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

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

 

• Cole Custer and the No. 00 Haas Automation team head to Saturday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway hunting for a victory at the track nicknamed “The Tricky Triangle.” With two wins and four pole positions earned already this season, Custer sits fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings with a spot in the 12-driver playoffs locked in with eight races to go until the postseason begins Sept. 15 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Custer looks to rebound after his top-five bid last Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon was foiled by an accident on the final lap of the race. The 22nd-place result ended his streak of top-10 finishes at 11 in a row, the longest top-10 streak in the Xfinity Series this season. During the 11-race streak, Custer scored both of this season’s wins – June 3 at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway and July 2 at the inaugural Chicago Street Race. He’s hoping to earn his first victory on a track other than a road course this weekend on Pocono’s unique three-cornered, 2.5-mile layout after a strong history at the track.

 

•  Saturday’s race will mark Custer’s fifth Xfinity Series start at Pocono. In his four prior starts from 2017 to 2019, he never finished outside the top-10. He won there in June 2019 after starting on the pole, leading 58 laps and driving his Ford Mustang to victory lane by a .226-of-a-second margin over Tyler Reddick. Custer also has nine Pocono starts outside of the Xfinity Series – six in the NASCAR Cup Series, one in the NASCAR Truck Series, and two in the NASCAR ARCA Menards Series. His June 2015 ARCA Menards Series start resulted in a victory after starting fifth and leading 18 laps. He finished 4.991 seconds ahead of runner-up Grant Enfinger.

 

•  Custer will be pulling double duty for the third weekend in a row as he’ll also be behind the wheel of the No. 51 Jacob Companies Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing in Sunday’s High Point 400 Cup Series race. His previous best finish at Pocono in the Cup Series is 16th, earned in the Saturday race of the June 2020 weekend doubleheader. He followed that up to finish 17th in the Sunday race.

 

 

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

 

•  Like his teammate Custer, Riley Herbst heads to Saturday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 as a previous Pocono winner. In his first race on the 2.5-mile triangle in June 2017, the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang driver scored his first career ARCA Menards Series victory. He led a race-high 45 laps to take the win by 1.735 seconds over runner-up Brandon Jones. It was a prelude of more potent Pocono runs. In Herbst’s return to Pocono two months later for the August ARCA race, he finished second. Back-to-back fifth-place finishes were earned in his two Pocono ARCA races in 2018. And in his last ARCA start at Pocono in May 2019, Herbst finished second after leading a race-high 68 laps. Herbst has never finished outside the top-five in an ARCA race at Pocono.

 

•  Saturday’s race at the “Tricky Triangle” will mark Herbst’s fourth Xfinity Series start at the track. In his three prior races, he earned a best finish of ninth in his first start at the track in June 2020. In last year’s race, the No. 98 Monster Energy team opted to keep Herbst on track during a caution early in the final stage to put him in the lead. He fought hard to lead four laps on worn tires and gain valuable experience defending the lead from Josh Berry. Ultimately, new tires prevailed, but Herbst was able to hold on for a top-12 finish as the race stayed green all the way to the checkered flag.

 

•  Only eight races remain before the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs begin Sept. 15 at Bristol, and Herbst is currently defending his spot in the 12-driver playoff field. Heading into the weekend at Pocono, he sits 11th in the driver standings but 12th in the playoff standings. Last weekend at New Hampshire, he extended his buffer over 13th-place Parker Kligerman from six points to 18 after rebounding from an early crash and showing his resilience. A win, of course, would secure Herbst a spot in the playoffs, but he can still point his way in by stringing together solid finishes and scoring stage points through the regular season finale on Sept. 9 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.

 

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

 

You’ve had a lot of special moments at Pocono, including your first NASCAR Cup Series start, a NASCAR Xfinity Series win in 2019, and an ARCA Menards Series win in 2015. What would it mean to make another memory and park the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang in victory lane this weekend?

“I think Pocono ranks highest on the list for a lot of drivers, just because the track itself is so unique and so difficult to get around. It’s a challenge. The corners are so flat, it’s hard to get your car to work right there. It’s hard as a driver to really be aggressive and really get your lines right. There’s a lot that goes into it when you’re trying to be fast there. A lot of shifting involved, and as a driver you have to be on your game, so it means a lot to win at Pocono. Hopefully we can do that this weekend.”

 

With Pocono being such an unusual track on the circuit with only three turns, all of which are very different, how do you navigate the track as a driver?

“As a driver, you have to look at it and almost reset yourself going into every single corner. Each turn at Pocono is so different, so how you work the brake and the throttle, are you shifting or are you not shifting, what’s your line in that turn – it’s all unique in each of the three corners. There are so many different things you can do as a driver at Pocono, so you really have to reset and adapt to your car as best as you can. So, it’s definitely a challenge and always makes it exciting.”

 

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

 

Pocono was the site of your first career ARCA Menards Series victory in 2017. How significant is this track to your racing career?

“It was big for me. To be able to come to Pocono and score the win was big for me. I got a shot to drive, and I drove the car to victory lane. It’s one of those moments that I’ll always think about when I started my NASCAR career. Pocono holds a special place in my heart, so it would mean a lot to be able to go to victory lane there in the NASCAR Xfinity Series as well. It would just make it that much more special – first career Xfinity Series win at the place I got my first career ARCA win.”

 

You’ve mentioned Pocono being one of your favorite tracks on the circuit, but it’s also a difficult and unique one. Walk us through how you navigate the three turns as a driver.

“Pocono’s a tricky one. Each turn is so different, so you have to approach them with different strategies. We’ll do our best. Turn one is super fast and high-banked. Then, you go through the Long Pond straightaway, and into the Tunnel Turn. That’s just like the Indianapolis big track – super flat, tight radius, and very bumpy. Then you go down the short shoot into a long turn three, which is the most important corner of the track in my opinion. It’s extremely flat and high speed, but you have to come off of it well to get a good run for the longest straightaway in NASCAR. Hopefully, we can successfully tackle each corner and park our No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang in victory lane.”

 

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