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

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • After back-to-back road-course top-10 finishes, Cole Custer is ready for a new challenge on the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule as the series returns to Iowa Speedway in Newton for the first time since 2019. The driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse showed his speed and resilience in the two road-course races on the West Coast – June 1 at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway and last Saturday at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. At Portland, Custer qualified fourth and ran in the top-five for a majority of the day until problems on pit road dropped him well outside the top-20 in the final stage. Through his savvy driving skills, Custer was able to manueuver his way to his 10th top-10 of the season and the Xfinity Series points lead. At Sonoma, the No. 00 team struggled in qualifying and started the race 12th. He wasted no time climbing his way into the top-10, however. While he would forego bonus points in favor of track position to end the first stage, he finished fifth in the second for six bonus markers. A spin during the final stage put Custer back in the pack once again, but he drove his way up through the field for the second week in a row to secure a ninth-place finish, his 11th top-10 on the season, and kept his lead in the driver standings. He rolls into Iowa with a 12-point lead over second-place Austin Hill. Custer hopes his strong history at Iowa will not only help keep his points lead, but continue to extend it with 12 races to go until the Xfinity Series Playoffs begin Sept. 28 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
  • Saturday’s Hy-Vee Perks 250 will mark Custer’s seventh Xfinity Series start at Iowa. Of his six prior starts, the Ladera Ranch, California native finished in the top-10 four times, including a runner-up finish from the pole in June 2019. He finished 1.756 seconds behind race-winner Christopher Bell. In July 2018, Custer led a race-high 104 laps after qualifying second, but again running second to Bell on a restart with nine laps to go, Custer made contact with the wall, but he managed to fight his way to a ninth-place finish. Custer earned finishes of fifth and fourth, respectively, in the July 2017 and June 2018 races. In addition, he has eight starts outside of the Xfinity Series at Iowa – three in the NASCAR Craftsman Trucks Series, one in the ARCA Menards Series, and four in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. He was victorious in his August 2013 K&N Pro Series East start, when he started on the pole, led all 150 laps, and bested second-place Eddie MacDonald by 2.679 seconds. Custer’s best Truck series effort was his runner-up finish in June 2016, when he finished just .431 of a second behind race-winner William Byron. Custer has never finished outside the top-11 in any of his starts outside of the Xfinity Series at Iowa.
  • Short-track racing has been a strong suit for Custer and the No. 00 team of late. With Iowa returning to the Xfinity Series schedule, the series now has five short-track races – tracks less than a mile in length, where Custer has posted three top-fives and five top-10s in six outings. He finished third at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in March 2022 and eighth this past March, fourth from the pole after leading 109 laps at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last October, fifth at Richmond (Va.) Raceway in March 2023 and 10th there this past April. Custer has excelled at other tracks where NASCAR’s short-track package is used, including Phoenix Raceway, where he earned the Xfinity Series championship with his victory in the Championship 4 finale last November, and qualified on the pole before finishing 12th in last year’s March race. In the team’s most recent Iowa outing in July 2019, Custer qualified sixth, but an accident ended his day on lap 160 of 250 run that day. But his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Chase Briscoe captured the win, besting runner-up Bell by 1.069 seconds. It was the organization’s first win at Iowa.

