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November 17, 2018

Cole Custer

Tony Stewart

Homestead, Florida

THE MODERATOR: Up next is the driver and owner of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford for Stewart‑Haas Racing and the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series owner champions, Tony Stewart and Cole Custer. Cole, let's start with you. I know obviously it's got to be a little bit disappointing, but you did get to raise a trophy today, and huge season from you and a great race. Maybe just talk about the night.
COLE CUSTER: Yeah, it's a little bit bittersweet just because you win one and you lose one. But it's‑‑ you know, it means a lot to our team to win a championship and the owner's title. We only started last year. It's unbelievable how far we've came and how hard everybody has worked to get us to the point that we're at right now, so I can't thank everybody else.
Just came up just a little short and just didn't play out right there at the end for us.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, obviously your first Xfinity Series championship and going for the sweep, which would be the first time a team has swept owner championships in the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series in the same season. Talk about this championship and that potential.
TONY STEWART: Well, like Cole said, we all think it's bittersweet. We're proud as an organization to win an owner's championship, but we wanted to do it with our driver winning the driver championship. Cole did an awesome job all year. The whole team did an awesome job all year. That's the hard part about the last race is it's down to a one‑race deal, and we just fell a little short.
We might have made a mistake on the strategy, on pitting too late. But like Cole said, he got to his bumper there, and I thought we were going to be in good shape there, and then just the balance shifted on him.
You know, we just‑‑ you take the lump, and at the same time, like I said, we're excited about the championship on the owner's side. But the goal was to win Cole a driver championship. We would get ours that way, as well.
You know, we'll just come back next year and try again and try to get him one, but excited that we were able to get Ford their first one for the weekend here and hopefully get another one for them tomorrow for sure. But excited about our Xfinity program, like Cole said. Such a short amount of time to have, A, cars, and B, personnel that can put these cars up front each week, and excited about having a second full‑time car next year. To have more resources for Cole and another young driver in a car, we're pretty excited about the program.
You know, it's an awesome day for us, but like I say, I'd be a hell of a lot more excited if Cole was out there hoisting that trophy over his head for winning the driver championship. Like we mentioned right after the race was over, it wasn't for a lack of effort.
Just proud of our organization for everything they've done and proud of what Cole did all year as a driver. I mean, he's really come a long way, keeps getting better and better. I feel like he's got a lot to gain even next year. So we're looking forward to it.

Q. I've got one for each of you. Cole, what changed in the car over the run, especially in the final stage? And what do you see as his succession plans in the future?
COLE CUSTER: Just what happened there at the end, I felt like we had to kind of make up that time, which we obviously had newer tires, so it was somewhat easy to make up the time, but you kind of get to a point on tires where everything starts to equal out, and I felt like that kind of happened, and also I mean, Tyler just ran the top better than I could. I couldn't get up there and do it like he could. He kind of practiced that all weekend, and I just wasn't good enough at it, I guess.
I guess that's something to practice for next year, but we‑‑ I feel like we almost‑‑ pretty much done everything right this race. It's just that last run, just fell a little bit short.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, as far as our side, obviously we were excited when we were able to start the Xfinity program and excited because we were putting Cole in the car. You know, I feel like there was a big improvement over‑‑ with his confidence and what we were seeing from the ownership side between last year and this year, and we'll see what happens next year.
But you just kind of play it a year at a time right now, and we'll watch his development and see what happens.

Q. Cole, as far as the end of the race, you got out and the first thing you said was that you couldn't run the top as well as Reddick could. Was there anything that you felt that you could have done differently from a driving standpoint, or was it just that the car wouldn't let you do what you needed to do with it to try and catch him?
COLE CUSTER: I don't know, I probably could have stayed a little bit more committed to it, but the problem is you try and commit more and more to it, you're going to hit the wall. So it's just a balance that he kind of did it the whole race and got a feel for it, and I tried to run like a lane off the wall, so I just didn't have the feel for it there, and I think I just wasn't aggressive enough with it at the end.
You know, if the car‑‑ I think the car probably could have done it. I think it's more of a driving thing that I probably could have practiced a little bit more this weekend.

