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

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

  • Event: Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 (Round 19 of 33)
  • Date: Saturday, July 13
  • Location: Pocono (Pa.) Raceway
  • Layout: 2.5-mile oval
  • Time/TV/Radio: 3 p.m. EDT on USA/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • Cole Custer and the No. 00 Haas Automation team roll into Saturday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway ready for a change of scenery. After last weekend’s bad luck in the second running of the Chicago Street Race, the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion has high hopes for a track where he’s enjoyed a good bit of success. Last Saturday on the streets of downtown Chicago, Custer started 10th for the 50-lap race and used his savvy driving and road-course experience to climb to sixth by the start of the second lap en route to a fifth-place finish in the opening stage. But a pit-road penalty during the stage break sent him to the back of the field for the start of Stage 2. From there, he worked his way back into the top-20 in the closing laps of the stage. His progress during the final stage was hindered, however, by a spin and power steering issues. He was able to survive chaos in the final laps to earn an 18th-place finish, his 17th top-20 in the 18 races run so far this season. In addition, he was able to keep his points lead in the regular-season standings.
  • Saturday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 will mark Custer’s sixth Xfinity Series start at Pocono. In his four starts from 2017 to 2019, he never finished outside the top-10, a run highlighted by his June 2019 victory from the pole with a race-high 58 laps led. Bad luck in last year’s race at Pocono forced Custer to settle for a 33rd-place finish after going five laps down. He started 10th and led two laps prior to an accident on lap 46 with the No. 20 car of John Hunter Nemechek. Still, Custer’s previous success on the 2.5-mile track nicknamed “The Tricky Triangle” gives him and the No. 00 team confidence heading into the weekend. His June 2019 victory came by a .226-of-a-second margin over Tyler Reddick. Custer also has nine Pocono starts outside of the Xfinity Series – six in the NASCAR Cup Series, one in the NASCAR Truck Series, and two in the ARCA Menards Series. His June 2015 ARCA start resulted in a victory after starting fifth and leading 18 laps. He finished 4.991 seconds ahead of runner-up Grant Enfinger.
  • Eight races remain until the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs kick off Sept. 28 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, and Custer continues to be the driver to beat. He leads the regular-season Xfinity Series standing by a 38-point margin over second-place Justin Allgaier. Custer has held the points lead since his sixth-place finish June 1 at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway. Despite having yet to score his first win of the 2024 season, he has been consistent and fast, finishing outside the top-16 just twice this season and earning a total of 155 stage points in 18 races. If Custer was to hold onto the points lead through the regular-season finale on Sept. 20 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, he will not only take home the regular-season championship trophy, but a hefty 15 bonus points to start the playoffs. Custer finished fourth in the regular-season standings last season on his way to the championship.

Riley Herbst Notes of Interest

  • Riley Herbst heads to Saturday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway ready to put some bad luck of his own at last weekend’s Chicago Street Race behind him. He arrives in the Pocono Mountains with high hopes as a previous Pocono winner in the ARCA Menards Series. In his first race at the 2.5-mile triangle in June 2017, the then-18-year-old Herbst scored his first career ARCA victory. He led a race-high 45 laps to beat runner-up Brandon Jones with a 1.735-second margin. It was a prelude of more potent Pocono runs. In Herbst’s return to Pocono two months later for the August ARCA race, he finished second. Back-to-back fifth-place finishes were earned in his two Pocono ARCA races in 2018. And in his last ARCA start at Pocono in May 2019, Herbst finished second after leading a race-high 68 laps. Herbst has never finished outside the top-five in an ARCA race at Pocono.
  • Saturday’s race at the “Tricky Triangle” will mark the fifth Xfinity Series start at the track for the driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang Dark Horse. In his four prior races, he earned a best finish of fourth in his most recent start at the track, using savvy driving and tire strategy to lead three laps en route to his fourth top-five of 2023. In the 2022 race, the No. 98 Monster Energy team opted to keep Herbst on track during a caution early in the final stage to put him in the lead. He fought hard to lead four laps on worn tires and gained valuable experience defending the lead from Josh Berry. Ultimately, drivers on new tires prevailed, but Herbst was able to hold on for a top-12 finish as the race stayed green all the way to the checkered flag.
  • With eight races remaining before the Xfinity Series Playoffs kick off Sept. 28 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Herbst still looks to be in a good position to make the 12-driver postseason field despite the bad luck last weekend at Chicago. While a win would lock him into the playoff field, his consistency and stage points scored thus far have put him sixth in the regular-season standings, 91 points above the top-12 cutline, 134 points behind his first-place teammate Cole Custer, and 25 points behind fifth-place Jesse Love. After missing the playoffs last season due to a string of bad luck during the summer months, Herbst not only went on to score his first career victory during the Round of 8 at his home track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but score more points than any other driver during that round, in which he followed his Las Vegas win with a runner-up finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway and fourth-place finish at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

