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

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

  • Event: Talladega 300 (Round 9 of 33)
  • Date: Saturday, April 20
  • Location: Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway
  • Layout: 2.66-mile oval
  • Time/TV/Radio: 4 p.m. EDT on FOX/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • Cole Custer heads to Saturday’s Talladega 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway riding a six-race streak of top-10 finishes, with four of the six resulting in top-fives. It started with his second-place run from his pole starting position March 2 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In the five races since, he finished fifth from the pole at Phoenix Raceway, fourth at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, 10th at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, eighth at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, and fifth at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. In addition to the two poles, Custer led 96 laps combined in the six races, scored 81 stage points and one playoff point by virtue of his stage finishes. He arrives at Talladega second in the driver standings, just 19 points behind leader Chandler Smith. The No. 00 Haas Automation driver and defending Xfinity Series champion who’s still seeking his first victory of the season looks to tie Smith this weekend for the longest top-10 streak in the series this season. Smith opened 2024 with seven consecutive top-10s, but saw his streak come to an end with last weekend’s 15th-place finish at Texas. Austin Hill also opened the season on a top-10 streak, but his ended at six with a 34th-place result at Martinsville.
  • Saturday’s Talladega 300 will be Custer’s fifth career Xfinity Series start at Talladega. In his four prior starts, he earned a best finish of fourth last April in the series’ only visit to the superspeedway in 2023. In this year’s prior two superspeedway-style races at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, Custer ran in the top-10 for the majority of both races. He finished 13th at Daytona and 16th at Atlanta. In addition to his four prior Xfinity Series starts at Talladega, Custer has seven starts outside the series – six in the NASCAR Cup Series with a best finish of 10th in April 2021, and one in the NASCAR Truck Series in October 2016, when he started on the pole and led two laps before a midrace accident ended his day. He’s led 10 laps in his six Cup Series at the track.
  • Custer’s history at superspeedways has been a roller-coaster ride throughout his career, but when he returned to the Xfinity Series in 2023, he proved that he was back and better than ever on every kind of track. There’s no hiding that Custer had struggled at the superspeedways during his previous stint in the Xfinity Series from 2017-2019, but when he came back to the series in 2023, he saw significant improvement. He finished ninth in February 2023 at Daytona, fourth in April 2023 at Talladega, and then fifth in the August race at Daytona. Custer bested his career-best finish at both tracks last year. While he had a strong run building in this year’s season opener at Daytona, he was unable to hold the top-10 position he held for a majority of the day on his way to his 13th-place finish.

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

  • Riley Herbst has had nothing but speed in 2024. While the finishes haven’t shown it, his consistency from race to race has helped him collect 85 stage points and one playoff point during the first eight races to put him sixth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings. He scored a total of 21 points in the first two superspeedway-style races this season at Daytona and Atlanta. The driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang Dark Horse hopes to put it all together this weekend by staying out of trouble and finding his way to victory lane in Saturday’s Talladega 300 at Talladega. In last Saturday’s race at Texas, Herbst not only was racing for the lead in the final stage after starting fifth, but he also finished third in the opening two stages to earn a total of 16 bonus points. A win this weekend would automatically clinch his spot in the playoffs, which begin Sept. 28 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. Talladega might just be the place he can get it done. In his Xfinity Series career, Herbst has been a strong contender on superspeedways. In his 22 superspeedway-style races in the Xfinity Series, including the last five at the reconfigured Atlanta oval, Herbst has five top-five finishes and 10 top-10s and has led 75 laps.
  • Saturday’s race at Talladega will mark Herbst’s eighth career Xfinity Series start at Talladega. He earned a best finish of fourth in the April 2021 race and returned that October to lead his first laps on the 2.66-mile oval, 26 in total, before an accident ended his bid six laps from the finish. Herbst has an additional seven Talladega starts outside the Xfinity Series – two in the Cup Series, four in the ARCA Menards Series and one in the NASCAR Truck Series. He drove to a runner-up finish in the April 2019 ARCA race, then followed that up with a fourth-place finish with 36 laps led in the June 2020 ARCA race.
  • When Herbst competed in his fourth and final Cup Series race of 2023 last October at Talladega, he qualified an impressive sixth and ran with the leaders, some of the best in the Cup Series, for a majority of the race. He led five times for a total of 10 laps and, in the latter stages of the race, he was pushing his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick, who was leading. Although he was caught up in an accident coming to the checkered flag, Herbst was able to cross the finish line ninth, his best Cup Series finish of the season that started with his 10th-place finish in the Daytona 500.

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

You’re headed to Talladega after a strong showing at Texas that resulted in a fifth-place finish, and you’re riding a six-race top-10 streak. What more do you need to put your No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse in victory lane?

“Man, we just need that little bit more. We’ve had the speed. We’ve run up front. It just hasn’t worked out for us in the first few races of the season. We’re not off to a slow start by any means. We’re on a six-race top-10 streak and have led laps in several races. Still, it’s just about finding out what we’re missing to go out and win a race. I think we’re close. The No. 00 team has been working hard each and every week to give me the fastest cars possible. There’s a lot of good competition in the Xfinity Series field, though. We just have to figure out how we can be the best of the best.”

Superspeedway racing is a game requiring a good bit of luck. How do you approach this race, which is always so unpredictable?

“Every driver knows this – superspeedway racing is always a challenge. It’s a game of luck, at the end of the day. There are things that you can control in the race, like having a fast car, being able to make aggressive moves when needed, and how well you can work the draft. That’s something that we can focus on as a team heading into this race. There’s also just so much you cannot prepare for with superspeedways. Anything can happen and an accident can happen at any time. I feel like we were solid at Daytona and at Talladega last season, but it’s just a matter of controlling your destiny in these races and staying out of trouble. You always have that luck factor at superspeedways and, in the end, you just hope it’s your lucky day to park it in victory lane.”

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

You performed well at Talladega when you last visited with the NASCAR Cup Series in October 2023. You started sixth and looked to be well on your way to a top-five finish on the final lap. Despite a wreck coming to the checkered flag, you still managed to secure a ninth-place finish. What did you learn in that race that you can carry over to the Xfinity Series?

“To be honest, the cars are so different now between the Cup Series and Xfinity Series that you can’t really carry much over. Those starts are more about the experience than anything. My last start at Talladega was in the Cup Series, and it gave me so much confidence heading into that final stretch of the season. It worked out. I not only ran in the top-five during the remaining races but also got my first career Xfinity Series win at Las Vegas after that great run. With that said, my Cup Series start at Talladega last year helped people notice me. It turned a few heads. I not only ran up front, but also led laps and learned how to manage the field. I’m excited to try to do the same in the Xfinity Series this weekend.”

Given this is the biggest superspeedway on the NASCAR circuit, where anything can happen, how do you prepare for this style of racing?

“You can’t really prepare as much for a superspeedway-style race. While you can try to figure out the handling, a lot of these races are up to luck. They’re a wild card on our schedule. You could be having the best day of your racing career and be taken out by a wreck not of your own doing due to the pack-style racing. We come up with plans for how we hope the race weekend will run, but you also have to be ready to change plans at a moment’s notice. The No. 98 Monster Energy team has brought fast cars not only to superspeedways, but every race this season. We know we can do the same this weekend. Hopefully we’ll stay out of trouble and be there at the end.”

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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