• The boys are back in town. After a rare off-weekend, the NASCAR Xfinity Series is back in action this Saturday at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Riley Herbst, driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), expects to maintain his front-running ways despite the break. Herbst finished sixth in his last road-course race July 30 on the infield layout inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He then delivered a solid ninth-place result the following weekend on the ultra-fast, 2-mile oval that is Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. It was Herbst’s 14th top-10 in the 21 races run this season, eclipsing his top-10 mark from all of last year with 12 races still remaining in 2022.
• When it comes to road-course racing this year, Herbst has proven resilient, bouncing back from two tough runs at the start of the year to nab top-10 finishes in his last two road-course starts. Herbst finished 26th March 16 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and then 35th June 4 at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway. But in the next road-course race July 2 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Herbst dusted himself off to earn a fine seventh-place effort before securing another top-10 in the series’ most recent road-course race at Indianapolis.
• Herbst had to work for his sixth-place finish at Indianapolis. He qualified an impressive third and stayed among the top-five through the first stage. He restarted in third for the second stage, and while battling for position, was spun on lap 25 after contact with the No. 8 machine of driver Josh Berry. This sent Herbst to the back of the back, but the 23-year-old racer put on a tenacious display of driving, powering his way through the field in the race’s final 37 laps to finish sixth, his best result in 15 career road-course starts.
• The 2022 season is shaping up to be Herbst’s best in the Xfinity Series. Two-thirds of the way through his third fulltime season, he has equaled or bettered his best finishes at nine tracks on the schedule. In fact, he has already matched his season-best tally of five top-five finishes, set in 2021. In total, Herbst has 14 top-fives and 48 top-10s dating back to his first career Xfinity Series start on June 17, 2018, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, where he finished an impressive sixth as a 19-year-old.
• The Watkins Glen 200 will mark Herbst’s 98th career Xfinity Series start and his second at Watkins Glen. He earned a 13th-place result in his first start at the 2.45-mile, seven-turn road course last August.
• Herbst has two starts outside of the Xfinity Series at Watkins Glen. He pulled double duty last year at the track, finishing sixth in the ARCA Menards Series race on Friday before competing in the Xfinity Series race on Saturday. In addition, he has one start at The Glen in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, netting a 12th-place finish in 2019.
• With only five races remaining before the playoffs begin Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Herbst is solidly among the 12-driver playoff field. He is currently ninth in the driver standings with 583 points, 136 ahead of Sheldon Creed, the first driver below the playoff cutoff line. A win at The Glen would clinch a playoff spot for Herbst, but he can also secure his playoff position by pointing his way into the post-season with more top-10 finishes through the regular-season finale Sept. 16 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
What did you do during the off-weekend?
“I ended up going on a vacation with some friends for the off week, so I got a chance to relax for this final stretch to the playoffs. With that said, I was still at the shop working prior to that vacation. There’s always work to be done and we’re always trying to better ourselves. I’m glad that the guys got somewhat of a break and I think we’re refreshed and ready to go for some wins. This team deserves to be in victory lane and I hope we can get it done soon.”
You were strong in your last road-course race at Indianapolis. Does that give you added confidence this weekend at The Glen?
“Our Monster Energy Ford Mustang was fast at Indianapolis. It was a shame that we got spun at the start of the second stage. We had our work cut out for us, but we were able to battle back and get sixth. Obviously, we were encouraged by the speed we had to be able to do that, but we also were discouraged because we’re here to win. We thought we were strong enough to win, or at least run third. All in all, we were happy to show off the speed and people took notice of it.”
What’s been the key to finding that speed?
“We’re definitely more confident, both myself and the team. I’m going to tracks that I’ve been to several times now, which helps me, but we’re also putting in the work. We set goals for ourselves each week and improve. In the end, we have to do the small things right and keep building on the previous weekends. I think things are going well and we’re building in the right direction. People are noticing. I’m confident in my guys and my Monster Energy Ford Mustang, and I think that’s starting to show on the racetrack.”