Riley Herbst is gearing up return to Stewart-Haas Racing’s No.98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for his third season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.
A member of Stewart-Haas Racing since 2021, Herbst had a consistent 2022 campaign with three top three finishes, eight top fives and 20 top 10s – enough for a spot in the playoffs and eventual 10th in the points. Gaining experience and confidence with each race he runs, Herbst was pleased with 2022 and sees it as a strong springboard into 2023.
“We had a strong 2022 season,” says Herbst. “We had a bunch of top fives and a bunch of top 10s. This year I’ll be able to learn off my teammate Cole Custer. I really think that’s going to help our program out exponentially, and hopefully we can work together and end up in victory lane.
“I liked the 2022 season, but I didn’t love it. Obviously, we want to win. and we want to win everything. Hopefully we can make that next step this year and get into victory lane and start collecting trophies.
“We’re really focusing on consistency coming into 2023. Consistency is key in all racing, but especially in NASCAR. Hopefully we can continue to build that consistency, and that consistency can bring us to a higher level where those top threes can turn into wins and more poles, more laps led, more stage points and all of that stuff. We’re just trying to take that next step this year and be better than we were last year.”
Two individuals who Herbst believes have been of terrific importance to him throughout his tenure in the Xfinity Series have been Kevin Harvick and SHR crew chief Richard Boswell.
“Obviously, with Kevin Harvick, 2023 will be his last year,” Herbst says. “He’s going out big and it’s awesome to watch him. He’s a childhood hero of mine, so it’s cool to be in the industry while he is making his final year. Also, I signed with Kevin Harvick Incorporated, his management company. He’s helped me out off of the race track tremendously. He points me in the right direction and gives me advice on and off the race track, which is very, very cool.
“Richard Boswell is an awesome guy. He’s a really good crew chief. He’s a racer and he just loves to go to the race track. And the team itself is excellent. It’s the start of my third year with them. It’s awesome. Stewart-Haas is a shop full of winners and racers, and they’ve everything they can to support us in the No. 98 team and it definitely feels like home.”
Team boss Tony Stewart also keeps a close eye on Herbst.
“Tony comes to quite a few races,” says Herbst. “Man, he’s the racers’ racer. When he’s not at a race track with us, he’s at a race track with his wife, or he’s at another race competing in a dirt car. He’s even doing a little bit of drag racing now. He’s the definition of a racer.”
The 2023 Xfinity Series kicks off at Daytona on February 18. It’s a date that Herbst says can’t come soon enough.
“I’m eager to get after it,” he says. “I know we can be there at the end. I think with anything in life and in racing, confidence is key. Over the last six to eight months I have felt more and more confidence in my abilities. I’m also extremely confident in my preparation and in the work I’m doing. I’m really confident in my crew chief and my team. All of that means good things, and hopefully they mean victory lane shortly.
“Daytona is one of our biggest races of the year, but it’s a wild one to say the least. We’re going to work closely with Cole in the 00 and hopefully we can work together and draft and be up at the front when it comes down to it. Cole and I are good friends. I’ve known him for a little while and we’ve already started planning for Daytona and how to best attack that track, and how to work together and how to help the team out in general.”
After the opening Daytona race, the Xfinity Series will head to Auto Club Speedway followed by Phoenix Raceway on March 25.
“They’re critically important,” says Herbst. “You have to be consistent at the first 10 races and then you can racing after that because the field is so close together. All of these race tracks are good fun and I feel like we’ll be competitive at every track.”
Before all that comes the NASCAR Xfinity Series test scheduled for Charlotte on January 30.
“That’ll be a good day to trey and get some practice and to get your feet back in the racecar and to get your head right,” he says. “It’ll be good to get the new team members here oriented with the team, and I’ll be able to get myself comfortable in the race car again. It’s good that they gave us this test.”
While the eventual target is a Cup ride, Herbst’s immediate priority is to notch up some wins at the Xfinity level.
“I would love to race in the Cup Series and I’d love to be a winner in the Cup Series, but right now I want to win races in the Xfinity Series and be the champion and then we can talk about the Cup Series at a later date,” he says.
“We’re locked in on what we have to do to go and try and win these races and to be in contention for a championship. Piece by piece we are putting the puzzle together, and it’s going together really well. Our morale at Stewart-Haas Racing is really good. We’re very eager to get the season going and we’re going to try and win some races and contend for championships. I really want that first race win. It has to happen. Hopefully it is at our first race at Daytona. If not, we’ll keep working hard and we’ll chip away it.”