Cole Custer masters Gateway, becomes the youngest driver (16 years old) to ever win Truck Series pole

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16-year-old Cole Custer became the youngest driver to ever earn the pole in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and will lead the field to the green for Saturday night’s Drivin’ For Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis.

Custer was fastest in the final practice session earlier in the day at the Madison, Illinois track, and then came right back to take the top starting spot in qualifying with a speed of 136.426 mph at 32.985 seconds. Both marks are new track records.

Even more surprising, it was Custer’s first-ever qualifying effort in a truck.

“I think we want to win, think we have a car capable of winning,” Custer said. “If we just bide our time and save our tires just a little bit and run a smart race, we’re going to be fine.”

Darrell Wallace Jr., just 20-years-old himself, was second-fastest (136.401 mph) and will start on the outside of the front row, followed by Erik Jones (136.289), Gray Gaulding (135.923),  Chase Pistone (135.743) and Jeb Burton (135.689).

Seventh- through 12th-fastest were Tyler Reddick (135.505), Joey Coulter (135.322), German Quiroga Jr. (135.155), Timothy Peters (135.123), Matt Crafton (134.981) and John Hunter Nemechek (134.823).

Only eight drivers in the 32-driver field have ever raced previously at Gateway.

 

Here’s the starting order for Saturday night’s Drivin’ For Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois:

Row 1 Cole Custer, Darrell Wallace Jr.

Row 2 Erik Jones, Gray Gaulding

Row 3 Chase Pistone, Jeb Burton

Row 4 Tyler Reddick, Joey Coulter

Row 5 German Quiroga Jr., Timothy Peters

 

Row 6 Matt Crafton, John Hunter Nemechek

Row 7 Johnny Sauter, Ryan Blaney

Row 8 John Wes Townley, Ron Hornaday Jr.

Row 9 Ben Kennedy, Taylor Malsam

Row 10 Mason Mingus, Ray Black Jr.

 

Row 11 Justin Jennings, Tyler Young

Row 12 Bryan Silas, T.J. Bell

Row 13 Ted Minor, Norm Bening

Row 14 Korbin Forrister, Charles Lewandoski

Row 15 Jennifer Jo Cobb, Scott Stenzel

Row 16 Caleb Roark, Adam Edwards

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MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne