Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • Cole Custer is paying tribute to the early days of Stewart-Haas Racing in Saturday’s Crown Royal Purple Bag Project 200 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway with his tribute to one of his racing heroes who was a driver from the Haas CNC Racing era. The No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse will sport a vibrant orange and black scheme that is akin to Johnny Sauter’s 2006 No. 00 car that he drove for Haas CNC Racing in the Xfinity Series. Coincidentally, Custer’s current crew chief, Jonathan Toney, worked as an engineer with Sauter during his time with the team in the mid-to-late 2000s. In 2006, Sauter ran the full Xfinity Series season in the No. 00 car for Haas CNC Racing, earning two top-fives and nine top-10s. He earned one pole, in the October race at the .75-mile Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park oval, and went on to finish the season eighth in the driver standings. Sauter, the 2016 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, returned to Haas CNC Racing for the 2007 season, this time in the NASCAR Cup Series, and Toney made the move with him.
  • Saturday’s Crown Royal Purple Bag Project 200 at Darlington will mark Custer’s fifth career Xfinity Series start at the track nicknamed “Too Tough to Tame.” Despite never having led a lap at Darlington, the native of Ladera Ranch, California, was credited with the Xfinity Series victory in August 2019 after he crossed the finish line .602 of a second behind apparent race-winner Denny Hamlin. But Hamlin’s racecar was disqualified after a ride-height violation discovered in postrace inspection, giving Custer his sixth of seven Xfinity Series wins that season. In the September 2018 race at Darlington, Custer was runner-up to Brad Keselowski by .738 of a second. Custer finished ninth in his Xfinity Series debut at Darlington in September 2017. Custer has not finished worse than ninth at the track.
  • Custer has an additional seven starts outside of the Xfinity Series at Darlington, all in the NASCAR Cup Series from 2020 to 2022. His best outing there was an 11th-place effort in the September 2021 Southern 500. He scored two other Darlington top-15s in the Cup Series – a 12th-place finish in September 2020 and a 14th-place finish in his most recent Cup Series start in September 2022.

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

  • Riley Herbst is putting the focus on his unique racing roots as the NASCAR Xfinity Series returns from its second off weekend of the season for Saturday’s Crown Royal Purple Bag Project 200 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The No. 98 Ford Mustang will pay homage to Herbst’s family, specifically his father, three-time Baja 1000 champion Troy Herbst, by turning his matte black Monster Energy Ford Mustang Dark Horse into bright red with the markings of his family’s business, Terrible’s. Troy, his brothers, Ed and Tim, and Riley’s grandfather dominated the SCORE International Trophy Truck off-road-racing world, especially during the late 1990s and early 2000s with the family’s Terrible Herbst Motorsports team. All four of them were inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame. While Riley chose to pursue pavement racing in NASCAR, he still returns to his roots during the offseason to race for the family team in the Baja 1000. Last November, the younger Herbst co-drove with his father to a class victory in the Trophy Truck Spec class. He and the team finished the 2021 and 2022 races ninth and third, respectively.
  • Saturday’s 200-mile race will mark the ninth Xfinity Series start at Darlington for Herbst. While he’s experienced a mixed bag of results at the track affectionately known as the “Lady in Black,” he’s also earned some of his career-best finishes there. In his eight prior starts at the track, Herbst has earned three top-10 finishes with a best of third, earned in the May 2022 race on the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval. While his last race there in September 2023 was an up-and-down day of emotions as he was racing to make the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs, he came out on top with a sixth-place finish after starting 15th. While Herbst seeks his first win of the season at Darlington, he’s doing so with a team that has been victorious twice there in the Xfinity Series – August 2019 with Custer and May 2020 with Chase Briscoe.
  • Herbst knows how to win on intermediate tracks. His first career Xfinity Series victory came at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October. Not only did the 25-year-old driver park his Ford Mustang in victory lane, he bested the field by more than 14 seconds, the second largest margin of victories in the series. The team currently holds 17 Xfinity Series wins on NASCAR’s intermediate tracks, nine of which have come with the No. 98 team.

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

You’re notorious for picking your own throwback paint schemes almost every year at Darlington. What makes you so passionate about picking ones that are meaningful to you?

“Throwback weekend has always been a fun concept for me. I got started racing at such a young age, but I was always a fan of a lot of these people I’m choosing for throwbacks. A lot of them have been connected to Haas Automation and Haas CNC Racing, but it’s always cool to see how we can switch up our paint scheme to honor some of the best drivers in our sport. I’ve done Jason Leffler for several years now, so it’s cool to pick a new one with Johnny Sauter, who also drove the No. 00 for Haas CNC Racing. I was a big Johnny Sauter fan growing up, and I don’t think I missed watching a race during that 2006 season when he drove the No. 00 for the team. The No. 00 has a legacy to it and I’m proud to be a part of it. Johnny was an asset to the beginnings of Haas CNC Racing before it became Stewart-Haas Racing, so I’m proud to be able to honor someone who then went on to be a NASCAR champion like myself.”

Darlington is a difficult track where a lot of drivers struggle to find success. Yet, you’ve earned four top-fives, five top-10s, and one win at the 1.366-mile oval in your five starts. What’s your secret to navigating the track?

“Darlington is called ‘Too Tough to Tame’ for a reason. It’s such a difficult track for a driver. If your car isn’t set up right, it can make for a bad race. I’ve been lucky to have some good runs there and continue to score top-10s, but we still have yet to lead laps at Darlington. I got the win in 2019, but I would like to run up front all day and lead laps. We’ve been close, but we just need that little bit more. Luckily, JT (Jonathan Toney, crew chief) and the guys have been working on it, and I know they’ll bring me a fast racecar this weekend. We’ve been good there, but I know we can be the best of the best.”

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

Darlington has been one of those tracks where you run well but often find bad luck. What do you need to do in order to not only stay out of trouble Saturday, but also find your way to victory lane?

“Honestly, this racetrack is all about being patient. You can’t get too heated if you’re working your way through traffic or it’ll come back to bite you. I’ve had some of my best runs at Darlington and some of my worst. I’ve made some mistakes and gotten back in the pack, which ended up not working out in my favor. Bad luck can hit you hard there, and I can say that I’ve seen both the good side and bad side of Darlington. If we can just stay focused and keep out of bad luck’s way, I know the No. 98 team can find its way to victory lane at Darlington. We’ve had the speed all year, it’s just about staying out of trouble.”

Your throwback scheme is a special one for you as you honor your dad’s championship-winning Trophy Truck and your family’s off-road racing legacy. What does it mean to be able to pay tribute to not only your family, but your very unique racing roots?

“This throwback means a lot to me. Not many people in the sport come from an off-road-racing background like mine. It’s just not as common. My dad used to show up to racetracks and when people saw that red Trophy Truck come off the trailer, they knew they were all racing for second. He’s had such an influence in motorsports, even if it wasn’t specifically NASCAR. Off-road racing was what I grew up around and knew best. I chose to pursue NASCAR to make a career out of it, but I’ve been going back every offseason to race in the Baja 1000 with my family’s team. To be able to run this paint scheme means a lot, and I hope I can put it in victory lane for Monster Energy, Terrible’s, and my family at Darlington.”