Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • Cole Custer is ready for his second consecutive short-track race in the Commonwealth of Virginia for Saturday’s DUDE Wipes 250 at Martinsville Speedway. The driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse is coming off a 10th-place finish in last Saturday’s race just up the road at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. Custer qualified third on the .75-mile Richmond oval and ran a strong race, earning a total of five bonus points with stage finishes, and he led once for seven laps. While strategy didn’t play out for Custer and the No. 00 team in Stage 3, they were able to recover in the final laps to salvage a top-10 finish, his fourth in a row this season and his fourth in a row at Richmond in the Xfinity Series. In his nine Xfinity Series starts there, he’s never finished outside of the top-15.
  • Saturday’s DUDE Wipes 250 will mark Custer’s 150th career Xfinity Series start and his third at Martinsville. His best finish of third was earned last April, when he started on the pole and led five laps. Custer does have a dozen previous race outings at Martinsville outside of the Xfinity Series – six apiece in the NASCAR Cup Series and Truck Series. In the Cup Series, the 25-year-old from Ladera Ranch, California, has a best Martinsville finish of 13th in October 2020, and his most recent outing in October 2022 resulted in a 14th-place finish. Best of Custer’s six Truck Series races at Martinsville from 2014 through 2016 was his fourth-place finish from the pole after leading a race-high 96 of 200 laps in the October 2015 race. That was behind the wheel of the No. 00 JR Motorsports entry, which he also drove to a seventh-place finish from the third starting position in the October 2016 Martinsville race, in which he led 17 laps.
  • Custer is back in black. Saturday’s race will sport a new paint scheme on his No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse. It’s a contrast to his iconic white paint scheme that he has run for most of his Xfinity Series career. The black Haas Automation scheme will race at several night races on the 2024 Xfinity Series schedule. The last time he ran a black paint scheme was in last September’s Bristol race, when he paid tribute to his retiring Cup Series teammate Kevin Harvick. Custer started on the pole for the race and finished fourth after leading 52 laps.

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

  • After enjoying some strong moments in last Saturday’s first short-track race of the season at Richmond (Va.) Raceway but not emerging with a top finish to show for it, Riley Herbst looks to finish the job this week on the tricky Martinsville (Va.) Speedway oval. Herbst had to settle for a 13th-place finish in the 250-lap race on the .75-mile Richmond oval despite holding his position in the top-10 and running as high as second in the opening two stages. He looked to have the speed to contend for the win, but an ill-handling racecar and the lack of cautions in the final stage threw the team’s strategy off and forced Herbst to stay on track on older tires. He would fall out of the top-10 by the checkered flag. This weekend, Herbst looks forward to another chance to show off his short-track prowess on the even shorter .526-mile, paperclip-shaped Martinsville oval, where he earned a third-place finish last October. The driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang Dark Horse is looking to finish two spots better as he goes for his second career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory Saturday night under the lights.
  • Saturday’s DUDE Wipes 250 will be Herbst’s eighth at Martinsville in the Xfinity Series. Five of his seven previous starts there resulted in top-10 finishes. Prior to his third-place finishes last October and in October 2022, in which he fought valiantly for the win and avoided mayhem in the final laps, he posted a pair of sixth-place finishes there – in October 2020 and April 2022, respectively. He finished 10th in his October 2021 start.
  • Herbst has come to excel on the short tracks in the Xfinity Series, as was evident the previous two seasons. In the four races at tracks less than a mile in length in 2022, Herbst scored three top-fives, starting with his fifth-place run in that April at Richmond. He finished fifth at the half-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway concrete oval in September and third in November at Martinsville. There was no slowing him down in 2023. Of the four short tracks in 2023, Herbst scored a pair of top-10s during the second-half of the season – eighth in September’s Bristol night race and fourth in October’s Martinsville race. Herbst’s Xfinity Series career started on a strong note when the Las Vegas native drove to a sixth-place finish in his first career Xfinity Series start in June 2018 on the .875-mile Iowa Speedway oval in Newton.

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

Martinsville is such a polarizing track for drivers because of how difficult it can be. Both of your starts there last year in the Xfinity Series were strong, with a best finish of third in last April’s race. Do you enjoy racing at Martinsville?

“For sure. I really enjoy going to Martinsville. With that said, I’ve never been so nervous for a race as I was heading into the second Martinsville race last year. It was a cutoff race and the nerves were crazy. Ever since I first went to Martinsville in the Truck Series, I’ve always loved racing there. It’s definitely a place that you will love when everything is going well and hate when it starts going bad – mostly because when it’s bad, it’s really bad. We had a strong car last April to finish third and, honestly, our car in the fall was just as good. There was just so much on the line in that race. Then, to cross the finish line backwards and on fire, it was just one of those crazy Martinsville endings. Now we can go there without all that pressure and just race for the iconic grandfather clock trophy. That’s a trophy everyone wants to win.”

Despite a rough day in last Saturday’s race at Richmond, you recovered for a top-10 finish. What do you think you can take away from last weekend’s race for Saturday night’s race at Martinsville?

“There’s some things you can take away just on how to run a short track and not use up the brakes, but overall Richmond and Martinsville are two very different short tracks. Richmond is a little larger with higher banking, where Martinsville is so short and flat. Strategy is always key at Richmond, where sometimes Martinsville is just about surviving and staying out of trouble. Our guys are working hard to give us the best car for Martinsville, but it’s also on me to keep my head cool and take Martinsville one lap at a time. I’m confident that we can be in contention to win this weekend.”

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

Martinsville has been a strong track for you despite some roller coaster races in your career. On top of that, you’ve finished third in the past two fall races at Martinsville. Are you excited to head back there this weekend to race for a grandfather clock?

“Martinsville has always been a tough one for me to tackle, but it’s like that for every driver in the field. You can have the best of days there and the worst. I’ve been on both sides of it, but overall, I really do enjoy going to that track. Short-track racing is always fun for me, but Martinsville is where you’re really beating and banging to try and get a win. At the end of the day, it’s about staying out of trouble and being there at the end. I think the No. 98 Monster Energy team has done a great job of that in the past few seasons.”

Despite some bad luck in the first few races, 2024 has been strong for the No. 98 team. You’ve shown speed in every race so far. Does this give you confidence heading into the rest of the season?

“It’s promising, but it still tells me that we left a lot on the table. I think we’ve had really good speed at every track so far, except for COTA, but I kind of knew that going in a little bit, just not really being my strong suit as a racetrack, but we’re going back to a short track. I’m excited to see what Davin (Restivo, crew chief) is bringing to Martinsville this weekend after our third-place finish there in the fall. I know it’s going to be fast and hopefully we can get back on track with top-threes and top-fives and get some points back. It’s cool to see how far I’ve progressed and how far this No. 98 team has come since my first season here and how we continue to just get better each and every week.”