Riley Herbst Remains in Contention Despite Darlington Wreck

Riley Herbst

Getty Riley Herbst prepares for a race at Daytona International Speedway.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Riley Herbst headed to Darlington Raceway on Saturday, Sept. 4, with the goal of winning and locking himself into the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs. A frightening crash derailed his day and relegated him to a 38th-place finish, but he remains above the cutline with two regular-season races remaining.

The driver of the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang currently sits 46 points above the cut line and JR Motorsports driver Michael Annett. Herbst made moves during Annett’s two-race absence due to his recovery from surgery to repair a fractured right femur. The driver of the No. 98 locked up three consecutive top-10 finishes to move above the playoff cut line.

Herbst’s next opportunities to win a race and reach the playoffs will be at Richmond Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway. He has made five combined starts at the two tracks, finishing top-10 three times. His best finish is ninth at Richmond in 2019.

Annett has achieved similar success, albeit with several more starts. He has 34 combined starts at the two tracks, as well as a best finish of fifth at Richmond in 2012 while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Herbst Has Yet To Win a Race in His Xfinity Career

Riley Herbst

GettyRiley Herbst races in the Wawa 250 at Daytona.

While he currently sits above the playoff cut line, Herbst has yet to win a race in his Xfinity Series career. He came close during his first full-time season, posting runner-up finishes at Auto Club Speedway and Kentucky while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2020. His best finishes in 2021 are a pair of fourth-place finishes at Phoenix and Talladega.

SHR co-owner Tony Stewart remains confident in Herbst’s abilities as a driver despite the winless start to his Xfinity Series career. Stewart explained in an interview with “Heavy” that Herbst has the potential to win several races in a single season, much like former Xfinity Series driver Chase Briscoe.

“Riley is one of these guys that it’s not overnight success with him,” Stewart told “Heavy” prior to the race at Darlington. “I mean, it’s taken a little longer to get him going in the fashion that we feel like he’s capable of. But what I like about him is he’s got a lot of determination. He stays very focused. I think in his eyes, he knows that we have ways to go with him. But I like him. I like his family.

“I feel like he’s one of those kids that I feel like he has the potential,” Stewart continued. “It’s just it may take a little bit longer than what it has with some of our other drivers to get there. But not everybody progresses at the same rate. The most important part is the end result of it. So I feel like he can get there. It’s just a matter of us finding that combination to give him the confidence to get him the rest of the way.”

Stewart Understands the ‘Slow’ Start by Herbst

The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing understands that it may take some time for Herbst to reach Victory Lane in the No. 98 Ford. He experienced a similar start to his own career in the Xfinity Series — then known as the Busch Series.

Stewart never competed full-time in the Busch Series due to racing in IndyCar and later in the Cup Series, only starting a maximum of 22 races in 1998. Smoke struggled to finish races early in his career, posting 10 DNFs in his first three seasons due to crashes. He also ended multiple other races early after experiencing mechanical issues.

“I mean, trust me, when I got an Xfinity car, I tore up everything I drove,” Stewart continued. “It took a long time before the light switch came on for me to start having success. So I think it’s scenarios like that. And Riley is a very young kid that literally that light switch can come at any moment. And when it does, I mean, he can get on a tear and get on a run that we’ve seen in the past with both Cole [Custer] and Chase [Briscoe].”

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