• Cole Custer kicks off the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs determined to emerge with a championship while honoring a NASCAR Cup Series champion and potential future Hall of Famer during Friday night’s opening event at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 00 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will sport a new look in the Food City 300 that pays tribute to SHR teammate Kevin Harvick’s 2018 and 2019 Mobil 1 scheme. Harvick drove to victory lane three times in that span en route to Championship4 appearances both seasons. The silver flames that saw victory lane at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway will return for one weekend only on Custer’s No. 00 Ford Mustang. Harvick, who made the playoffs 17 times in his Cup Series career, has a strong history at Bristol – winning in April 2005, August 2016, and September 2020. Harvick’s most memorable victory with the Mobil 1 scheme came in his 2019 Brickyard 400 win on the iconic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
• Friday night’s Food City 300 will mark Custer’s seventh Xfinity Series start at Bristol. In his prior six visits to the high-banked, .533-mile concrete oval, Custer has scored four top-10 finishes and started from the pole twice – August 2018 and April 2019. He led 25 laps in that April 2019 race en route to his best Bristol finish of third. He has an additional nine Bristol starts outside of the Xfinity Series – four in the NASCAR Cup Series, three in the NASCAR Truck Series, and two in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Best of those outings was a sixth-place finish in the 2016 NASCAR Truck Series race.
• While the Cup Series playoff contenders will be finishing up their Round of 16 this weekend at Bristol, Custer will be one of 12 Xfinity Series drivers beginning their chase for a championship. Custer starts his playoff run with 2,017 points, 32 behind leader Austin Hill and 11 ahead of the Round of 8 cutline. The Round of 12 takes the Xfinity Series contenders to some of Custer’s best tracks. After Bristol, the series heads to the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval, and the 2.28-mile, 17-turn Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval. Custer has only finished outside the top-eight once at Texas and scored a victory in November 2018 on his way to an appearance in the Championship 4. In his two prior starts on the Roval, he posted finishes of seventh in 2017 and eighth in 2018.
• Custer will sport a unique pair of gloves this weekend at Bristol as part of the Driven to Give Glove Program in collaboration with the Dale Jr. Foundation. At the conclusion of Friday night’s race, Custer will autograph the two-toned gloves, featuring red skeleton imagery, and they will be auctioned off to raise money for the foundation. From Friday night through Monday (Sept. 18), the gloves will be up for bid at www.thedalejrfoundation.org.
• While Riley Herbst will not be among the 12-driver playoff field for the first time in his four fulltime Xfinity Series seasons, he’s on a mission to achieve another one of his primary goals of the 2023 season – winning his first career Xfinity Series race. The driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for SHR has shown the speed and determination to do so this season, but bad luck and unlikely circumstances over the middle part of the season hindered multiple shots at victory lane. With the weight of making the playoffs off his shoulders in Friday night’s Food City 300 at Bristol, Herbst can focus on picking up where heleft off at another iconic short track, Richmond (Va.) Raceway, and contend for the win. Herbst’s history at short tracks has been strong, as was shown when he was leading 27 laps and running up front in this year’s April race at Richmond. Contact with another car sent his day into a downward spiral but, nonetheless, Herbst remains confident in the speed and experience he brings to the short ovals of NASCAR, which are similar to what he grew up racing on.
• Friday night’s race will mark Herbst’s fifth Xfinity Series start at Bristol. Of his four prior starts, Herbst has three top-10 finishes with a best finish of third in the September 2021 race in the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang. Since joining SHR in 2021, he’s never finished outside the top-five at Bristol. He has an additional three starts there outside the Xfinity Series – two in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and one in the NASCAR Truck Series. Best of those outings was his 10th-place effort in the 2016 K&N Pro Series East race.
• Last year’s September Bristol race was the regular-season finale for the Xfinity Series. Herbst finished fifth for his second consecutive Bristol top-five. After starting 12th, he proved his resiliency after a spin on lap 13 put him outside the top-20. He worked his way up to 15th by the end of the first stage, then found himself back inside the top-10 during most of the second stage before ultimately finishing fifth. In the final stage, he struggled with the balance of his Ford Mustang, but a late-race strategy call from his No. 98 team on lap 270 for four fresh tires and fuel proved to be just the call he needed. He was able to start fifth with 20 to go and stayed there to secure his third career Bristol top-10. He finished third there in 2021 and 10th in 2020.
• Like his teammate Custer, Herbst will also be supporting the Dale Jr. Foundation this weekend. His pair of Monster Energy green skeleton gloves will join the Driven to Give Glove Program effort to benefit the Dale Jr. Foundation. The initiative supports Nationwide Children’s Hospital and its efforts to help courageous patients and their families in areas of pediatric injury rehabilitation, research and cancer prevention. After Friday night’s race, Herbst will autograph his gloves and put them up for auction at www.thedalejrfoundation.org from Friday night through Monday.
|This weekend, you’re running a special paint scheme to honor Kevin Harvick’s final season in the NASCAR Cup Series. Your No. 00 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang will mimic Harvick’s iconic silver flame 2018 and 2019 Mobil 1 Ford. From 2020 through 2022, you were one of his fulltime teammates in the Cup Series. What has Harvick meant to you, the sport, and Stewart-Haas Racing?“Kevin Harvick has meant a lot to me and the organization. He was such an integral part of the organization when the Xfinity Series team was started. Honestly, he was a key part in helping us get it figured out. I think there are a lot of things that he’s done behind the scenes that people don’t realize. On the track, though, he’s been a huge mentor to a lot of people, including me. As a rookie in 2020, I didn’t know what to expect from weekend to weekend. He helped give me a lot of that information. Getting that information from a champion means everything to a rookie driver and I felt like I had this extremely credible source that I could just pick their brain on this and that in the Cup Series. I’ll forever be thankful for his help over the years, and I’m excited to pay tribute to his career this weekend with the No. 00 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang.”|
We’re kicking off the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs this weekend at Bristol. How do you approach the playoffs after having made it to the Championship 4 in two of your past three Xfinity Series seasons?“Honestly, I think you have to take it race by race. One bad race can put you in a difficult situation, which is why those stage points were so crucial. You just try to focus on what’s ahead of you. Anything can happen, but I’m pretty confident with the tracks in this round. We just have to do our job and bring fast cars to the racetrack. It would be cool to kick the playoffs off on a strong note and lock ourselves into the Round of 8 with a win this weekend at Bristol.”
You’ve repeatedly talked about Bristol being your favorite track on the Xfinity Series schedule. What is it about this short track that appeals to you?
“I think it’s just short-track racing, in general. Most of the guys in the garage will say this, but these types of tracks take us back to our roots. Bristol is obviously unique with its layout, but I think it still has the same elements as other short tracks. That track is hectic. It’s so crazy. It’s so fast. It’s a little half-mile, and it’s high-banked. It’s so much fun to go and battle there and rub some fenders. I’m excited to head back to Bristol after our third place in 2021 and a fifth-place run last year. We’ve brought speed to short tracks this year, so I’m hoping we can do that and show it again. We don’t have the pressure of the playoffs on us now, so we can just focus on winning.”
After having such a roller-coaster of a season, what would it mean to have strong runs in the final seven races of the 2023 season?
“It would mean a lot for myself and the No. 98 Monster Energy team. This season started off on such a high note, and I feel like we just haven’t had a break since then. We haven’t been lacking in speed or determination, so hopefully that will shine in these final races of the season. While we aren’t racing for a championship, we’re going back to our original goal of just going for the win. There’s nothing to lose now. We can focus on getting ourselves better and running up front.”