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

COLE CUSTER | RILEY HERBST
Atlanta NASCAR Xfinity Series Advance
NASCAR Xfinity Series Overview

  • Event: RAPTOR King of Tough 250 (Round 2 of 33)
  • Date: Saturday, Feb. 24
  • Location: Atlanta Motor Speedway
  • Layout: 1.54-mile oval
  • Time/TV/Radio: 5 p.m. EST on FS1/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • Cole Custer, the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, is focused on his second consecutive superspeedway-style race during Saturday’s RAPTOR King of Tough 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The 1.54-mile oval was reconfigured prior to the 2022 season and racing there now resembles what takes place on the behemoth 2.5-mile Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway layouts. Atlanta’s banking in the corners was increased from 24 degrees to 28 degrees, the track width was reconfigured to vary from 55 feet to 40 feet, and the entire track was repaved with fresh asphalt. The goal of the project was to recreate the kind of pack-style racing at Atlanta that fans enjoy at Daytona and Talladega, which Custer exceled on in the 2023 season. It’ll be the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford driver’s sixth outing on the reconfigured oval after contesting both NASCAR Cup Series events there in 2022 and the July 2023 race, as well as both Xfinity Series races there last year.
  • Saturday’s race at Atlanta will mark Custer’s sixth Xfinity Series outing at the track. Best of his previous five was his runner-up finish from the pole qualifying position after leading two laps on the old configuration in February 2019. He finished third on the new configuration last July. He has only finished outside the top-12 once at Atlanta. Best among Custer’s six Cup Series appearances at Atlanta was his ninth-place finish in July 2022, which came on the new configuration. He also has one start there in the Craftsman Truck Series, which resulted in a 17th-place finish from the sixth starting position in February 2016.
  • Custer’s defense of his 2023 Xfinity Series championship looked to be off to a strong start during Monday’s rain-delayed season opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. He was fourth fastest overall and the fastest Ford driver in Friday’s practice session, then made quick work of drafting his way to the front from his 17th-place starting position with help from teammate Riley Herbst when the race went green Monday at 9 p.m., following the Daytona 500. Custer finished fourth in the second stage to earn seven bonus points and led once for six laps in that stage. But on a restart from the second row with 12 laps to go in the race, Custer’s moves toward the lead were foiled when he got collected in an incident with several other cars. He rebounded for a 13th-place finish in the closing laps.

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

  • Riley Herbst hopes to keep the momentum rolling in Saturday’s RAPTOR King of Tough 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and celebrate his birthday in victory lane. The Las Vegas native, who turns 25 on Saturday, finished sixth in Monday’s rain-delayed season opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. After qualifying 10th on Saturday, the No. 98 Monster Energy driver spent a majority of the first stage running in the top-10. He finished sixth in Stage 2 and led twice in the final stage for a total of eight laps. Herbst looked to have a shot at the win when he restarted second with 12 laps to go and emerged the leader as the race went back to green. But it was ruled Herbst jumped the restart and he was assessed a pass-through penalty just before a timely caution flag flew, which required him only to take his place at the tail end of the field – in 18th – on the ensuing restart with three laps to go. He made rapid forward progress from there and avoided mayhem on the final lap to salvage his first top-10 finish of the season.
  • Saturday’s RAPTOR King of Tough 250 will mark Herbst’s eighth career Xfinity Series start at Atlanta and his fifth on the reconfigured layout. When Xfinity Series drivers competed on the new layout for the first time in March 2022, it suited Herbst well as he finished fourth – his best result in four Atlanta starts at the time. He followed that with a ninth-place result when the series returned to the track in July 2022. In last season’s first of two events at Atlanta, he earned a fifth-place finish in the March event, leading 11 laps along the way and competing for the win before getting tangled up in an incident while crossing the finish line. Herbst’s sixth-place finish in the March 2021 race was the best of his three Xfinity Series outings on the old Atlanta surface.
  • Dating back to his fourth-place finish at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval on Oct. 7, 2023, Herbst has yet to finish outside of the top-10 in the Xfinity Series. He ended his 2023 season with five straight top-fives, including his first career victory at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 14. Since then, he also co-drove to the win in the Trophy Truck Spec class of the Baja 1000 off-road race in November. In addition, he made his fifth start behind the wheel of a Cup Series car in Monday’s 66th running of the Daytona 500. While he finished 24th in the main event, he showed flashes of brilliance in its leadup. Herbst was 12th in single-car qualifying on Wednesday, then led three times for seven laps in his Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying race Thursday before being caught up in a multicar accident.

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

You’re transitioning from the traditional superspeedway at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway to the newly-renovated superspeedway-style track at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The racing at both are now similar, but they’re still so different as Atlanta is just a 1.54-mile in length. Talk about the difference and how you prepare for that as a driver.

“I think when you look at Daytona versus Atlanta, you know, Atlanta just has so much more handling come into play and you have to worry a little bit more about how well your car handles in the track or on the track. At Daytona, it’s all out all the time. It’s just a different battle. At the same time, the runs can come very fast because the track is more condensed. It really makes it a fast-paced race where everyone is on their toes. It’s different, but still similar to superspeedways. It honestly makes it very exciting. Can’t wait to get there with our No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang.”

Typically when NASCAR has come to Atlanta in the past, it’s been a hot, slick weekend. Atlanta in February is a different story. Does that affect the racing at all from a driver’s perspective?

“I don’t know if the temperature affects what you’ll do as a driver, but I think it will probably determine which lanes will work and which ones don’t on the track. It’ll mostly affect what you do with the car. As a team, you might trim the car out more and go all out on if you want to have speed. Or you could opt to have a little more handling in your car. Honestly, I think you’ll see the trade off this weekend of which team went for what adjustments.”

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

You’ve performed well at Atlanta since the reconfiguration. What is it about the new layout that suits you?

“I don’t think it’s anything in particular. It’s definitely more akin to a superspeedway now, which have been one of my strongest types of tracks since joining SHR in 2021. This track just drives so much faster now. I saw it the first year when we had an issue and I went a couple of laps down. By the end of the night, I recovered all of those laps and finished inside the top-10. There’s definitely the unpredictability of superspeedway-style racing that comes with the reconfiguration, but it makes me excited to to there. Despite the penalty last week at Daytona, we were able to come back and finish in the top-10. I think the No. 98 Monster Energy team has what it takes to go for the win at Atlanta.”

After your sixth-place finish at Daytona, you haven’t outside the top-10 in the Xfinity Series since before the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval last October. How does that help your confidence as you head to each race?

“We’ve been on a roll. Both cars in the SHR Xfinity Series program have been fast since last year, so it’s exciting to see that carry over into a new season. The competition is stacked in this series with a lot of good drivers to compete against. The fact that we’re able to consistently run in the top-five and top-10 was all we wanted several years ago. I’m proud of how far this team has come. There are always going to be hurdles, but I think the No. 98 team has proven that we can persevere through it. Hopefully, we can keep digging and bring home our first win of the season, too. We’re here to win, and I think the competition sees that.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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