• Cole Custer and the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to Saturday’s Michigan 250 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn looking to return to the form they exhibited during a dominating 11-race run from the first weekend in April to the second weekend in July.Starting with the season’s first top-five April 2 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway through their third-place finish July 9 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Custer and the Haas Automation team reeled off 11 consecutive top-10s, including victories at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway on June 3 and the Inaugural Chicago Street Race on July 1-2 among their eight top-fives during that stretch. Misfortune has struck at each of the last three races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, and Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, however, despite running in the top-five for a majority of all three. Late-race incidents at all three either ended Custer’s day early or sent him multiple laps down. He and the team are hoping to make a turnaround on the high-speed, 2-mile Michigan oval this weekend.
• Saturday’s Michigan 250 will mark Custer’s fourth Xfinity Series start at the track. In his three prior starts from 2017 to 2019, he never finished outside the top-12 with a best finish of third earned in June 2018. Custer also has five starts outside of the Xfinity Series at Michigan – four in the NASCAR Cup Series and one in the NASCAR Truck Series.
• Only six races remain before the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs begin Sept. 15 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Custer has already locked in his spot in the 12-driver post-season by virtue of his two wins. He and the team plan to use the final six races of the regular season to perfect their performance before racing for the championship in earnest. In the race for the regular-season championship, Custer sits fourth in the driver standings, 84 points behind leader Austin Hill.
• Custer will be pulling double duty once again this weekend as he’ll also be back behind the wheel of the No. 51 BioHaven Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 NASCAR Cup Series race. His best of four previous Cup Series outings at Michigan is 23rd, earned in August 2021.
• Riley Herbst and the No. 98 Monster Energy team for SHR hope to keep their stretch of solid runs going as they head into Saturday’s Michigan 250. While Herbst is still looking to score his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory, the 24-year-old racer is already a winner at Michigan. Herbst scored his second career ARCA Menards Series win in August 2020 at the track. He started from the pole, led four times for 39 lapsand took the checkered flag 1.456 seconds ahead of runner-up Bret Holmes. In a prelude to that win, Herbst finished second at Michigan in his second career ARCA race in June 2018, when he started eighth and led seven laps.
• Saturday’s race at Michigan will mark Herbst’s fourth Xfinity Series start at the 2-mile oval. He posted back-to-back top-10 finishes in his last two starts there in August 2021 and 2022, finishes of seventh and ninth, respectively. Both came with SHR in the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang.
• The No. 98 Monster Energy driver showed his drive and perseverance in earning a fifth-place finish last weekend at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Herbst ran in the top-five for a majority of the first stage before finishing sixth to earn stage points. On the ensuing restart on lap 25, his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang was spun, sending him to the pits for repairs. Herbst was able to stay on the lead lap but restarted at the rear of the field. He would go for another spin on lap 33 after hitting oil on the track but was able to continue and make steady progress toward the front. Herbst survived two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish on his way to his career-best Road America finish.
• With only six races remaining before the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs begin Sept. 15 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Herbst is currently defending his spot in the 12-driver playoff field and trying to continue working his way higher in the standings. Heading into the weekend at Michigan, he sits 10th in the regular-season standings but 11th in the playoff standings. Herbst’s fourth-place result on July 22 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and his fifth-place finish last weekend at Road America helped him extend his buffer over 13th-place Parker Kligerman from 18 to 25 points. In addition, last weekend’s result put him ahead of Sheldon Creed in the playoff standings, who is now on the bubble. The Monster Energy driver is in position to secure his top-12 position on points, but a win, of course, would guarantee Herbst a spot in the playoffs. Meanwhile, he and the team are focused on continuing their string of solid finishes through the regular-season finale Sept. 9 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
Michigan is one of the faster intermediate tracks on the NASCAR Xfinity Series circuit. How do you approach this race and prepare for it as a driver?
“I mean, Michigan provides a type of different racing for us just because you have to worry so much about dirty air there. You also have to worry about how you position your car, when to make moves and when not to. You can get freight-trained if you make a move at the wrong time. Ultimately, it’s just a little bit different kind of racing than a typical intermediate track. At the end of the day, though, you have to have a good car that you can be aggressive with at Michigan, just like any other track on the circuit. The No. 00 Haas Automation team has done a great job at providing me with fast Ford Mustangs all season, so hopefully we can get it done this weekend.”
Your fellow SHR driver Kevin Harvick has won at Michigan five times in the past seven Cup Series races. Have you gotten any advice from him on how to navigate this track or any others?
“I definitely asked Kevin for a lot of help when I was a rookie in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020. I tried to call him every week to try to get an idea of what to expect at each of the racetracks in the Cup cars. He’s definitely been a big help to me in my career, and I’m thankful to have had him as a teammate. There are little things that you can do at Michigan to try and help your car, and he’s been very good at learning what those things are. So, I’m lucky to have been able to get a chance to go to him for advice on racing and life. He’s done so much for the sport.”
You’ve had success at Michigan in the ARCA Menards Series. In August 2020, you started on the pole and led four times en route to your second career ARCA win. Talk about that win and what it meant to you.
“It was so cool to win in ARCA at Michigan. It’s such a fun and fast track, but it’s also a very difficult track where you can get into trouble really fast. I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel in ARCA when Xfinity didn’t race there in 2020, and I started on the pole. We ended up in victory lane by the end of the 100 laps, leading a couple times along the way. I led the one that mattered – the final one. It was a good day for me and my career. Hopefully, I can find my way back this weekend with the No. 98 Monster Energy team.”
The No. 98 Monster Energy team overcame multiple incidents in last Saturday’s race at Road America to earn a fifth-place finish, your third top-five since Davin Restivo became your crew chief at the end of June. Do you feel like you’re getting back into the rhythm that you and the team had at the beginning of the season?
“We’ve been on a roll, even if we’ve also had some bad luck thrown in there. Davin’s been great to work with, but just like in any new relationship, we’ve had to work on communication. I didn’t really get a chance to work with him prior to him coming to the No. 98 team, so we’ve had to learn a lot about each other in a short amount of time. It’s been great so far, so I’m excited for what the rest of the season has in store. This team deserves to be in victory lane, so I’m hoping we can get there soon.”