• Cole Custer and the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to Saturday’s Indianapolis 150 looking for a third road-course victory in the first six races this year where Custer turned both left and right. He parked his Ford Mustang in victory lane twice thus far – June 3 atPortland (Ore.) International Raceway and July 1 in the Inaugural Chicago Street Race. He added a sixth-place finish June 10 on the road course at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. While he has yet to compete on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in the Xfinity Series, Custer has proven the unknown doesn’t waver him or his team. Both victories this season came in his first Xfinity Series starts at each respective track.
• While Saturday’s Indianapolis 150 will mark Custer’s first Xfinity Series start on the Indy road course, he does have two NASCAR Cup Series starts on the circuit with a best finish of ninth, earned in July 2022. It was one of his 12 Cup Series top-10s in 115 career starts. Custer also has three Xfinity Series starts and one Cup Series start on the iconic 2.5-mile Indianapolis oval on which the series raced until the 2021 season. He finished fifth in his lone Cup Series start on the oval in July 2020, and has a best finish of fifth, earned in July 2017, among his three Xfinity Series starts on the oval. He added a seventh-place finish in his most recent Xfinity Series start on the oval in September 2019.
• Five races remain before the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs begin Sept. 15 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Custer may have already locked in his spot in the 12-driver playoff field by virtue of his two wins, but he’s still on the hunt for more playoff points to help him through the postseason. He and the team plan to use the final races of the regular season to perfect their performance before racing for the championship in earnest. Prior to this season, Custer finished second in the Xfinity Series championship standings in both 2018 and 2019.
• Riley Herbst and the No. 98 Monster Energy team for SHR are looking to keep the momentum rolling as they head to Saturday’s Indianapolis 150 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. After a roller coaster of a season that started with six consecutive top-10 finishes, Herbst’s midseason struggles beganwhen an accident took him out of contention for a win at Richmond (Va.) Raceway on April 5. When the team returned from its summer break June 24 at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway, Herbst found himself back on track with the addition of a new crew chief, Davin Restivo. In their seven races together, Herbst and Restivo have scored four top-10 finishes, including a second-place run in their initial race together at Nashville. At Michigan last weekend, the team looked to be on track for another top-five finish, but as the race ran green down the stretch, Herbst ran out of time to catch the leaders after green-flag pit stops and ultimately had to settle for a sixth-place finish, his best in four races on the 2-mile oval.
• Saturday’s race on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis road course will mark Herbst’s third Xfinity Series start at the track. He posted back-to-back top-10 finishes in his last two starts there in August 2021 and July 2022 – finishes of eighth and sixth, respectively. Both came with SHR in the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang. In addition, Herbst led three laps in 2021 and contended for stage wins in his first season with the team.
• With five 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. He sits ninth in the regular-season standings but 10th in the playoff standings thanks to his string of strong finishes since Herbst’s fourth-place result on July 22 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. That finish, plus his fifth-place finish July 29 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and the sixth-place finish last Saturday at Michigan, helped him extend his buffer over 13th-place Parker Kligerman from 18 to 40 points. In addition, last weekend’s result kept him ahead of Sheldon Creed in the playoff standings. The Monster Energy driver is in position to secure his top-12 position on points, but a win would guarantee Herbst a spot in the postseason. Meanwhile, he and the team are focused on continuing their top-10 streak through the regular-season finale on Sept. 9 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City to lock themselves into the playoffs for the fourth time in Herbst’s four fulltime seasons.
While you haven’t had any NASCAR Xfinity Series starts on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you do have two Cup Series starts there with a best finish of ninth earned last year. How does that experience in the Cup Series help you navigate this weekend?
“Honestly, it just helps having laps on that layout. You have to be confident in knowing where all the corners are – there are 14 of them. It helps you in advance to know what to expect in those turns even if the cars are completely different. The Indianapolis road course is definitely going to be a challenge, but we have practice and qualifying to hopefully get our No. 00 Haas Automation Ford just right on Saturday. Road courses have been good to the team this season, so we hope to keep that rolling.”
One of the most iconic traditions of being a victor at the Brickyard is to kiss the bricks. Your boss Tony Stewart took it a step further after his two victories and climbed the fence. What would it mean to you to kiss the bricks, and would you also climb the fence?
“To kiss the bricks would be huge. That’s every racecar driver’s dream. You grow up wanting to kiss the bricks at Indianapolis because you’ve seen your idols do it before you. It’s always a big race that we have circled on the NASCAR schedule. You want to go and win there just so you can do that. Not sure if I would climb the fence, but we’re definitely kissing the bricks. Hopefully, we can get it done this week.”
You’re coming off a string of strong finishes for you and the No. 98 Monster Energy team. What do you think you’ll need this weekend in order to keep that momentum rolling and continue your goal of securing a spot in the playoffs?
“We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Davin (Restivo, crew chief) has been bringing me fast racecars and the pit crew has been giving me amazing stops every weekend. We’ve been in contention and knocking down top-10s, now it’s just a matter of parking our No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang in victory lane. Honestly, I think it can happen any weekend as long as we have the fast car, good strategy, and no mistakes. I’m proud of how this team has rebounded from our string of bad races in the middle of the season. We seem to be getting back on track, and we’ll continue to show that this weekend.”
You’ve been so close to your first Xfinity Series victory this season, and it seems like you’re almost there. What would it mean to you to get your first career victory at the iconic Brickyard and kiss the bricks?
“It would mean a lot for many different reasons. I feel like we’ve been so close to my first career victory, and it just makes it more disappointing the longer we have to wait for it. On top of that, every young racer dreams of winning at Indianapolis. It’s one of racing’s most iconic tracks, and it’s an honor to go to victory lane there. To kiss the bricks on Saturday would just be that much sweeter when you combine it with it being a first career win for myself. We’ve run well there the past few years, so hopefully we can bring the fast racecar that we’ve had the past few weeks and get it done.”