• The Sport Clips Haircuts VFW Help A Hero 200 Saturday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway will mark Riley Herbst’s milestone 100th career NASCAR Xfinity Series start. This is Herbst’s third fulltime season in the Xfinity Series and his progression is apparent. He has equaled or bettered his best previous finishes at 10 tracks on the schedule, including Darlington. In his 99 previous starts, Herbst has 14 top-fives and 49 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.
• When Herbst last competed at Darlington on May 7, the driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing finished third. It was yet another strong run for Herbst, who opened the year with a fourth-place drive in the season-opening race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. In the 23 races run this season, Herbst has scored five top-five and 15 top-10 finishes, the best being a pair of third-place efforts – Darlington and June 25 at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway where Herbst started from the pole. The 23-year-old Las Vegas-native is on track for a career year in the Xfinity Series. His five top-fives equals his season-best effort in 2021 and he is only three top-10s away from eclipsing his season-long high of 17 top-10s earned in 2020.
• Even when a top-10 can’t be had, Herbst gets all he can from his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang. This was evident in the Xfinity Series’ most recent race at Daytona last Saturday. Herbst posted a 15th-place finish, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of his race. He started sixth after qualifying was rained out and the field was set by the rulebook. Persistent rain and lightning delayed the start by more than three hours, and with a multitude of crashes in the waning laps that led to three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, the race ended close to 1:30 a.m. Herbst was fast throughout, leading the field on lap 19 and again on lap 25 and finishing third in the second stage to grab eight bonus points. This placed Herbst second for the start of the final stage, but calamity soon came calling. On lap 73, Herbst was spun on the backstretch, necessitating a trip to pit road to clean the grill and repair some minor damage. He returned to the race in 33rd, and in nine laps he had rallied his way to ninth. A multicar crash on lap 99 set up the first green-white checkered finish. Herbst survived it and then two more attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, only to get spun out of the top-five on the final lap. His 15th-place result was his 18th top-15 of the season and his third straight top-15 at Daytona.
• While Herbst is still seeking his first Xfinity Series win, his team – Stewart-Haas Racing – has been victorious twice at Darlington – August 2019 with Cole Custer and May 2020 with Chase Briscoe.
• The Xfinity Series still has three regular-season races remaining before its playoffs begin Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Herbst is solidly among the 12-driver playoff field. He is currently eighth in the driver standings with 643 points, 150 above the top-12 playoff cutoff line. A win would lock Herbst into the playoff field, but he can also secure his position by pointing his way into the postseason with continued consistency through the regular-season finale Sept. 16 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Daytona was an up-and-down race for you and the No. 98 Monster Energy team. You led two laps and finished third in the second stage, but you got spun not once, but twice in the final stage before finishing 15th. Talk about that race.
“That race was rough. We just couldn’t catch a break between a tire going down and getting involved in incidents. I think people noticed our shear speed and determination to make it to the end. We were a car that could win and, as a driver, you always want it to end up differently. We just have to learn and move forward. There’s still a good bit of racing left to go this year.”
Darlington is known as “The Track Too Tough To Tame.” What are your expectations as you return to the 1.366-mile oval after racing there earlier this season?
“Darlington’s such a cool, historic racetrack, but it’s always been tough. It’s been a bit of a wild card for me. I’ve had some of my best races there and my worst. When we went there in May, we brought a car with speed and really turned some heads with a third-place finish. I think that was the moment that proved we were there to compete. The No. 98 team knows how to win there and we’ve been performing at a consistency to win. I know we can get it done.”
What have you done in preparation for Darlington?
“Darlington wasn’t my best track last year, but that seemed to be a trend. The May race this year was a testament to the hard work that this No. 98 Monster Energy team has put in. That third-place finish was the start to some great finishes throughout the summer. I’ve been going to the simulator, working with the team, and just rewatching old footage to try and learn how to tackle this racetrack. Hopefully, all the hard work will pay off on Saturday.”