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NASCAR Cup Bristol III

Cole Custer: "We can hold our head high" despite playoff exit

Cole Custer’s rookie run in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs came to a quick end at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Saturday night.

Cole Custer, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang HaasTooling.com

Custer, who has already won rookie of the year honors by being the only rookie to qualify for the playoffs, limped home to a 22nd-place finish after suffering some front-end damage to his No. 41 Ford earlier in the race.

He, Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron, started the race as the four drivers facing elimination and all four failed to advance to the Round of 12.

“That pretty much kind of did us in for the night,” Custer, 22, said of the early-race damage to the nose of his car. “I think we got our lap back at that point and we were just in line with a bunch of cars and somebody got together and everybody stacked up.

“Everybody just hit each other and we got our nose knocked in, so that’s just classic Bristol, I guess. That’s part of running back there. We had to run better. I was probably a little bit off.”

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While Custer has had strong runs at Bristol in his Xfinity Series career, it’s been a much more difficult experience since joining the Cup Series this year.

In his previous points race at the track in May, he was involved in wreck before the halfway point and finished 35th.

“It’s just been hard to get the feel that I want here. I haven’t struggled this much at Bristol before, but it’s definitely been tough in the Cup car trying to figure it out,” he said.

“I tried to study as much as I could coming here and trying to figure something out, but we’re just missing it somewhere. We’ll definitely keep trying and keep trying things to get it better, but definitely Bristol is not our strongest track for me right now.”

Still, Custer feels good about his rookie Cup season. It’s been up-and-down but not many rookies are able to win in their first year and have a chance to compete for the series championship.

“We’ve accomplished a lot of our goals. I mean, to go from where we started and be able to be competitive now,” he said. “Obviously, (Saturday night) we were off a little bit, but for the most part we could run pretty competitively and I think that was one of our goals by the end of the year.

“Then also to make the playoffs and to have a win by now, and to win rookie of the year – there are a lot of things that we can hold our head high on. At the same time as a competitor I’m not happy about getting knocked out in the first round.

“But we’ll keep working at it and that’s part of it. We’ll just keep trying things and keep grinding away at it.”

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