Stewart-Haas Racing: Daytona NXS Advance (Cole Custer | Riley Herbst)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Overview

  • Event: United Rentals 300 (Round 1 of 33)
  • Date: Saturday, Feb. 17
  • Location: Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway
  • Layout: 2.5-mile oval
  • Time/TV/Radio: 5 p.m. EST on FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • The 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Cole Custer is back and ready to defend his title as the 2024 season kicks off Saturday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway with the United Rentals 300. The driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang returned to the Xfinity Series fulltime at the start of the 2023 season and, while it got off to a slow start, the team picked up speed over the summer to become championship contenders. Custer would earn three victories on the season – June 3 at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway, July 1 at the Chicago Street Course, and the Championship 4 finale Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway. They were among his 14 top-five finishes in all. The title was Custer’s first after finishing runner-up in his previous two fulltime seasons in 2018 and 2019. As the reigning champion, Custer has high expectations for himself and hopes to start the season with his first career Daytona victory.
  • Saturday’s race at Daytona’s historic 2.5-mile oval will mark Custer’s 144th career Xfinity Series start and his ninth at the track. He scored career-best finishes in both races there last year – ninth in February and fifth in August. Prior to last year, Custer never finished better than 14th there. In addition to his Xfinity Series starts at Daytona, Custer has five Cup Series starts, one Craftsman Truck Series start, and one ARCA Menards Series start. Best of those was his 10th-place finish in the February 2016 ARCA race.
  • Jonathan Toney returns as the crew chief on the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang this season. Toney is one of the most tenured members of SHR. The native of Newton, North Carolina, joined Haas CNC Racing in December 2003, five years before Tony Stewart partnered with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas to form Stewart-Haas Racing on the underpinnings of Haas CNC Racing. Toney was the lead engineer for Stewart and the No. 14 SHR Cup Series team from 2009 through 2012, helping secure the team co-owner his third championship in 2011 and the first for SHR. He remained an engineer at SHR, assisting the organization across its Cup Series and Xfinity Series programs, spending considerable time with Custer during his previous stint in the Xfinity Series. The 2023 season was Toney’s first as a crew chief, but his history with Custer proved to be strong as the duo picked up multiple wins and the championship in their first season together.
  • Custer didn’t take his foot off the gas during the offseason as he embarked on his own champion’s tour. Since he clinched the title on Nov. 4, the 26-year-old driver has attended Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Carolina Hurricanes National Hockey League games, and a New Orleans Saints National Football League game to promote the Xfinity Series and his championship. The champion had some exciting news to share during the offseason as well. Custer announced last week that him and his wife Kari are expecting their first child in August 2024. The two celebrated their one-year anniversary on Jan. 6 and currently reside with their dog Honey in Cornelius, North Carolina.

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

  • Riley Herbst is poised for a breakout season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series as the season kicks off Saturday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway with the United Rentals 300. While the 2023 season was a roller coaster ride for the No. 98 Monster Energy driver, he ended it on a high note with five consecutive top-fives, scoring the most points scored of any driver in the playoffs’ Round of 8 along the way, and earned his first career Xfinity Series win Oct.14 at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Saturday’s 120-lap race marks Herbst’s 143rd career start and his 10th at Daytona. His best finish at the track is fourth, earned in August 2020 and then again in the 2022 season opener. In his three seasons with SHR, Herbst has only finished outside the top-15 twice at Daytona.
  • Herbst has seven starts at Daytona outside of the Xfinity Series – three in the ARCA Menards Series, two in the Craftsman Truck Series, and two in the NASCAR Cup Series. He earned a best finish of seventh in the Truck Series season opener in February 2020. He made his Cup Series debut during last February’s 65th running of the Daytona 500, during which Herbst earned an impressive 10th-place finish to become only the second driver in NASCAR history to record a top-10 in his Cup Series debut in the iconic race. He joined Terry Ryan, who made his debut in the 1976 edition of The Great American Race and finished sixth. Herbst went on to participate in both Cup Series races at Talladega and the August Daytona race, earning a best finish of ninth in the October Talladega race after leading 10 laps, his first laps led in the Cup Series. He’ll hope to add to those numbers once again during Sunday’s 66th running of the Daytona 500 behind the wheel of the No. 15 Monster Energy Zero Sugar Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing.
  • Davin Restivo returns as the crew chief for Herbst and the No. 98 Monster Energy team after taking over the role halfway through the 2023 season. This duo combined to record Herbst’s first career victory on Oct. 14, 2023, at Las Vegas. It was Restivo’s 16th race as the crew chief on the No. 98. Restivo’s career began working on Late Model teams in Liberty, North Carolina. He attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and graduated in 2012 with a degree in mechanical engineering. After graduating, he went on to work with notable drivers such as Ron Hornaday Jr., Kyle Larson, Justin Marks, Ross Chastain, John Hunter Nemechek, Custer, and most recently Aric Almirola as the lead engineer. He earned his first Xfinity Series victory as a crew chief on June 10, 2023, when Almirola captured the checkered flag at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. Two weeks later, he was named crew chief of the No. 98 Ford Mustang.
  • During the offseason, Herbst went back to his family roots when he traded in his stock car for an off-road Trophy Truck for the 55th running of the Baja 1000 just prior to Thanksgiving. The 24-year-old racer from Las Vegas had a lot to be thankful for, having driven the middle leg of the 1,310.94-mile journey down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Co-driving with his father, Troy Herbst, and Terrible Herbst Motorsports driver James Dean, the team crossed the finish line first in the Trophy Truck Spec class, marking Herbst’s first Baja 1000 victory and his father’s third, to go with his previous wins in 2004 and 2006. The younger Herbst finished third in the 2022 running of the Baja 1000, and ninth in 2021.

