• As the NASCAR Xfinity Series prepares for Saturday’s Explore The Pocono Mountains 225 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Riley Herbst has only one thing on his mind – winning. The driver of the No. 98 Monster EnergyFord Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing has two prior Xfinity Series starts at Pocono, earning a best finish of ninth during his rookie season in 2020. With a strong 2022 campaign that has resulted in five top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in the 18 races run so far, Herbst aims to bolster those numbers in the best way possible – by securing his first career Xfinity Series win.
• Herbst has won at Pocono before. In his first race on the 2.5-mile triangle on June 9, 2017, Herbst scored his first ARCA Menards Series victory. He led a race-high 45 laps to take the win by 1.735 seconds over runner-up Brandon Jones. It was a prelude of more potent Pocono runs. In Herbst’s return to Pocono two months later for the August ARCA race, he finished second. Back-to-back fifth-place finishes were earned in his two Pocono ARCA races in 2018. And in his last ARCA start at Pocono in May 2019, Herbst finished second after leading a race-high 68 laps. Herbst has never finished outside the top-five in an ARCA race at Pocono.
• The Explore The Pocono Mountains 225 will mark Herbst’s 95th career Xfinity Series start and his third at Pocono. In total, he has 14 top-fives and 46 top-10s dating back to his first career start on June 17, 2018, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, where he finished an impressive sixth as a 19-year-old. His best career Xfinity Series result is second, earned twice – Feb. 29, 2020 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, and July 9, 2020 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
• Herbst drives for the team that has won two of the past three Xfinity Series races at Pocono. Stewart-Haas Racing won the 2019 race with Cole Custer and the 2020 race with Chase Briscoe. Both drivers are now competing in the NASCAR Cup Series, with Custer moving up in 2020 and Briscoe moving up in 2021. Custer was the 2020 Cup Series Rookie of the Year and Briscoe secured the 2021 Cup Series Rookie of the Year title. Both have won in Cup too – Custer on July 12, 2020 at Kentucky and Briscoe on March 13, 2022 at Phoenix Raceway.
• Eight races remain before the Xfinity Series Playoffs kick off on Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Thanks to his strong runs this season, Herbst is in a good position to make the 12-driver field. He is currently ninth with 493 points, 132 points ahead of Brandon Brown, the first driver below the cutoff line. While a win would clinch a playoff spot for Herbst, the 23-year-old racer can continue to point his way into the playoffs by scoring stage points and earning more top-fives and top-10s through the final regular-season race Sept. 16 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
You were en route to another top-10 finish last Saturday at New Hampshire when you got collected in a multi-car accident. Next up is Pocono, a track where you have a history of front-running consistency. When you endure adversity like you did at New Hampshire, how welcoming is it for your next race to be at a track where you have a significant amount of experience?
“We have to leave the bad runs behind us. We got caught up in an unfortunate situation at New Hampshire, but we had a strong run going and probably would’ve earned another top-10 if that hadn’t happened. It’s behind us, though. I know this team can win. We just have to stay out of trouble. The SHR Xfinity program has been strong at Pocono. I’ve also had good runs there in ARCA, so I’m excited to head back and see what we can do.”
Pocono is the site of your first ARCA win. How significant was that victory to your racing career?
“It was a big moment for me. That was my first full-time season in the ARCA Menards Series and to get my first win in just my sixth start, it was big. That whole season jumpstarted my career and helped me get to where I am today in the Xfinity Series. It would be awesome to also get my first Xfinity win at the same track.”
The Xfinity Series Playoffs are just around the corner. Despite last week’s misfortune, you still have a significant buffer over the 12-driver cutoff line. What is your strategy as you head into the final eight races of the regular season?
“The goal is to be consistent and win. We can obviously lock ourselves in with a win, but we need to stay out of trouble and finish the races. Last weekend was a great example of never knowing what’s going to happen around you. Bad luck hit us, but we can always bounce back. Luckily, we have some good tracks coming up and I’m confident that we can compete for wins at some of them. We still have a good points cushion, but we can’t let our guard down.”