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

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • Cole Custer, the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, heads to Saturday’s The LiUNA! at Las Vegas Motor Speedway ready to conquer the first true intermediate track on the 2024 schedule. After back-to-back superspeedway-style races to kick off the season, Custer couldn’t be happier to head to the 1.5-mile oval in the desert. Luck was not on Custer’s side during the previous two stops on the tour where potential race-winning performances were ruined late in each race – Feb. 19 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, where he finished 13th, and last Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he finished 16th. At Daytona, the Ladera Ranch, California native was racing toward the front of the pack with his teammate Riley Herbst when a multicar accident collected him and forced him to pit road. At Atlanta, he was racing in the top-10 when he ran out of fuel coming to three laps to go in the race. He’s hoping to turn his luck around as he and the team roll the dice at Las Vegas this weekend.
  • Returning to Custer’s No. 00 SHR Mustang in 2024 is Production Alliance Group (PAG). Tustin, California-based PAG is a premium live-event and creative development company. Its creative works can been seen at concerts, award shows, sporting events, and corporate events. From the lights to the sound and everything in-between, PAG is the creativity and execution behind it all. Coincidentally, it was in victory lane after the 2019 Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, that the PAG-SHR relationship began. Custer first met company president and CEO Dale Sahlin there, the two kept in touch, and PAG ultimately decided to increase its presence within NASCAR via SHR’s Xfinity Series program.
  • Saturday’s The LiUNA! will mark Custer’s eighth Xfinity Series start at Las Vegas and his 16th overall. He has seven NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track and a lone Craftsman Truck Series start. In his seven previous Xfinity Series starts at the track, he’s never finished outside the top-12, and he qualified on the pole for three consecutive races prior to his return to the Xfinity Series last season – September 2018, and the March and September races in 2019 – all of which resulted in top-10 finishes. His best finish at Las Vegas is third, earned in September 2018 and in his most recent outing there in October. Custer’s Truck Series outing at Las Vegas in October 2016 resulted in a third-place finish from the third starting position driving the No. 00 entry for JR Motorsports.
  • Prior to Saturday’s race, Custer will stop at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Performance Institute in Las Vegas, where he’ll join a training session with up-and-coming fighter Merab Dvalishvili, who is coming off a massive win at UFC 298 in Anaheim, California. His teammate Herbst participated in a similar training session in 2022, and now Custer will learn how the UFC athletes train and invite Dvalishvili out to the track to see him race. It’s the latest of Custer’s sports crossover events. Since he was crowned the 2023 Xfinity Series champion Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway, 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.