Cole Custer, Driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang

After a tremendous finish to the 2023 season that resulted in your first career championship, how do you approach the new season, which kicks off at Daytona?

“I think for us, we just hope to rebound and be strong competitors after winning the championship. It’s all about how we can follow up last year. We’ve never been in this situation before, so we’re trying to figure out how we can go into this year and really be at that same level we just were. We have to focus on the details and do a lot of things right. It’s going to be intriguing to see how we can follow that up. Going into 2024, we’re trying to figure out how we can win more races and race up front pretty much every weekend. We had a few wins last year, but we didn’t really get hot until the end of the season to win the championship. This year we’re hoping to see that week in and week out. It’s going to take a lot of focus and looking at a lot of details. I’m confident that this No. 00 Haas Automation team can step up and make it happen.”

Superspeedways, especially Daytona, are unpredictable by nature. How do you prepare for a race where it’s difficult to make a solid plan because anything could happen?

“So that’s what is so tough about Daytona and superspeedways. Your plan is always changing. There can be like 15 situations that could happen, and no matter what situation, you have to know what to do when presented with each one. Honestly, you have to take these races lap-by-lap to see what kind of scenario you’re in and then adapt from there. You can’t have a solid plan going into a superspeedway because it’s always going to change and you’re forced to adapt to whatever comes your way.”

Riley Herbst, Driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang

You’re back for your fourth fulltime season at SHR and your fifth in the Xfinity Series. While last year had its ups and downs, you ended on a high note with five straight top-five finishes and your first career Xfinity Series win. Is there some comfort in coming back to the same team with mostly the same group of guys?

“It’s always good to work with the same group of guys from year to year. There’s a lot of time that goes into building those relationships and it helps us grow as a team, which translates over to the racetrack. Davin (Restivo, crew chief) and I were put together halfway through the season last year, so there wasn’t an entire offseason to get to know each other. Now, we’ve had the end of the season and the offseason to work on that relationship. I’ve never been so excited to start a season in my career. That win at Vegas was everything. Then, to end the season on a high note with five straight top-fives and the most points scored of anyone in the Round of 8, when we weren’t even in the playoffs, it meant a lot. It showed everyone that we’re here and we can win. I have high hopes for 2024.”

Not only are you racing in the Xfinity Series, but you’re also making your second start in the Daytona 500, where you earned an impressive 10th-place finish in your Cup Series debut last year. How excited are you to get back behind the wheel of a Cup Series car for the iconic race?

“I’m pumped. It’s every young racer’s dream to not only drive in the NASCAR Cup Series, but specifically the Daytona 500. It’s a pinnacle of this sport. I was lucky. I got to make my first career Cup Series start in The Great American Race, and not only finished it but scored a top-10 finish. It got our season started on such a high note, and it’s a moment that I won’t forget. Now, I get to go back and build on what I learned in my four Cup races last year. I can’t say thank you enough to Rick Ware Racing for the chance to run the Daytona 500 in the No. 15 Ford Mustang again, and Monster Energy for supporting me throughout every step of my career.”