp.

The situation Custer is in is similar to what that which Joey Logano was in during 2012. He was a young driver with high expectations but had failed to make a big splash in his first few seasons in the Cup Series, and he had been given the “bust” label by some.

Like Custer, Logano faced the possibility of being demoted to an Xfinity Series ride with Joe Gibbs Racing, and his future prospects in the Cup Series would have been bleak. Instead, he was able to land a deal with Team Penske to drive their No. 22 Ford, and two championships later, that “bust” label is long gone.

Would Custer benefit from taking a similar path to “restart” his career? The short and long answer is yes. Should he be able to make a move to a smaller team that is at least semi-competitive and would be truly invested in providing him and his team with the resources they need to contend on a weekly basis, there is no doubt that he could have a breakout season that gets him on the right path for the future.

Best fits: RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Kaulig Racing