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

You’ve had a lot of special moments at Pocono, including your first NASCAR Cup Series start, a NASCAR Xfinity Series win in 2019, and an ARCA Menards Series win in 2015. What would it mean to make another memory and park the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse in victory lane this weekend for your first win of the 2024 season?

“I think Pocono ranks highest on the list for a lot of drivers, just because the track itself is so unique and so difficult to get around, but it’s also one of those tracks that holds a lot of good memories for me. I had a lot of good moments there despite some bud luck last year. The track itself is a challenge. The corners are so flat, it’s hard to get your car to work just right there. It’s hard as a driver to really be aggressive and really get your lines right, but also not put yourself in a bad spot. There’s a lot that goes into it when you’re trying to be fast at Pocono. A lot of shifting is involved, and as a driver you have to be on your game at all times. With all of those challenges, it makes it mean that much more to win at Pocono in any series. Hopefully, we can have a strong weekend in our No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang Dark Horse and find our way back to victory lane there”

With Pocono being such an unusual track on the circuit with only three turns, all of which are very different, how do you navigate the track as a driver?

“As a driver, you have to look at it and almost reset your mindset going into every single corner, which is unlike most tracks on the schedule. Each turn at Pocono is completely different, so how you work the brake and the throttle, are you shifting or are you not shifting, what’s your line in that turn – it’s all unique in each of the three corners. There are so many different things you can do as a driver at Pocono, so you really have to reset and adapt to your car as best as you can. It’s a challenge, for sure. It can get difficult to not put yourself in a bad spot at times, but if you can run up front and survive to be there at the end, you’ll have a good shot to win.”

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

Pocono was the site of your first career ARCA Menards Series victory in 2017. How significant is this track to your racing career?

“That win was big for me and my career. To be able to come to Pocono and score the win, even if it was on fuel mileage, was a big moment for me. I got a shot to drive good equipment, and I drove the car to victory lane. It’s one of those moments that I’ve always thought about since I started my NASCAR career. It’s been a long journey for me, but the growth I’ve experienced from that moment has still been a lot. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’ve proved a lot of people wrong – those who said I couldn’t do it. Pocono holds a special place in my heart, so it would mean a lot to be able to go back to victory lane there in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.”

You’ve mentioned Pocono being one of your favorite tracks on the circuit, but it’s also a difficult one. Walk us through how you navigate the three turns as a driver.

“Pocono’s a tricky one, hence its nickname. Each turn is different, so you have to approach them with different strategies. We’ll do our best, but myself and the No. 98 Monster Energy team are ready after that strong run last year. Turn one is super fast and high-banked. Then, you go to the Long Pond straightaway, and into the Tunnel Turn. That’s just like the Indianapolis big track – super flat, tight radius, and very bumpy. Then you go down the short shoot into a long turn three, which is the most important corner of the track in my opinion. It’s extremely flat and high-speed, but you have to come off it well to get a good run for the longest straightaway in NASCAR. Hopefully, we can successfully tackle each corner and get a good run after some bad luck at Chicago.”

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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