The 2020 NASCAR season was nothing short of wild. One thing included with the wildness were the upset winners. No, not like Justin Haley’s Daytona win from 2019, like a pure win. Cole Custer became the first rookie in almost 15 years to win a non-weather shortened, non-plate track race with his win at Kentucky in July. Looking back on other rookie race winners, we can place Custer in one of two categories; Stud or Dud. (Please note I will not be counting Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski because they were involved with weather delays or plate tracks).
My basis for this article is comparing Custer to other drivers who won in their rookie seasons. To qualify for a “stud,” the driver will have had to be a legit title contender for multiple seasons (finishing p7 or better in the final points.), and have won a fair amount of races for their career (~20+). Notable drivers in this category: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, and more. Those four alone have a combined 15 NASCAR Cup Series titles and over 250 combined wins. Needless to say, this is racing royalty. (Side note: Tony Stewart is Custer’s car owner).
“Duds” include drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, and Greg Biffle. Don’t get me wrong, Biffle and Newman are great, but my criteria has them as ‘duds’ (less than half their seasons finishing p7 or better in points; less than 20-something wins). Montoya, however, was a massive disappointment. He came to NASCAR during the open-wheel invasion and won in his rookie season on a road course. He won once more and left NASCAR after the 2013 season.
So let’s focus on the main topic: where do I think Custer will end up? Well, prior to his triumph in the Bluegrass State, Custer was running midpack, which is expected from rookies, especially since most of the 2020 season lacked practice and qualifying. In early July at Indianapolis, Custer scored his first top five; and the following week, broke through for the win on a crazy late-race restart. With the win, Custer qualified for the playoffs but was eliminated in the first round and overall, finishing 16th.
Based on this and all available stats, I think Custer will end up a dud. Aside from those two miracle races in July, Custer wasn’t really relevant throughout the season. In fact, most people were banking on Tyler Reddick to be the next rookie to win a race. Custer may also take a few seasons and may still develop into a stud. Let’s not forget, thanks to his standing with Stewart Haas, he has a long and hopefully successful career in the NASCAR Cup Series ahead of him, so a lot could still change. But as of now, my prediction is a dud from Cole Custer. Now, I’m not saying he will be mediocre forever, he may win a few more races and make a deep playoff run or two, but I don’t see Custer being the next “big thing” in NASCAR.
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