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

Cole Custer Notes of Interest


•  Cole Custer is going home. The Ladera Ranch, California, native is looking his third NASCAR Xfinity Series win in a row at Auto Club Speedway Fontana, California, during Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300. He was victorious in his previous two Xfinity Series outings on the 2-mile oval in 2019 and 2022. In 2019, he qualified his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) Ford third, then beat runner-up Kyle Busch by 1.927 seconds, leading 29 laps along the way. Last year, Custer piloted in the No. 07 Ford Mustang for SS GreenLight Racing to the victory by a .565-of-a-second margin over runner-up Noah Gragson.


•  Returning to Custer’s No. 00 SHR Mustang this weekend is Production Alliance Group (PAG). Tustin, California-based PAG is a premium live-event and creative development company. Its creative works can been seen at concerts, award shows, sporting events, and corporate events. From the lights to the sound and everything in-between, PAG is the creativity and execution behind it all. Coincidentally, it was in victory lane after the 2019 Xfinity Series race that the PAG-SHR relationship began. Custer first met company president and CEO Dale Sahlin. The two kept in touch, and PAG ultimately decided to increase its presence within NASCAR via SHR’s Xfinity Series program.


•  The Production Alliance Group 300 will be Custer’s fifth Xfinity Series start at Fontana and his seventh overall. He has two NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track. Prior to his back-to-back wins in the Xfinity Series, Custer had a sixth-place finish in the March 2018 race after an accident ended his Fontana Xfinity Series debut in 2017. He’s got his eye on victory lane once again after a strong ninth-place outing in last Saturday’s season opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.


•  On Friday night at Fontana, Custer will participate in the track’s annual Pedal Party. The event kicks off the race weekend with a bike ride around the track, during which fans get a chance to take their wheels onto the asphalt joined by drivers. Custer will ride on the Burgeon’s Heating & A/C party trailer that will roam the infield to signal the beginning of the bike ride and the race weekend. The party starts at 5 p.m. PT.


Riley Herbst Notes of Interest


•  Riley Herbst will be a newly minted 24-year-old when he rolls into Auto Club Speedway for Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300. His birthday is Friday (Feb. 24) and he’s hoping to celebrate by parking his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for SHR in victory lane. Last Saturday, Herbst picked up right where he left off in 2022 by scoring a sixth-place finish in the season opener at Daytona, where the No. 98 team showcased its speed and fortitude by running in the top-three for a majority of the race. It was the first race with Herbst’s new teammate, the ninth-place-finishing Custer.


•  Herbst also made his first NASCAR Cup Series start in last Sunday’s Daytona 500, driving the No. 15 Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing. While the Las Vegas native struggled in the initial laps, he rebounded by avoiding mayhem on his way to a 10th-place finish, his second of the weekend. Herbst became only the second driver in NASCAR history to record a top-10 in his Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500, joining Terry Ryan, who made his debut in the 1976 edition of The Great American Race and finished sixth. He is also the fourth driver in NASCAR history to score a top-10 in his first career start in the Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Truck Series.


•  Herbst’s strong run at Daytona sets the stage for his arrival at one of his stronger tracks. Fontana is the site of his career-best Xfinity Series finish of second, earned in his first start at the track in 2020. He equaled that result a little less than five months later with another runner-up finish at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. Herbst’s next Xfinity Series outing at Fontana also resulted in a top-10 finish. After a one-year hiatus in 2021, the series returned to the track for last year’s race, which he finished ninth.


•  Monster Energy has supported Herbst throughout a majority of his career and continues its support of him in the No. 98 Ford Mustang. Fontana will be a hometown race for the brand as its headquarters are located in Corona, California. On Friday, Herbst will visit the facility to meet and thank employees for their support of his career. Monster Energy is the leading marketer of energy drinks and alternative beverages. Refusing to acknowledge the traditional, the company supports the scene and sport. Monster Energy is a brand that believes in authenticity and the core of what its sports partnerships, athletes and musicians represent. More than a drink, it’s the way of life lived by athletes, sports, bands, believers and fans.


Cole Custer, Driver of the No. 00 Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang


You’re returning to Fontana, where you’ve won in your past two Xfinity Series starts. What is it about the track that appeals to your driving style?

“I love Fontana. It’s probably my favorite racetrack on the circuit. It’s a great track because you’re moving around so much, slipping and sliding, and there are so many different racing lines you can use depending on what your car wants. We’ve won there in the Xfinity Series twice and it’s where we first met our sponsors from PAG, so that was all very cool. I’d love to bring them another win there this weekend.”


After a strong outing last weekend at Daytona that ended in a top-10 finish, what are your expectations for the No. 00 team this season?

“I think some people could look at it and assume that I’m thinking, ‘Poor me, I’ve gone back to the Xfinity Series.’ For me, there’s not really any ‘poor me’ in it. I’m excited to go out and compete for wins. There’s always some emotion but, at the end of the day, once you really think about it, I’m excited about the thought of going to win races in the Xfinity Series this season. It’s no secret that we want to go out and win races and compete for a championship. If we’re not, it’s a disappointment. We can talk as much as we want about it, but now we have to go and do it.”


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


Back to Fontana – you scored top-10 finishes in your previous two visits to the track with the Xfinity Series. Talk about your expectations for the weekend.

“I’m excited to go back to Fontana. It’s one of my favorite tracks. I think we have shown that we have the speed to compete, so now we just need to perform. We have a secret weapon with Cole Custer on our team. He’s really good there and I’m hoping to learn from him as we go through the weekend. The goal is to put an SHR car in victory lane and I’m hoping we can turn that second from 2020 to a first this weekend. It would mean the world to get a win in Monster’s hometown.”


One race into this NASCAR Xfinity Series season, how competitive do you think the series is this year?

“The Xfinity Series is as competitive as it’s ever been in its history. In 2023, we have a lot of good drivers in the series and that makes it more special when you do well and win races. There are also a lot of drivers from last year that have moved up to Cup and it’s a new playing field. I think you saw it last week at Daytona, but people seem to be more patient and willing to work together. I’m excited to race this group of drivers and, hopefully, we can make it to victory lane.”