Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • Coming off the season’s first NASCAR Xfinity Series off weekend, Cole Custer is ready to tackle the first road-course race of 2024 during Saturday’s Focused Health 250 at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas. The driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse was elevated to the ranks of road-course ace in 2023 after taking home the win at two of the eight road-course races during the season and finishing in the top-10 at six of them. His victories on June 3 at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway and July 1 at the inaugural Chicago Street Race were hard-earned, and Custer’s most recent road-course outing Oct. 7 on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval ended with a runner-up finish. He finished off the season a month later with his third victory of 2023, on the mile oval at Phoenix Raceway, which earned Custer his first Xfinity Series championship. Custer’s road-course wins last year at Portland and Chicago came in his first starts at those tracks, where he qualified second and first, respectively. As the team prepares for six road courses in the 2024 season, Custer is hopeful to be one of the drivers to beat at each.
  • Saturday’s Focused Health 250 will be Custer’s fourth NASCAR Xfinity Series start at COTA. He finished third at the 3.426-mile, 20-turn circuit in 2022 and seventh in 2021. He also has a pair of NASCAR Cup Series starts there with a best result of 23rd earned in March 2022.
  • Custer’s strong road-course performances have not been limited to the Xfinity Series. He also has top-10s in all three of his NASCAR Truck Series outings on road courses, all occurring at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario. Best of those was his most recent outing in 2016 with the No. 00 JR Motorsports entry, which he qualified on the pole, led a race-high 39 laps and finished just .034 of a second behind race-winner John Hunter Nemechek. Custer also made three road-course starts apiece at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series with a best finish of third in the 2016 race at Watkins Glen. Last year, he made two starts on road courses in the ARCA Menards Series West – at Portland and Sonoma. His best result of the two was a runner-up finish in the June 2 race at Portland, where he also led 22 laps.

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

  • Riley Herbst is ready to put the bad luck behind him as he heads to Saturday’s Focused Health 250 at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas. After presenting himself as a strong competitor in each race so far this season, Herbst is looking to close the deal and find his way back to victory lane in the Xfinity Series. In the first four races of the season, the No. 98 Monster Energy driver has earned two top-10 finishes with a best of fifth at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He’s scored stage points in every race so far, helping to solidify his fourth-place position in the driver standings. He now sits just five points behind his third-place Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate Cole Custer and 37 behind the points leader Chandler Smith. Herbst has struggled at COTA in the past, but last season was the top performing SHR driver there, earning a top-10 finish from the seventh starting position in just his third career start at the track.
  • Saturday’s Focused Health 250 will mark Herbst’s fourth career NASCAR Xfinity Series start at COTA. His first start there in the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford in 2021 resulted in a 16th-place finish. He returned in March 2022 to post a 26th-place finish after struggling with balance issues.
  • While Herbst looks to make another breakthrough Xfinity Series run at COTA this weekend, he’ll try to capitalize on the momentum from his string of strong road-course outings the past two seasons. In 2022, Herbst earned top-10s in three of his six road-course starts. Last year, he had strong runs at a majority of the eight road-course races, qualifying in the top-10 at five of the eight. He started the season with his 10th-place finish at COTA and looked to be well on his way to another top-10 in the June 3 race at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway until an engine issue forced him to retire early. He earned a fifth-place finish after starting fourth in July’s race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. He ended the road-course portion of the schedule with a fourth-place finish Oct. 7 on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval just one week before he scored his first career Xfinity Series win Oct. 14 at Las Vegas.

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

This weekend’s race at COTA marks the first on a road-course race in 2024. You had a strong showing there last year until a spin put you too far back in the pack to compete for the win. What do you need this year to not only finish strong, but also compete for the win?

“Honestly, we just need to stay out of trouble. We proved to be strong on road courses in 2023 with our two wins, but COTA was different. We found ourselves struggling because of how things got heated. Just like Martinsville or short-track racing, road courses are a very easy place to get frustrated with other drivers. One wrong move and you could turn someone or get turned. I think it’s all about keeping my cool as a driver and being smart when racing into those corners at COTA. They’re sharp, so you can find trouble there.”

While you just returned fulltime to the Xfinity Series last year, you did make select starts in the series the prior three seasons, including the 2021 and 2022 races at COTA and posted finshes of seventh and third, respectively, both from the third starting position. Did that help you as you tackled last year’s slate of eight Xfinity Series road-course races?

“I’ve always loved road-course racing and, honestly, COTA’s been a solid track for me despite some issues last year. Road-course racing has always been fun for me. I obviously ran the Xfinity races at COTA in 2021 and 2022 as well as the Cup races, so hopefully we can keep building on what I learned there and see if we can contend for the win this weekend. We just have to keep our cool when things get heated and make the right moves. After last season, though, we proved that the No. 00 team can be contenders on road courses.”

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

You’ve been vocal about your past struggles at COTA. Still, you’ve had a strong record in the past two years on road courses, in general. Do you think your strong runs will help improve your prospects this weekend?

“I think each road course possesses its own difficulties, but I still can’t seem to wrap my head around COTA. It’s just such a unique road course because it’s so narrow. You’re used to seeing F1 cars on it, but not a big stock car. I’m still trying to figure out how best to run it and not get turned in the corners. With that said, I am proud of the No. 98 Monster Energy team for how hard we’ve worked on our road-course package over the past year. They used to be a struggle for me, but now I can actually run up front and be competitive against some big road-course ringers. We saw my teammate win two road courses last year, which was big for our organization. Hopefully, we can come back and be just as competitive on them in 2024.”

Your race at Phoenix two weekends ago didn’t go how you would’ve hoped, given your strong runs there in the past. How do you bounce back this weekend after a difficult race like that, where things just didn’t go your way?

“It’s all about taking it one race at a time. One bad race isn’t going to ruin your season this early on. You can’t keep thinking about last week when you have to go back and get in the racecar the very next week. It’s all about your mindset when it comes to that. If you get stuck on the past and mistakes that were made, you’re going to overthink everything. As a racer, you need to focus forward and learn how you can get better for the next race. So we had something happen at Phoenix, but you can only learn from it and move on to COTA. They’re such completely different tracks, anyway. Obviously, we’ll look back on the spring race at Phoenix as we prepare for the season finale later on, but for right now, it’s about going to the next week and competing for wins.”