• Riley Herbst, driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads into Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway fresh off a third-place finish in the penultimate race last Saturday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The effort equaled Herbst’s best finish this season, a result he had scored twice before – May 7 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and June 25 at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway. Herbst’s third top-three of 2022 also exceeded his previous high of two top-threes in a single season, which came during his rookie campaign in 2020. The 23-year-old Las Vegas-native has also posted eight top-fives and 19 top-10s in 2022, surpassing his previous bests of five top-fives earned in 2021 and 17 top-10s earned in 2020. His third-place finish at Martinsville was his second consecutive top-10 after a strong eighth-place run Oct. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
• Saturday’s race will mark Herbst’s seventh career Xfinity Series start at Phoenix. The 1-mile, desert oval has proven to be one of Herbst’s better tracks. After an early race accident in his series debut at the track in November 2019 relegated him to a 30th-place result, Herbst finished 11th or better in his next four starts there, highlighted by fourth-place finishes in last year’s March and November events, respectively, in the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang. Herbst also finished 10th at Phoenix in his lone NASCAR K&N Pro Series West start at the track in November 2019, and 15th in his only NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start there in November 2018.
• Herbst should feel right at home at the desert mile in Arizona. Being a third-generation racer from Las Vegas, he’s taking his family name from the Desert Southwest to the asphalt tracks of NASCAR. Herbst began racing go-karts up and down the West Coast at age 5. He soon followed in his family’s footsteps in 2006 when he transitioned to off-road racing, where his grandfather Jerry, his dad Troy, and his uncles Tim and Ed, all became Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame inductees after their numerous championship-winning campaigns. But by age 10, Herbst sought a return to pavement, which began with Legends cars before transitioning to Speed Trucks, Super Late Models, the K&N Series, Camping World Trucks, and now, the Xfinity Series.
Phoenix has been one of your strongest tracks. On top of several top-five finishes there, you’re also coming off a strong third-place finish last week at Martinsville. Talk about Phoenix and the momentum you have heading into this weekend.
“I’m going to Phoenix to win. We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to win. While we’re not racing for a championship, we can certainly go out and steal the show from the guys who are racing for one. Our goal is always the same and it would be the best way to end this season. With everything we’ve achieved, a win would just add to it all. I like Phoenix and I’ve performed well there in the past. Hopefully, we can leave the bad luck of this year’s spring race behind us and park the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang in victory lane.”
Two weeks ago, you solidified 2022 as a career year in the NASCAR Xfinity Series by surpassing both your career-best top-five and top-10 marks for a season. What’s changed this season to help you achieve those career highs?
“It’s been a year of growth in 2022, for sure, both for myself as a driver and for the No. 98 team. I think we just got to a point where the team knew what I needed and I was taking every opportunity to learn as a driver. My crew chief Richard Boswell and my spotter Tim Fedewa have been two key people in helping me grow. I’m proud of how far we’ve come as a team since last season. I can’t thank each guy on this team enough for all of their hard work.”
You had a strong run at Martinsville last weekend, bringing home a third-place finish after several overtime attempts. What are your thoughts on that performance?
“Martinsville was crazy. The No. 98 Monster Energy team brought me a great car, probably the best one I’ve had at that track. We knew that we could contend and I think we showed that at the end. Proud of what this team accomplished. I hate that we’re not coming into Phoenix racing for the championship with all of this momentum. There’s still a chance to steal a win, though, and that’s exactly what we’ll aim to do on Saturday.”