• After a refreshing off weekend following his back-to-back NASCAR Xfinity Series Dash 4 Cash victories, Cole Custer will pay tribute to his childhood hero, the late Jason Leffler, during NASCAR’s Official Throwback Weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Custer’s No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will mimic the one that adorned Leffler’s No. 00 racecar for Haas CNC Racing when he drove to that team’s first NASCAR victory at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway in June 2004. Furthering the connection, Custer’s crew chief Jonathan Toney worked as an engineer on Leffler’s No. 00 car back in 2004. It was his first job with a NASCAR team.
• Saturday’s Shriners Children’s 200 at Darlington will mark Custer’s fourth career Xfinity Series start at the track nicknamed “Too Tough to Tame.” The Ladera Ranch, California, native was credited with the victory in his most recent Xfinity Series race at Darlington in August 2019 after finishing second the previous year and ninth in 2017, all behind the wheel of the No. 00 SHR Ford. In the 2019 race, he crossed the finish line .602 of a second behind apparent race-winner Denny Hamlin. But Hamlin’s racecar was disqualified after a ride-height violation was discovered in postrace inspection, giving Custer his eighth of 10 career Xfinity series victories. In the September 2018 race at Darlington, Custer was runner-up to Brad Keselowski by .738 of a second.
• Custer seems to have found his rhythm. After a challenging opening to the 2023 season, Custer has now driven his No. 00 Haas Automation Ford to four consecutive top-10 finishes – fifth April 1 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, third April 15 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, fourth April 22 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, and seventh in the series’ most recent race April 29 at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway. He has elevated himself from 12th to sixth in the driver standings over the last four races.
• Custer has an additional seven starts outside of the Xfinity Series at Darlington, all in the NASCAR Cup Series from 2020 to 2022. His best outing was an 11th-place effort in the September 2021 Southern 500. He scored two other Darlington top-15s in the Cup Series – a 12th-place finish in September 2020 and a 14th-place finish in his most recent Cup Series start last September.
• In a weekend meant to honor motorsports legends, Riley Herbst and Monster Energy will pay tribute to the late, great Ken Block on the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for SHR in Saturday’s Shriners Children’s 200 at Darlington. Herbst’s racecar will pay homage to the iconic Gymkhana 3 “Drip” livery that adorned Block’s Ford in the third video of his popular Gymkhana YouTube series. Block piloted this scheme around the high-banked, 1.58-mile oval of l’Autodrome de Linas –Montlhéry, just south of Paris, France in the 2010 video. The veteran rally competitor developed a worldwide following with his popular video series, which has drawn billions of views worldwide and helped launch car culture into the mainstream media.
• This weekend’s Ken Block tribute is more than skin deep. As a fellow Monster Energy athlete, Herbst sought to continue Block’s legacy. Available for purchase at store.stewarthaasracing.com will be a No. 98 “Drip” hat and t-shirt, with 100% of the proceeds benefitting the 43 Institute Ken Block Foundation. The organization was created to carry on Block’s greatest legacy: creating paths of opportunity for the exceptionally driven who lack the proper support. To learn more about the foundation, visit www.43i.org. Select merchandise will also be available at the SHR’s merchandise hauler at Darlington, where Herbst and his teammate Custer will sign autographs at 11 a.m. EDT Saturday.
• Saturday’s race will mark Herbst’s seventh career Xfinity Series start at Darlington. While his past starts there have been a roller coaster ride for the No. 98 Monster Energy driver, he has also had some of his career-best races at the “Lady in Black.” Last May, he finished third on the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval, and he finished fourth there in September 2020. While Herbst is still seeking his first Xfinity Series win, SHR has been victorious twice at Darlington in the Xfinity Series – August 2019 with Custer and May 2020 with Chase Briscoe.
• After starting the season with six consecutive top-10 finishes, Herbst and the No. 98 Monster Energy team are looking to get back on track this weekend after a recent run of bad luck. He arrives at Darlington eighth in the driver standings, 65 points behind leader Austin Hill.
|This weekend, you’re running Jason Leffler’s 2004 paint scheme from when he ran for Haas CNC Racing. What does it mean to you to bring back the livery of one of your heroes this weekend?“This means a lot to me, especially since I was able to be around this team growing up. I think Jason Leffler was huge for Haas to get that first win. That first win for Haas CNC Racing was huge, and I think it was a perfect combination for Jason to be a part of it. He helped grow the team to another level. On top of that, he was a guy who just wasn’t going to take anything from others. He was a legend and one of my heroes growing up. We came from similar open-wheel and dirt-racing backgrounds, so I think it was just easy for me to look up to him. It’s also cool to be here all the years later and still have JT (Jonathan Toney, crew chief) working with this paint scheme and the No. 00 car. I’m happy to be able to bring another one of his schemes back at Darlington.”|
You’ve had some success at Darlington in the past, including your win in August 2019. What is it about this track that makes it a driver favorite?“There’s so much you can do as a driver at Darlington. You can move your line around, and you can play with how you work the throttle and the brake. You can also experiment with how you run the wall. There’s just a ton that you can do, but the tires fall off so much. You’re just slipping and sliding around. It’s such a unique racetrack with how it’s shaped. There’s a lot that drivers can control at Darlington that you can’t necessarily do at other tracks.”
|Monster Energy and you are running a special scheme this weekend to pay tribute to a motorsports legend, Ken Block. What does it mean to be able to run this iconic tribute to someone who made such an impact on racing?“I’m really excited to run this tribute to Ken Block’s Gymkhana 3 ‘Drip’ livery. I can’t thank the Block family and Monster Energy enough for allowing us to run the paint scheme. It’s not only special to me, but to a lot of different race fans around the world who Ken made an impact on through his career. It’ll be cool on the high banks of Darlington. This was a unique scenario. I just hope it doesn’t get lost because people think we’re running it because it’s a ‘cool’ livery. We wanted to pay tribute to a man who changed the world of motorsports and had such a hand in getting it into mainstream media. This paint scheme means a lot to Monster Energy and to me, so I cannot be more grateful and honored to be the one to run it at Darlington.”|
Darlington is a difficult track, but it’s been one of your favorites. What do you have to do to get back on track and score a top finish this weekend?“Darlington is tough. Track position is pretty critical from the drop of the green flag, just with how short this May race is at Darlington. It’s only 147 laps. At the same time, I love this racetrack. It’s definitely grown on me these past few years as I’ve learned and gotten more experience. I’m excited to go back there. The No. 98 Monster Energy team has had speed there in the past. Hopefully, we can have that same speed, if not a little more, this year. We’ve had a rough few weeks, and I think everyone noticed. Hopefully, we can get our season back on track and be like we were at the start of the season so we can stack those points for the playoffs.”