• Riley Herbst rolls into Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval on a mission to advance in the playoffs. It’s the final race in the Round of 12, where only the top-eight drivers in points after the Roval move on to the Round of 8. Entering this cutoff race, Herbst is 11th in the standings, 10 points outside of the top-eight. The driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang knows a strong finish is needed to keep his championship drive alive. While a victory will secure his spot in the Round of 8, Herbst can point his way into the next round with smart and savvy driving throughout the 67-lap race around the 2.28-mile, 17-turn road course. It’s what Herbst has done so far in the playoffs, with a strong fifth-place finish Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and a respectable 11th-place run last Saturday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Adding extra incentive to Herbst is that the Round of 8 begins next Saturday at his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
• With five races still remaining this season, Herbst can already call 2022 a career year. His seven top-fives eclipsed his previous season-best tally of five top-fives earned last year, and his 17 top-10s have already equaled his season high, first earned during his rookie year in 2020. Herbst is likely to add to those stats this Saturday at the Roval. In his last three road-course races, the 23-year-old has brought home a top-10 result each time. He finished seventh July 2 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, sixth July 30 on the infield circuit at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and seventh Aug. 20 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. All of these finishes equaled or bettered his previous best effort on each track.
• The Drive for the Cure 250 will be Herbst’s third career Xfinity Series start on the Roval. Herbst had a strong outing in his first start there in 2020 despite a torrential downpour. He ran up front and led seven laps en route to a 12th-place finish, best among the rookie class. Last October, Herbst started ninth and was holding his position in the top-10 during the final stage before a suspension issue ended his race seven laps from the finish.
• Herbst is driving for the team that knows how to win on the Roval. The No. 98 team of Stewart-Haas Racing won the inaugural Xfinity Series race at the Roval on Sept. 29, 2018 via Chase Briscoe. It was Briscoe’s first career Xfinity Series victory. He led twice for 33 laps to beat Justin Marks by 1.478 seconds.
Despite two strong runs at Texas and Talladega to open the Round of 12, you still find yourself 10 points below the cutline. What’s your strategy to secure a spot in the Round of 8?
“We have to race for points and then a win. I think we’ve seen improvement with our road-course program this year, so I’m hoping that helps us out. But honestly, the Roval is a beast of its own. I think it’s a wild card in its own way – just like Talladega. We know what we have to do heading into this weekend, and that’s to get points. A win would erase all of our worries, but we have to make it to the end to have a shot. We’re in a much better position coming into Charlotte than we were last year, so let’s make the most of it.”
You have two previous starts on the Roval. What are your thoughts on the configuration of the track, and how do you prepare for this race with so much on the line?
“To be honest, this is one track that I haven’t been able to wrap my head around. It’s not that we haven’t run decent there in the past, but I think I was just at a disadvantage because I never had practice on this track and I was never able to lay down laps outside of the simulator until it was race time. This is only my third race there, but I’m hoping we can show improvement like we have at all the other road courses this year.”
There has been significant growth not only by the team, but by you as a driver this season. Who do you go to for advice within the organization and the garage?
“I’ve talked to Chase Briscoe a little since he’s been good on road courses in his career and Kevin Harvick, who has been helping me out this year. More than anything, it’s just been getting the experience through practice and qualifying this season. We’re going to racetracks where we’ve been before and now we have the notes to help. The simulator is great, but nothing beats getting behind the wheel of our Monster Energy Ford Mustang and actually making laps on a road course. This is really the first fulltime season in my career where we’ve had practice and qualifying at every race, even if it’s shortened. So I think that’s helping a lot with our improvement, as well.”