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

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

 

• Cole Custer and the No. 00 Haas Automation team head to Saturday’s Martinsville 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway determined to defend their spot in the Championship 4 of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in the final race of the Round of 8. Custer arrives at the .526-mile, paperclip-shaped oval third in the standings, three points above the top-four cutline. He’s tied in points with fourth-place Austin Hill – each with 3,113 – but currently owns the tiebreaker. Justin Allgaier is the fifth-place driver in the standings with 3,110 points. A victory Saturday would lock Custer, Hill or Allgaier, or by their fellow Round of 8 competitors – second-place John Hunter Nemechek, sixth-place Sammy Smith, seventh-place Chandler Smith, or eighth-place Sheldon Creed – into the Championship 4 finale Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway, leaving the third and fourth positions in the standings to be decided on points. Sam Mayer locked himself into the Championship 4 with his victory last weekend at Homestead. Custer’s Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate Riley Herbst, a non-playoff competitor, scored his first career Xfinity Series victory in the Round of 8 opener at Las Vegas, his home track.

 

•  Custer appeared to be headed to victory lane last weekend at Homestead after qualifying on the pole and leading a race-high 114 laps. But a flat tire and subsequent contact with the wall cost him the lead with 48 laps to go and forced him to come down pit road. He was able to salvage a 13th-place finish and protect his spot in the Championship 4. This weekend, Custer looks for another strong run and to finish the job at Martinsville, where he qualified on the pole and finished third in April. Ideally, he’d love to put all the points talk to rest by winning his first Martinsville Grandfather clock trophy on his way to chasing the championship trophy at Phoenix.

 

•  Saturday’s Martinsville 250 marks Custer’s second Xfinity Series start at Martinsville, his first coming in April. He also has a dozen previous outings at the track – six apiece in the NASCAR’s Cup Series and Truck Series. His best Cup Series finish there was 13th in October 2020. Best of his six Truck Series starts there 2014 through 2016 was his fourth-place run from the pole after leading a race-high 96 of 200 laps in the October 2015 race. That came while driving the No. 00 JR Motorsports entry, which he also drove to a seventh-place finish from the third starting position in the October 2016 race, in which he led 17 laps.

 

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

 

•  Riley Herbst has been on a roll since he scored his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win Oct. 14 at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After his milestone victory, the 24-year-old Monster Energy driver ran in the top-10 for a majority of last weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where in the closing laps he passed second-place John Hunter Nemechek, then chased down leader Sam Mayer all the way to the checkered flag, finishing in the runner-up position just .227 of a second behind. Herbst now heads to Martinsville on a three-race top-five streak that started with his fourth-place finish Oct. 7 on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval. This is the first time in his career that he’s scored top-five finishes in three consecutive races in the Xfinity Series. He’s also matched his career-best eight top-fives in a season, earned first in 2022, and has led a career-high 148 this season. His previous best of 57 laps led came in his first season with SHR in 2021.

 

•  The Martinsville 250 will mark Herbst’s seventh Xfinity Series start at Martinsville. Four of his six previous starts there resulted in top-10 finishes. Prior to last October’s third-place run, in which he fought valiantly for the win over multiple late-race restarts, he posted a pair of sixth-place finishes at the .526-mile, paperclip-shaped oval – in October 2020 and April 2022. Herbst was running solidly in the top-10 in the series’ previous race at Martinsville in April, but was forced to retire 28 laps from the finish after getting caught up in an incident.

 

•  Herbst has come to excel on the short tracks in the Xfinity Series, which became evident last season. In addition to his sixth- and third-place finishes at Martinsville in the spring and fall races of 2022, respectively, he added a fifth-place finish in the April race at Richmond and a fifth-place finish at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in September. Saturday night’s race at Martinsville will mark Herbst’s 17th on a short track in the Xfinity Series. His first career short-track start resulted in a sixth-place finish in June 2018 at Iowa Speedway in Newton. Since then, Herbst has added 11 top-10s. He appeared to be on his way to his first career Xfinity Series victory this past April at Richmond (Va.) Raceway where, after leading 27 laps, he was spun by another car that relegated him to a 23rd-place finish.

 

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

 

Homestead was a strong race for you until bad luck got in the way and took away your chance at a win. Still, you were able to defend your spot in the Championship 4 and move up to third in the standings. What do you feel like you need to do this weekend to compete for a championship at Phoenix?

“I think, going into Martinsville, we just have to keep doing what we’ve done all year. We’ve made our cars better and better throughout the year, and we’ve really grown as a team. Going into this weekend, you have to take it one step at a time, to be honest. You can’t get ahead of yourself. Some things probably aren’t going to go your way at some point during the day. That’s how things go in this sport. Nothing is guaranteed. You have to move on and maximize the day the best you can. Hopefully, we can do just that with the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang.”

 

You only have one career Xfinity Series start at Martinsville, but a good bit of experience there in the Cup Series and the Truck Series. What will it take this weekend to bring home a Grandfather clock?

“Martinsville is always a crazy race. That’s pretty much the only guarantee when heading there. You have to go there and make sure you keep your head on straight during the first two stages. From there, it’s just a matter of maximizing everything that you can in that final stage and knowing what you have to do. You have to understand your situation with your car and with the points. We had a fast Ford Mustang in the spring, and we’re doing little things to make it that much better for the second race. Hopefully, we’ll go out there and have a solid day. I think we can be in the thick of things at the end.”

 

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

 

You’ve had three straight top-five finishes, including your first career Xfinity Series win two weekends ago at Las Vegas. Safe to say the No. 98 Monster Energy team is bringing confidence to Martinsville this weekend?

“It definitely gives us confidence. Winning at Las Vegas was everything. It’s a day that I had wished for and, when it finally came, it was even better than I could’ve imagined. Even though each track and each race is different, I think that win just proved that we can go out there and compete for victories. Even last weekend at Homestead, we were there at the end when it mattered. We were close, but ultimately it’s showing what this team can do. While we may not be in the playoffs, we’re not just going to fade to the back of the pack. Every weekend is a new opportunity to race for a win. You have to take the NASCAR season one race at a time.”

 

Martinsville is thought to be such a difficult track, but you’ve performed well there, earning four top-10 finishes in six starts. How do you approach Saturday’s race?

“Martinsville is all about being smart and staying out of trouble. Qualifying well helps as it’s harder to drive your way up through the field on these short tracks. We had a strong run building there back in the spring, but bad luck forced us to retire early. Prior to that, though, we’ve had strong runs there with the No. 98 Monster Energy team. It’s a difficult track, for sure. There’s a lot of beating and banging but, if you’re smart, then you can come out on top and bring home the Grandfather clock. I don’t think you can count us out for this weekend, either, given our momentum and my history at Martinsville. We just have to pace ourselves and keep our heads on straight when things ultimately get heated on the track.”

 

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