In an event where an early ticket to the championship finale at Phoenix Raceway was up for grabs for eight Xfinity Series Playoff contenders, a non-Playoff contender stole the show after Riley Herbst scored his first elusive NASCAR national touring series victory by winning the Alsco Uniforms 302 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his home track, on Saturday, October 14.
The 24-year-old Herbst from Las Vegas, Nevada, led three times for a race-high 103 of 201-scheduled laps in an event where he started at the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments made to his No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang. After methodically navigating his way through the field and racing his way into the top 10 by the conclusion of the first stage period, Herbst then claimed a dramatic victory at the conclusion of the second stage period after racing his way past teammate Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek in two laps. He then reassumed the lead with 96 laps remaining and quickly cycled his way back into the lead amid a late green flag pit stop period before muscling away from the field and beating runner-up Nemechek by nearly 15 seconds to claim his first Xfinity Series career victory in his 139th series start and in front of his home crowd.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, October 13, Josh Berry claimed pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 181.996 mph in 29.671 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Cole Custer, the fastest competitor during Friday’s practice session who proceeded to post the second-best qualifying lap at 181.702 mph in 29.719 seconds.
Prior to the event, a bevy of names that included Stefan Parsons, John Hunter Nemechek, Patrick Emerling, Josh Williams and Riley Herbst dropped to the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments made to their respective entries.
When the green flag waved and the race started, Berry and Custer dueled for the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch until Berry gained the momentum from the outside lane to muscle his No. 8 LubeZone Chevrolet Camaro ahead of Custer through Turns 3 and 4 and lead the first lap. By then, rookie Chandler Smith made his move beneath Custer to gain the runner-up spot while Daniel Hemric and rookie Sammy Smith battled for fourth place in front of Justin Allgaier, rookie Parker Retzlaff, Austin Hill and Sam Mayer.
Two laps later, the first caution of the event flew after Patrick Emerling, who had smoke billowing out of his car, slapped the outside wall through the frontstretch. During the caution period, some including Brett Moffitt, Joey Gase, Stefan Parsons and Brennan Poole pitted while the rest led by Berry remained on the track.
Following an extensive caution period, the race restarted on the 10th lap. At the start, Berry and Chandler Smith dueled for the lead until Smith rocketed his No. 16 Barger Precast/Quick Tie Products Inc. Chevrolet Camaro ahead through Turns 1 and 2. Smith would proceed to lead at the Lap 12 mark with Berry and Custer giving chase. By then, the caution returned when Moffitt slapped the outside wall entering the frontstretch, which caused Joe Graf Jr., who was running behind Moffitt, to get loose after hitting Moffitt before he too hit the frontstretch wall.
During the proceeding restart on Lap 18, Berry and Chandler Smith dueled for the lead again until Smith rocketed ahead from the outside lane. In the process, Custer made his move into the runner-up spot from Berry. Behind and amid the field fanning out and jostling for early positions, Sammy Smith and Hemric battled for fourth while Austin Hill moved up to sixth as Allgaier fell to seventh.
Just past the Lap 25 mark, Chandler Smith was leading by four-tenths of a second over Custer followed by Sammy Smith, Berry and Hemric while Hill, Allgaier, John Hunter Nemechek, Sheldon Creed and Parker Retzlaff were in the top 10. Behind, Brandon Jones was in 11th ahead of Parker Kligerman, Layne Riggs, Riley Herbst and Sam Mayer while Myatt Snider, Ryan Sieg, Jeb Burton, Anthony Alfredo and Kaz Grala occupied the top 20.
Ten laps later, Custer assumed the lead over Chandler Smith. Behind, Sammy Smith, Hemric and Hill were in the top five while Nemechek, Allgaier, Berry, Kligerman and Creed were running in the top 10. Meanwhile, Playoff contender Mayer was down in 16th while Jones, Herbst, Snider, Retzlaff and Riggs battled in the top 15.
When the first stage period concluded on Lap 45, Custer captured his seventh Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season. Chandler Smith fended off Sammy Smith to settle in second followed by Hemric and Hill while Nemechek, Allgaier, Brandon Jones, Kligerman and Herbst were scored in the top 10. By then, Playoff contenders Creed and Mayer were scored outside the top 10 in the running order as there were mired in 13th and 15th, respectively.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Custer pitted for service. Following pit stops, Custer retained the lead as he exited pit road ahead of Hemric, Chandler Smith, Nemechek, Allgaier and Hill. Amid the pit stops, Kligerman was penalized for an uncontrolled tire violation. Not long after, Sammy Smith, who lost a bevy of spots during his service, pitted again to address loose lug nuts on his No. 18 Pilot Flying J Toyota Supra.
