Possible Aric Almirola replacements for 2023: No. 2 – Cole Custer
Cole Custer is a classic case of a young driver being promoted to the NASCAR Cup Series too soon, even after several years of Xfinity Series success.
Yes, he won a race as a rookie at Kentucky Speedway in 2020 to qualify for the playoffs, but that was quite literally the lone highlight of his three-year run behind the wheel of Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 41 Ford. In 91 starts from the following race until the end of the 2022 season, he finished no higher than seventh place.
Custer’s demotion back to the Xfinity Series showed that Stewart-Haas Racing still believe in his ability as a driver and as a potential future Cup Series driver, and he has rediscovered his form upon his return to the series.
After starting the season with just one top 11 finish in six races, he then went on a streak of 11 straight top nine finishes during which he recorded eight top five finishes, six top three finishes, and two wins. Another recent stretch of eight top seven finishes in nine starts propelled him to the Championship 4.
Is just one more season in the Xfinity Series enough for Custer to justify a move back to the Cup Series? That’s tough to say. He did recently return to the Cup Series for six starts with Rick Ware Racing, and he ironically started his Cup Series career with three Rick Ware Racing starts before landing his first full-time ride in 2020.