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

  • In June 2018, a 19-year-old Riley Herbst made his Xfinity Series debut at Iowa Speedway in Newton in head-turning fashion. The Las Vegas native qualified an impressive ninth and finished an equally impressive sixth. Fast forward six years, he is now one of four drivers who have scored a top-10 finish in each of his maiden races in each of NASCAR’s top-three series. Herbst finished eighth at Gateway Raceway near St. Louis in his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on June 23, 2018, the weekend after his first career Xfinity Series race and top-10 at Iowa June 17, 2018. Herbst’s NASCAR Cup Series debut resulted in a ninth-place finish in the February 2023 Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Now a veteran of 156 Xfinity Series races in the midst of his fifth-fulltime season in the series, the young driver who carried his family name from the deserts of Nevada to the asphalt tracks of NASCAR returns to the site of his first career Xfinity Series start.
  • The Hy-Vee Perks 250 will mark Herbst’s third career start at Iowa in the Xfinity Series. He followed up his strong sixth-place effort in his series debut in June 2018 by qualifying fourth for the second of the two Iowa races on the schedule in July 2019. Still running a limited Xfinity Series schedule, Herbst finished finished 13th. Herbst has an additional three starts outside of the Xfinity Series at Iowa – a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race that netted a 15th-place finish in July 2019, and two in the ARCA Menards Series. Best of his ARCA outings was a 12th-place effort in July 2017. The last time Stewart-Haas Racing and the Xfinity Series competed at Iowa in 2019, Chase Briscoe scored his second career victory behind the wheel of the No. 98 Ford Mustang.
  • Herbst’s sixth-place finish in his Xfinity Series debut on the .875-mile Iowa oval in June 2018 was a sign of things to come. The driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang Dark Horse has come to excel on short tracks throughout his five fulltime seasons in the series. Of his 22 short-track starts – eight at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, seven at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, five at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, and two at Iowa – Herbst has six top-fives, 14 top-10s, and has led 33 laps. His success was evident during the previous two seasons. In the four races at tracks less than a mile in length in 2022, Herbst scored three top-fives and one other top-10, starting with his fifth-place run that April at Richmond. He the finished sixth and third in the spring and fall races at Martinsville, and fifth in the September race at Bristol. In 2023, he added a top-five and another top-10 at those tracks – eighth in the September race at Bristol and fourth in the October race at Martinsville. In this year’s back-to-back race weekends at Richmond (March 30) and Martinsville (April 6), Herbst was running well inside the top-10 before late-race developments took him out of contention at both events.

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

You are one of the few drivers in the Xfinity Series field who has a lot of experience at Iowa with six prior starts there. What does it mean to have that experience, despite some recent repaving at the track?

“It definitely gives you somewhat of a leg up on the competition when you have that notebook already built on a track. Still, this track has changed since the last time we were there. They repaved parts of the track and, like we saw at Sonoma, that can change handling more than anyone could imagine. I think my previous experience will still help us a lot, though. The No. 00 team has been bringing fast cars each and every weekend, so I think between that and my experience there, we’ll be good. There’s a full practice session on Friday to help us figure it out, but I don’t think you can count us out this weekend.”

In the past two seasons, you’ve been strong on short tracks in the Xfinity Series. You haven’t finished outside the top-20 and earned three top-fives and four top-10s in six short-track starts. What are your expectations for the weekend?

“While I have a lot of experience at Iowa, there’s still a good bit of unknowns with the partial repave. What was once a worn-out track will have some spots that are completely new. We’ve been strong on short tracks these past two seasons, so I know Stewart-Haas can perform well at Iowa. We won the last race at the track in 2019 with Chase (Briscoe, driver), so hopefully we can pick up right where we left off. I’ve come close a few times, but we just needed that little bit more. That was a different time with a different group of guys, though. I’m excited to see what my current team and JT (Jonathan Toney, crew chief) can bring me this weekend. Hopefully, we’ll have the speed and be there at the end. Our win is coming.”

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

It’s been five years since you last raced at Iowa in the Xfinity Series. What do you expect this weekend, and how do you think it’s changed since 2019?

“Iowa will kind of be an unknown. A lot of us have raced it in the past and it was a really fun, worn-out racetrack back then. Now, they’ve repaved sections of the track, so we don’t know how it’ll handle compared to then. That could change it a lot. Still, we have an entire practice session on Friday to get our car just right, which is great. These are rare, so we’ll use them to our advantage. This will be the first one on a true short track in a while, as well. I love short-track racing, so I think this will just make our car that much better by qualifying and race time. We’ve had speed on short tracks without a 50-minute practice session, imagine how much better we can be with that extra time. I’m excited to head back to Iowa. I loved this track when it was on the schedule, so when NASCAR added it back this season, I had it circled on the schedule.”

Iowa was the site of your Xfinity Series debut back in 2018. Does it add extra meaning to try to win at these tracks that have a special memory in your career?

“It does. It gives you an extra incentive to want to win at those tracks. You want to win everywhere, but tracks that hold that memory are even more important to a driver. I got a chance to highlight my skill in the Xfinity Series at Iowa back in June 2018 and it’s been a roller-coaster of a career. I’ve seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows, but I’m proud of my journey from that debut. Iowa was where it all started for me, and now to be there all these years later as a winner and as a series regular, it’s great. I want to be able to go back and win there to make another good memory there. I think we’ll have a good chance this weekend.”