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

Cole Custer Notes of Interest


•  Cole Custer is headed to Saturday’s inaugural DoorDash 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway hunting for back-to-back wins. He scored his first win of the season last Saturday at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway and punched his ticket to the 2023 Xfinity Series Playoffs. It was a welcome momentum boost for Custer and the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) as they head to a second consecutive road-course race. Custer has been on a hot streak the past seven races, posting an average finish of 3.7 and finishing fifth or better in six of the seven events. With the uncertainties of points racing into the playoffs set aside, Custer can focus on parking his Ford Mustang in victory lane for the next 13 regular-season races until the playoffs begin Sept. 15 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.


•  While Saturday’s DoorDash 250 will be the first Xfinity Series race at Sonoma, Custer can claim a leg up on his fellow fulltime competitors. The native of Ladera Ranch, California, has two starts at the track in the NASCAR Cup Series and three in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. His best Cup Series finish at Sonoma was 20th in June 2021, and his best K&N Series finish was fourth in June 2019. He’ll get additional seat time at the 1.99-mile, 12-turn road course as he’s also competing in Friday’s ARCA Menards Series West race in the No. 55 Ford Mustang for High Point Racing. He drove that same car to a runner-up finish last weekend at Portland.


•  Win and you’re in. That’s the mentality of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs. In the past seven races, Custer was able to elevate himself from 10th in the driver standings to fourth, and he has secured his spot in the 12-driver playoff field with his victory. His eyes are now set on the regular-season championship, where he currently sits 65 points behind leader John Hunter Nemechek. Custer is up for the challenge as he can focus on preparing for the playoffs and collecting more wins in the final 13 regular-season races.


Riley Herbst Notes of Interest


•  Riley Herbst looks to showcase his road-course racing skills during Saturday’s second consecutive Xfinity Series West-Coast road-course race during the DoorDash 250 at Sonoma. The driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for SHR came out of the gates strong in last Saturday’s Portland 147 at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway and ran in the top-10 for a majority of the race. Engine problems in the final stage forced him to retire early from the 75-lap race, however. Herbst has been strong on road courses the past two seasons. In this year’s March 25 race at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, he earned a career-best COTA finish of 10th. He hopes to rebound from the bad luck at Portland and start anew at Sonoma.


•  While Saturday’s race at Sonoma will be the first at the track for the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Herbst does have one start there in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. In June 2016, at the age of 17, Herbst started 10th and finished the 64-lap race fifth in the No. 19 car for owner Bill McAnally.


•  Like his teammate Custer, Herbst will also participate in Friday’s ARCA Menards Series West race at Sonoma. He will be piloting the No. 5 Ford Mustang for owner Jerry Pitts for the second week in a row. In last week’s race at Portland, Herbst started sixth and was one of only three drivers to lead the race, Custer being one of the others. Herbst led 17 laps and appeared to be on his way the win when a blown engine ended his day.


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


You’ve had experience at Sonoma in the NASCAR Cup Series and K&N Pro Series West. What’s your mindset for Sonoma as you return for the first time in the Xfinity Series?

“Sonoma is a cool track, but it’s one of those places where you have to learn that you can’t overdrive it. If you can get into the corner good, that means a lot at any road course, but especially Sonoma. The moment you start overdriving it and missing corners, you put yourself in a bad position. It not only makes you lose time, but you’re also wearing out your tires. It’ll really hurt you. Sonoma is all about trying to manage your tires and being there at the end. As a driver, you have to be disciplined.”


You scored your first Xfinity Series win of the 2023 season and your first on a road course last weekend at Portland. Talk about the win and what kind of confidence it gives you as we head to another road course.

“I knew going into that last restart that there was an opportunity to sneak through calamity. I just made sure I made it, and then I tried to be smart. Ultimately, everyone was equal on speed and performance, so it was about being able to finish, just like any road course. There was a bunch of relief when I crossed the finish line on Saturday. As a team, we’ve expected to win a lot going into this year and it hasn’t always gone our way. The win was such a big deal for myself and the team. Road courses in general have always been solid for me, but I feel like it just never worked out perfectly. You have to have everything go right to win this style of racing. I’m excited to head to another road course this weekend and go for another win.”


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


Portland did not go as planned, but you had a good run going until the engine issue near the end of the race. How do you keep your confidence up after so much bad luck has been thrown your way?

“I won’t lie, it’s tough. We’ve had fast cars each and every week, but the results just haven’t been there for us. It’s a series of bad luck, but at the end of the day, you have to realize that it’s a long season. We still have plenty of time to turn it around, and hopefully that’s just what the No. 98 Monster Energy team will do at Sonoma. I’m excited to head there and get some extra time in the ARCA Menards Series West car to try and help me on Saturday. We’re taking it one race at a time, so we’re focused on this weekend in Sonoma.”


While you’ve never been to Sonoma in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, you do have some experience in the K&N Pro Series West. How do these starts help you learn a new track where you only have one Xfinity Series practice session?

“It helps a lot to have that extra time on the track in other series. I haven’t raced at Sonoma since 2016 in the K&N Pro Series West, so this, along with the full practice session on Friday, will help me learn and prepare. We haven’t really had a lot of full practice sessions since the pandemic, so it’s nice to get these when we can. I know Sonoma can be a tricky road course, so we’ve been working hard to prepare for it. Hopefully, we can have a good run this weekend.”