The second stage period started on Lap 52 as Custer and Hemric occupied the front row. At the start, Hemric and Custer dueled for the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch until Custer used the outside lane to muscle ahead and clear Hemric to retain the lead. Then during the following lap, the caution quickly returned after Kaz Grala blew an engine entering Turn 1 and triggered a multi-car pileup amid his smoke that collected Rajah Caruth, Alfredo, Jeremy Clements, Josh Williams and Kyle Weatherman. The incident was enough for the event to be placed in a red flag period.
Nearly nine minutes later, the red flag lifted once the carnage was cleared and the oil was cleared as the field resumed under a cautious pace. During the caution period, Hill and Jeb Burton pitted while the rest led by Custer remained on track.
When the race restarted on Lap 58, Custer and Hemric battled dead even for the lead for nearly a full lap until Custer muscled his No. 00 Haas Ford Mustang through the frontstretch. With Custer leading Hemric, Nemechek and Chandler Smith battled for third followed by Allgaier as Herbst joined the battle. Shortly after, Nemechek moved into second place from Hemric. Allgaier would follow suit into third place as Hemric slipped to fourth in front of Herbst while Chandler Smith, Berry and Creed battled for sixth. In the process, Custer retained the lead.
By Lap 65, Custer was leading by half a second over Nemechek followed by Allgaier, Hemric and Herbst while Chandler Smith, Berry, Creed, Brandon Jones and Ryan Sieg were in the top 10. In addition, Mayer and Sammy Smith were running in the top 15 while Hill was mired back in 17th.
Ten laps later, Custer continued to lead by nearly four-tenths of a second over Nemechek while Allgaier, Herbst and Hemric were racing in the top five. Behind, Chandler Smtih occupied sixth place ahead of Berry, Mayer, Jones and Cred while Sammy Smith and Hill were in 11th and 14th, respectively. Custer would stretch his advantage by seven-tenths of a second over Nemechek by Lap 80 as Herbst moved up to third. By then, Sammy Smith was back in the top 10 as he was scored in 10th while Creed slipped to 12th front of Snider and Hill.
When the second stage period concluded on Lap 90, Herbst, who spent the previous two laps overtaking Nemechek and Custer after gaining ground amid lapped traffic, scored his second Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season. Custer and Nemechek settled in second and third while Allgaier, Hemric, Chandler Smith, Berry, Mayer, Sammy Smith and Jones were scored in the top 10. By then, teammates Hill and Creed were in 13th and 14th, respectively.
During the stage break, the lead lap field led by Herbst returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Herbst retained the lead after edging teammate Custer off of pit road first followed by Hemric, Nemechek, Allgaier and Chandler Smith followed suit.
With 105 laps remaining, the final stage period started as teammates Herbst and Custer occupied the front row. At the start, Custer reassumed the lead from Herbst as Nemechek claimed the runner-up spot over Herbst while Hemric and Allgaier followed suit.
At the halfway mark between Laps 100 and 101, Custer was leading by six-tenths of a second over teammate Herbst followed by Nemechek, Hemric and Chandler Smith while Allgaier, Hill, Mayer, Jones, Creed and Sammy Smith were running in the top 11.
Then with 96 laps remaining, Herbst returned to the lead as he led by a hair over Custer while the lead between the Stewart-Haas Racing teammates intensified. Six laps later, Herbst extended his lead to more than a second over Custer while third-place Nemechek trailed by nearly two seconds as Chandler Smith and Allgaier were in the top five.
With 80 laps remaining, Herbst continued to extend advantage as he was now scored three seconds ahead with the lead over Custer while Nemechek, Chandler Smith and Allgaier were in the top five. Behind, Mayer, Jones, Hemric, Hill and Sammy Smith in top 10 while Creed was in 13th behind Riggs and Snider.
Ten laps later, Herbst stretched his advantage to more than four seconds over teammate Custer while Nemechek, Chandler Smith and Allgaier remained in the top five. By then, Mayer, Jones, Hill, Sammy Smith and Riggs were in the top 10 followed by Snider and Hemric while Creed was still mired in 13th ahead of Berry and Ryan Sieg.
With less than 65 laps remaining, pit stops under green commence as Hemric pits followed by Creed, Chandler Smith, Allgaier, Hill and Riggs. Custer would pit with less than 60 laps remaining along with Nemechek, Mayer and Snider before Herbst surrendered the lead to pit with 58 laps remaining. Amid the pit stops, Ryan Sieg was penalized for an uncontrolled tire violation.
Then with 56 laps remaining, Herbst cycled back into the lead after Kyle Sieg managed to lead the previous lap. Shortly after, Custer moved back to second followed by Chandler Smith, Nemechek, Sieg and Hill. Hill, Allgaier and Mayer would all overtake Sieg with 46 laps remaining as Herbst’s advantage stood to eight seconds over teammate Custer. Herbst would proceed to retain the lead by more than eight seconds over teammate Custer with 40 laps remaining while Chandler Smith, Nemechek and Allgaier trailed by a distance in the top five.
