• Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway marks the penultimate race of the season, and even before the green flag waves, Riley Herbst can already call 2022 a career year. With a gritty, eighth-place finish last Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Herbst scored his 18th top-10 of the season, surpassing his previous season-best tally of 17 top-10s earned during his rookie year in 2020. Earlier this summer, the driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing bested his top-five total too. With a third-place drive June 25 at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway, Herbst equaled his career best of five top-fives in a season, and he currently stands at seven top-fives after back-to-back fifth-place runs at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway Sept. 16 and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on Sept. 24. Herbst’s third-place run at Nashville also equaled his best finish this season, originally earned May 7 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. At the final two racetracks of 2022 – this weekend at Martinsville and Nov. 5 at Phoenix Raceway – Herbst has posted two top-fives and six top-10s in 10 collective Xfinity Series starts.
• The Martinsville 250 will be Herbst’s fifth career Xfinity Series start at the .526-mile oval. In his four prior starts at the southern Virginia short track, Herbst has only one finish outside the top-10. His best finish is sixth, earned twice – in the series’ most recent visit to the track in April and in his first visit to the facility in October 2020.
• Herbst’s history on short tracks has been strong. He has finished sixth or better in all three of his 2022 short-track starts. After finishing an impressive sixth in his first career start in June 2018 at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Herbst has gone on to earn 10 other top-10s on short tracks, including in his last six short-track starts – fifth September 2021 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, third the following weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, 10th last October at Martinsville, fifth April 2 at Richmond, sixth April 8 at Martinsville, and fifth Sept. 16 at Bristol.
You’re coming off a strong top-10 run at Homestead, where you recovered from an early incident to earn your career-best 18th top-10 finish of the year. Talk about this season and what it means to grow as a team.
“To say I’m proud of this Monster Energy team is an understatement. I feel like we’ve been through a lot this year, but we’ve also grown. We’re consistently a top-10 team with the speed to compete for wins. There’s been some bad luck this year, but we’ve been fast. Last year, we had a whole separate task of learning each other and learning what I needed in a car. People are taking notice of our speed and success this year. Ideally, we cap it off with a win in these final two races.”
Martinsville has been one of your best tracks with three top-10s in four career Xfinity Series starts. What is it about the track, and short-track racing in general, that appeals to you?
“I’m excited to head back to Martinsville after our strong run in the spring. We’ve also been super strong on short tracks this season, which helps with my confidence. I think these tracks are good for a lot of the drivers in NASCAR because it’s like the short tracks we grew up racing on. It’s what we’re all used to. There’s a lot of strategy that goes into short tracks, from pit stops to just the racing, in general. We have to qualify well to be able to race for wins, though, and that’s what we’re working on. Our cars are fast, and we need to put it all together.”
What’s the goal heading into these last two races of the season?
“I’ve said from the beginning that we had to survive the first round of the playoffs and then we would be set. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that, but I knew the Round of 8 and the Championship 4 would be our best tracks on the schedule. While we struggled at Las Vegas, we rebounded for a top-10 run at Homestead. We have yet to finish outside the top-10 at a short track this season, and Phoenix has been one of my stronger tracks. It’s sad that we can’t race for a championship, but we’re still racing for wins. That goal has never changed.”