Cole Custer turned a lot of heads last year when at the tender age of 16 he became the youngest driver in history to reach Victory Lane in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions.
Among those particularly impressed by Custer were Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, whom made the young driver an offer he couldn’t refuse — to wheel a Camping World Truck Series entry for JR Motorsports in 2015.
JR Motorsports — co-owned by the Earnhardt siblings — begins its new venture into truck terrain on Saturday at Martinsville Speedway where Custer will drive a No. 00 Haas Automation-sponsored Chevrolet in the Kroger 250 (2 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1).
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Custer, who will enter 10 events this season for JRM, is eager to get started after sitting out last month’s Truck Series opener at Daytona.
In fact, Custer hasn’t raced a truck since last November at Phoenix, where he finished third in a Chevrolet owned by Gene Haas.
"After a long offseason, I’m more than ready to get to the racetrack," Custer said. "It’s exciting to be coming back at a track like Martinsville with Haas Automation and JR Motorsports. Our goal is to pick up where we left off last year."
Custer, who is the son of Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Joe Custer, made a total of nine truck starts in 2014 — all in a Haas Automation-sponsored Chevy. The youngster from Ladera Ranch, California finished in the top 10 six times and finished outside the top 15 only once.
The performance that really landed him on the map came in September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he annihilated the competition by leading 148 of 175 laps on the way to his history-making victory.
So when JR Motorsports announced in January its plans to launch a part-time Truck Series team beginning with 2015, Custer was a logical choice to fill the seat.
He joins an organization that won the 2014 XFINITY Series title with Chase Elliott and has competed for more than a decade at various levels.
"This is a new and exciting venture for us," said Earnhardt Miller, when JRM revealed its truck plans back in January. "We have come a long way since racing street stocks in 2002, and we are constantly evolving. Expanding into the Truck Series on a part-time basis is furthering our growth. Bringing in a talent like Cole and a great partner like Haas Automation is a great way to do that. I’m proud of the direction we’re heading."
Earnhardt Jr. sees a lot of potential in the now-17-year-old Custer, who in addition to last year’s solid race results also netted two poles in his nine truck starts.
Custer’s schedule after Saturday’s race at Martinsville consists of races at Dover (May 29), Gateway (June 13), Iowa (June 19), Eldora (July 22), Bristol (Aug. 19), Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (Aug. 30), New Hampshire (Sept. 26), Martinsville (Oct. 31) and Phoenix (Nov. 13).
But the first order of business is Saturday’s 250-lap affair at the .526-mile Martinsville paperclip, where Custer finished a season-worst 29th after being involved in a crash in last October’s truck race.
"Martinsville is a place where we have shown speed before, and I feel like we can run fast again this weekend," Custer said. "It’s still a learning experience for me. Managing the traffic there will be a challenge. That’s something I’ll be focused on."
VIDEO: Look back on Cole Custer’s win at New Hampshire in September 2014