With 30 laps remaining, Herbst was leading by more than 11 seconds over Chandler Smith, who prevailed in a three-way battle against Nemechek and Custer, while Mayer trailed behind in fifth place. Behind, Allgaier, Hill, Jones, Hemric and Riggs were in the top 10. In addition, Creed was in 13th behind Berry while Samm Smith, who pitted to address a loose wheel during the previous green flag cycle period, was back in 17th.
Ten laps later, Herbst increased his lead by more than 13 seconds over Nemechek while Chandler Smith, Custer and Mayer trailed in the top five ahead of Allgaier, Hill, Jones, Hemric and Riggs. By then, Creed slipped to 15th while Sammy Smith was still mired in 17th.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Herbst retained the lead by more than 14 seconds over Nemechek as Chandler Smith, Custer and Mayer trailed by a distance in the top five. By then, only the top 10 competitors on the track were scored on the lead lap as Herbst continued to lead by a large advantage over Nemechek with five laps remaining.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Herbst remained as the leader by more than 14 seconds over Nemechek. Having no competition close in from behind, Herbst was able to navigate his way around his home track for a final time before returning to the frontstretch and crossing the finish line first to claim his first checkered flag in NASCAR and by nearly 15 seconds over Nemechek.
With the victory, Herbst, who was revealed to return to Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2024 Xfinity season, became the fifth first-time winner of this year’s Xfinity Series season, the first since Sam Mayer won at Road America in late July, and the first competitor to achieve a first Xfinity career win at Las Vegas since Ross Chastain made the last accomplishment in 2018. The victory was also the third of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing, the fourth for the Ford nameplate and the first for crew chief Davin Restivo.
“Oh, my goodness,” Herbst said on USA Network. “I love this town. I love this team. I can’t thank Monster Energy enough. Everybody said that I couldn’t do it. Oh, my goodness. You don’t know what this means, what this takes off my chest. I can’t believe it. I love you, Las Vegas. Let’s go.”
“I’ve been working on myself and everything I can control,” Herbst added. “I knew all I could do is all I could do and if there was a caution, there was a caution and we’re gonna race them straight up. This year was such a failure because we didn’t make the Playoffs. It’s so embarrassing to be in a car like this that doesn’t make the Playoffs and walk in the garage each week with your head down, but [crew chief] Davin Restivo and all these guys on the No. 98 team told me to keep my head up and we’re gonna go win a race and that’s what we did. I can’t fathom it. Let’s go party and we’re gonna celebrate tonight.”
Nemechek settled in second followed by Playoff rivals Custer, Chandler Smith and Sam Mayer. Allgaier ended up sixth while Hill, Brandon Jones, Hemric and Layne Riggs finished in the top 10.
There were 11 lead changes for six different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 26 laps. In addition, only 10 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.
1. Riley Herbst, 103 laps led, Stage 2 winner
2. John Hunter Nemechek
3. Cole Custer, 62 laps led, Stage 1 winner
4. Chandler Smith, 23 laps led
5. Sam Mayer
6. Justin Allgaier
7. Austin Hill
8. Brandon Jones
9. Daniel Hemric, one lap led
10. Layne Riggs
11. Myatt Snider, one lap down
12. Josh Berry, one lap down, 11 laps led
13. Parker Kligerman, one lap down
14. Parker Retzlaff, one lap down
15. Sheldon Creed, one lap down
16. Ryan Sieg, two laps down
17. Sammy Smith, two laps down
18. Kyle Sieg, two laps down, one lap led
19. Connor Mosack, two laps down
20. Ryan Reed, three laps down
21. Daniel Dye, three laps down
22. Jeb Burton, four laps down
23. Rajah Caruth, four laps down
24. Brett Moffitt, four laps down
25. Brennan Poole, four laps down
26. Stefan Parsons, four laps down
27. Ryan Ellis, four laps down
28. Blaine Perkins, six laps down
29. CJ McLaughlin, seven laps down
30. Jeremy Clements, eight laps down
31. Dawson Cram, eight laps down
32. Joey Gase, eight laps down
33. Josh Williams – OUT, Accident
34. Anthony Alfredo – OUT, Accident
35. Kaz Grala – OUT, Accident
36. Kyle Weatherman – OUT, Accident
37. Joe Graf Jr. – OUT, Accident
38. Patrick Emerling – OUT, Accident
*Bold indicates Playoff competitors
1. John Hunter Nemechek +47
2. Justin Allgaier +21
3. Austin Hill +19
4. Cole Custer +15
5. Chandler Smith -15
6. Sam Mayer -16
7. Sammy Smith -35
8. Sheldon Creed -41
The second Round of 8 event in the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs is set to occur next Saturday, October 21, at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida, with the event’s broadcast to occur at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.