Q. Two‑parter for you, Tony. Since you mentioned the second car floating out there in space, just to confirm, the guy sitting next to you is going to be back next year pretty much unchanged, and then do you have any details that you can share about the second car?
TONY STEWART: Nothing on the second one yet, but definitely Cole will be back next year, obviously. He's doing a great job, and this is something that we're excited about his progress and excited to see what he can do again next year for us. So we'll keep that side of the program the way it is right now.

Q. Tony, you guys have created a working relationship with Fred Biagi and that crew. What has this year been like working with them?
TONY STEWART: They kind of just let us do our own thing really, and that's what's nice about having them as partners is they've kind of entrusted us to run the organization, to run the teams, and they just let us do what we need to do from that standpoint. They're great partners. I would have liked to have seen them up there with us when this was over because you've got to have good partners in this industry to put good race teams out there, and they've been great partners so far.

Q. Tony, I assume you've seen Tyler Reddick race for a long time, considering his dirt late model days. He hasn't had the greatest season, but did you see‑‑ what he showed tonight, have you seen that before, or was that even surprising to you?
TONY STEWART: No, I've seen that in him. And what he did tonight was remarkable. I mean, to sit there and, like Cole said, to be that committed to that line and that close to the wall, every time you get in the wall you don't know how much damage it's done, you don't know‑‑ we saw what happened to Christopher Bell the second time he got on the wall pretty hard there and getting a flat because of it. It very easily could have happened to Tyler, as well.
I think it was 110 or 120 laps that‑‑ those last 110 to 20 laps is what he committed to running the top like that. It's extremely hard to do what he did, be that committed to it, and I think we saw him hit the wall four times in that 110 or 20 laps. To only make‑‑ that's four mistakes, but at the same time, you figure two ins to each lap and you multiply that to 220 or 240 times he could have made that mistake, and he only did it four times, that's pretty impressive. He was fourth of the championship drivers when he made that commitment and changed to move all the way up to the top, and he started making great speed, but we're sitting there on the box going, yeah, he's kind of pulling the pin on a grenade. We don't know if he can do that the whole time. And he stuck it out and made it work for him, and that's really what the difference was.
This guy and Christopher can run the top just as good as anybody else, but like he said, to be that committed to it and to be able to do it for that many laps was pretty remarkable.

Q. Tony, how have you seen Cole mature? It was a tough break because of the pit stop and that strategy had put him behind, but he ran a masterful race before that. What have you seen as far as his development goes?
TONY STEWART: The biggest thing is confidence. I mean, you can see it in his driving. You especially can see it when he gets in traffic, how much confidence he has this year in traffic versus last year. It's just part of the building process. You know, I think we'll get through this winter and get started next year, I think you'll see him at another level that's a stop above this.

Q. Tony, as far as tomorrow, how do you feel about JGR's decision to take the pit stall from Denny and give it to Kyle and how might it affect the race?
TONY STEWART: Smart decision. If we were in the same position I would hope we'd be smart enough to do the same thing. I've already seen all the drama and people complaining either way. Everybody here, these four teams are here to win a championship, and if your organization can help you do that and give you every tool available to get that done, you're stupid to not do it.
I'm behind what JGR did 100 percent. You have to do that. You have to put yourself in the best position to win the race and win the championship. You know, they made a very, very smart decision.

Q. Cole, is it possible that after the pit stop you just raced too hard and burned off your tires, that you didn't have anything to challenge Reddick at the end, or is it just he changed his line and your car wouldn't go there?
COLE CUSTER: A little bit. I had to race John Hunter a little bit. Probably burnt it up a little bit more in the other runs, but I don't think it really came down to that. I think it was more just he could run the top better at the end of a run. You could see at the end of a run, every single ‑‑ the first two stages I would pull out and kind of ride around for 30, 35 laps, and then the last 10 laps somebody would always usually start catching me because they could run the wall better. I just couldn't do it good enough today.

Q. I just wondered if you could talk, Cole, a little bit about the fact that the four of you really did settle this race together. It was a situation where the championship contenders really did settle things on the racetrack in terms of racing closely and having one of you guys win the race.
COLE CUSTER: I yeah, I mean, it was a good race. I've honestly had a lot of fun racing the guys that are in the series this year. We've raced hard but raced clean. I don't think anybody has a problem with anybody. I think it was a great group and a great Championship 4. It's just we definitely wanted to come out on top, but it is what it is.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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