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

  • Riley Herbst is heading home for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The newly minted 25-year-old Monster Energy driver grew up in the Entertainment Capital of the World before moving to North Carolina at the age of 17. The Herbst family name is well known in Las Vegas motorsports circles due to its competitiveness in another form of racing particularly popular in the Desert Southwest. His grandfather Jerry, uncles Tim and Ed, and father Troy are all Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame inductees as championship-winning off-road racers. While Herbst has been continuing to pursue his dream of racing fulltime in the NASCAR Cup Series like his West Coast childhood heroes, he’s made appearances in the off-road racing world – in the 2021, 2022, and 2023 Baja 1000 events. In his most recent Baja 1000 last November, Herbst drove the second and middle leg of the journey and ended up sharing the victory in the Trophy Truck Spec class with his Terrible Herbst Motorsports co-drivers Troy Herbst and James Dean.
  • Herbst is looking to defend his first career Xfinity Series victory at Las Vegas last October as he heads back to his hometown this weekend. He qualified eighth for that race but was sent to the rear of the starting grid for unapproved adjustments made to his Ford Mustang prior to the race. From there, a determined Herbst mounted a charge toward the front, finishing Stage 1 in 10th-place, then passing teammate Cole Custer on the final lap of Stage 2 on his way to his second career stage win. Herbst then dominated the final stage, leading 102 of the final 111 laps and taking the checkered flag 14.959 seconds ahead of runner-up John Hunter Nemechek. Herbst’s margin of victory was the third largest in the Xfinity Series since Ford driver Jeff Burton bested Michael Waltrip by 10.493 seconds in the October 2002 race on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway oval. Herbst’s margin of victory was also the largest by a first-time Xfinity Series winner since Mike McLaughlin beat Mike Wallace by 23.280 seconds in the June 1995 race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
  • Saturday’s race will be Herbst’s 10th career Xfinity Series start at Las Vegas. He has four top-10s in his nine previous starts at the 1.5-mile oval, including his first Xfinity Series win last October at his hometown track. He also finished eighth in last year’s March race, preceded by back-to-back ninth-place outings in September 2019 and February 2020. In addition, the No. 98 team has now won three races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With Chase Briscoe behind the wheel, the No. 98 team swept both Xfinity Series races there in 2020. Briscoe started second, led a race-high 89 laps, and beat runner-up Austin Cindric by 2.874 seconds in the February race. He backed up that victory in September by qualifying on the pole, leading a race-high 164 laps, and beating runner-up Noah Gragson by 1.370 seconds.
  • Herbst looked to be on his way to victory lane once again last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. After qualifying fourth for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, he immediately shot to second at the start. He finished second in the first stage and third in the second stage. With three laps to go in the race and gambling on fuel along with a majority of the field, Herbst was attempting to make a move on leader Jesse Love. But the Monster Energy driver, as well as his teammate Custer, both ran out of fuel and were forced to pit. Herbst returned to the track one lap down and salvaged a 15th-place finish.

Cole Custer, Driver of the No. 00 Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang

The last time the series raced at Las Vegas, SHR dominated the race with you winning Stage 1 and your teammate Riley Herbst taking home his first career win. What are your expectations for this weekend after the speed you’ve shown at the end of last season and so far this year?

“Vegas is definitely a track that both of the SHR Xfinity Series teams has had circled on their calendar after last year. We were just so strong there in October, and our cars were super fast. I’m really looking forward to heading back there this weekend and really getting the season going. After the success that Riley (Herbst, teammate) had there last year and the speed that we had, it’s one that I personally am really looking forward to. Our mile-and-a-half package was so strong last season, so we’re hoping to see that again this weekend.”

Las Vegas is the first true intermediate track on the 2024 schedule. How have you prepared for intermediate tracks this season after they were a strong point for the team in 2023?

“I think overall at the intermediate tracks, we know as a team that we have a really good package. So it’s all about going over the details we had last year and being just a little, tiny bit better. Sure, you don’t want to overthink it. You’re always going to try and make things better and better every time you go. I think we have a really good chance this weekend. We should be able to just cross all of the ‘T’s’ and dot all of the ‘I’s’ and have a fast car at Vegas.”

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

You’re heading back home and to the site of your first career Xfinity Series victory in your most recent race there. How are you feeling heading to a track where you not only scored that long-awaited win, but also dominated?

“I’m pumped. Not only am I going home, but I’m also going to a track that means the world to me. I started my racing career just next to the big track at the Las Vegas Bullring. That win last October meant everything. I had waited so long for it and, honestly, it just made it that much more meaningful to get it at my home track. There’s definitely confidence going into this race, not only from me, but from the entire No. 98 Monster Energy team. We’ve had speed at every race since then, and I know we can go out and contend for the win again. We still have to do everything right, but I’m confident in this team.”

Does it add any extra pressure to you knowing that you’re the defending winner at Las Vegas?

“Yes and no. We put pressure on ourselves every week to go out and win, and to us this is just another race weekend to get to victory lane. With that said, I know people are going to be watching and seeing what we do this weekend just because of how fast we were last year. We can only do the best that we can do, but obviously we’ve had a strong intermediate program the past few years, especially in 2023. Obviously, you hope to see that same success but nothing is guaranteed. I’m excited to go home, though, and see what we’ve got this year. Like I’ve said before, I’ve never been so excited for a season and intermediate tracks like Vegas are where the season really gets started.”