Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • Cole Custer is transitioning from intermediate tracks and road courses to back-to-back short-track races starting with Saturday’s Richmond 250 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. The driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse showed his strength on short tracks in his return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series last season. His fifth-place finish at Richmond last April 5 kicked off his run of 11 consecutive top-10 finishes, which featured his victories June 3 from the second starting position at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway and from the pole July 1 in the Inaugural Chicago Street Race. The week after his fifth-place finish at Richmond, he qualified on the pole and finished third at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Eight of Custer’s top-10 finishes during that spring-summer run were top-fives. In his four short-track starts in 2023, Custer qualified in the top-three for three of them, including the Martinsville pole and another Sept. 15 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, and top-five finishes in three of them. He now looks to continue that short-track success this season wearing the crown of reigning Xfinity Series champion.
  • The Richmond 250 will be Custer’s ninth Xfinity Series start at the .75-mile oval. Since his first start at the track in 2016, he has never finished outside the top-15. Prior to his fifth-place finish in his most recent Xfinity Series visit to Richmond last April, Custer was victorious there in April 2019 after starting fourth and leading a race-high 122 laps in his No. 00 Ford Mustang. He beat runner-up Austin Cindric by 2.639 seconds for his second of seven wins that season. Custer posted a third-place finish when the series returned to Richmond in September. Custer and his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) Ford also started on the pole and led 43 laps en route to a sixth-place finish in the April 2018 race at Richmond. In his first Xfinity Series start at the track in April 2016, he scored a sixth-place finish driving the No. 5 JR Motorsports entry.
  • In addition to his NASCAR Xfinity Series starts, Custer has six starts there in the Cup Series and two in the K&N Pro Series East. His best Cup Series finish was 14th in his first Cup Series race there with Stewart-Haas in September 2020. Custer’s first career Richmond outing was his 2013 start in the K&N Pro Series East, which he started and finished third after leading 24 of 100 laps. His second was his 2014 win in the K&N Pro Series East race, in which he qualified second and led a race-high 52 of 100 laps en route to his fourth of four career victories in that series.

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

  • Riley Herbst is ready to take on the first short track of the 2024 season during Saturday’s Richmond 250 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. After his past success on short tracks, the No. 98 Monster Energy driver hopes to keep the momentum going in 2024. The opening five races of the season saw the Las Vegas native score a pair of top-five finishes and a boat load of stage points to put him fifth in the driver standings. He’s been looking forward to his return to Richmond, his favorite track on the circuit. Herbst has come to excel on the short tracks in the Xfinity Series, as was evident the past two seasons. In the four races at tracks less than a mile in length in 2022, he scored three top-fives, including a fifth-place finish in the April race on the .75-mile oval. He was third that following November at the half-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway paperclip, and fifth at the half-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway concrete oval in September. There was no slowing him down in 2023.. Of the four short tracks in 2023, Herbst finished in the top-10 in September’s Bristol race (eighth) and October’s Martinsville race (fourth). His first career Xfinity Series start came on a short track, the .875-mile Iowa Speedway oval in Newton, in June 2018. He finished that race an impressive sixth, and has since gone on to on to earn 13 more short-track top-10s, including his last two short-track starts dating back to that eighth-place finish in at Bristol.
  • Saturday’s Richmond 250 will mark Herbst’s seventh at Richmond. In addition to his fifth-place finish in April 2022, he earned a fifth-place finish there in April 2021. In his five Richmond starts since debuting at the track in April 2019, Herbst has finished outside the top-10 just once. Strategy calls by former crew chief Richard Boswell and Herbst’s savvy driving led to the 25-year-old’s top-fives in his 2021 and 2022 visits to the track. Both came as a result of late-race calls to take tires, and solid restarts by Herbst.
  • Richmond was the “one that got away” for Herbst last spring. He looked to be on his way to victory lane after qualifying fourth, leading 27 laps and finishing second in each of the opening two stages. But bad luck reared its ugly head in the final stage as contact with another car forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop – the kind that are particularly costly on a short track like Richmond. He fell off the lead lap and had to settle for a 23rd-place finish, his only result outside the top-five at the track since joining Stewart-Haas in 2021. He’s out for redemption this weekend.

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

Do you feel last year’s Richmond race was where it all came together for you in your return to the Xfinity Series?

“In a way, yes. Richmond was the start of a really strong run leading into the summer months for the No. 00 team. The first few races were ones where we struggled to find our footing and figure out what we needed. We didn’t qualify well at Richmond, and honestly it didn’t look like it would be a strong weekend for us. Our speed was off in practice and qualifying. We never gave up, though, and found ourselves in fifth by the end of the race. It locked us into the Dash 4 Cash for Talladega, which we won, and was the start of a string of top-10 finishes. A few weeks later, we got our first win at Portland and we just kept proving why we were championship contenders.”

The team has been working on its short-track program over the last few years and has seen success between the two cars. How much confidence do you have at short tracks with the No. 00 Ford Mustang?

“I have a ton of confidence in the Stewart-Haas Racing short-track cars. You’ve seen it with Riley (Herbst, teammate) and the No. 98 team, and now the No. 00 team. We have the speed to compete for wins at these tracks. There’s been a lot of hard work put into making these cars better and you saw it pay off last year with the strong runs from both cars. In addition to all of that, though, I just enjoy short-track racing like most drivers in the garage. It’s what we grew up racing, so it’s just more familiar to us. I can’t wait to get back to Richmond and see what we’ve got this weekend.”

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

You’re heading to the first true short track of the 2024 season at Richmond Raceway, a track that has treated you well in the past. Last year, you looked to be well on your way to a first career victory there until contact with another car put you back in the field. Do you feel like that race was the “one that got away” in your career?

“Definitely. We were riding such a high going into that race with our consistency in those initial races. To go to Richmond, one of my favorite tracks, and run up front for the first two stages just gave me the confidence that we could win it. Obviously, that wasn’t what happened in the end, though. Even when we got shuffled back because of pit stops, we had that speed to go back up to the front, but damage from contact with another car, and then being forced to pit just threw that all down the drain. Richmond is one that I’ll look back on and think about what I could’ve done differently, but you can’t keep looking back. I’m pumped to get back there and try to go for the win again. Our cars have had the speed, so hopefully we’ll stay out of trouble and be in contention to win it at the end.”

You’re going from a tricky road course to back-to-back short-track races this weekend at Richmond and next weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Are you more confident heading to these next two races given your strong history on short tracks versus road courses?

“As a driver, there’s definitely a lot more confidence from me at a short track versus the road courses. I grew up racing on short tracks, so it’s what I know best. In the past, I’ve struggled at road courses, and, while I’ve gotten better, I’m just more comfortable on a track like Richmond, Martinsville, or Bristol. These are the races that I have circled on my calendar from the start of the year. Stewart-Haas Racing has spent years perfecting this package and I think everyone has seen the speed from our racecars when we roll into a short track.”