When looking at the final rundown for Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Riley Herbst may catch your eye, sitting ninth place in the No. 36 Ford Mustang for Front Row Motorsports.
The finish marks the second result inside the top-10 for Herbst in the NASCAR Cup Series, in just four starts. Earlier this season, Herbst recorded a 10th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, driving for Rick Ware Racing.
“It was fun to drive a fast racecar and it was really, really fast,” Herbst said after being checked and released from the infield care center. “It didn’t handle the best all day, we had to work on it. We went back to front, back to front multiple times, and that just shows the speed of it.”
But, despite what ended up being a successful final outing in the NASCAR Cup Series for Herbst in 2023, the 24-year-old driver couldn’t help but imagine what could have been, after being inside the top five in the middle of the tri-oval.
“I feel like If I could have had the last lap back, there’s not much I could have done differently,” Herbst said about racing for the win on the final lap. “I just wish I didn’t close so fast on [Harvick] down the back, because when I closed so fast, I had to drag the break and that’s when [Lajoie] got attached to me, and I feel like hooked bumpers and kind of turned me in the tri-oval.”
“So, I wish that didn’t happen, maybe we would have had a shot at the win, but I probably would have given too much of a run to Harvick, and would have finished second,” Herbst added.
Even with a less-than-ideal conclusion to Sunday’s 500-mile contest, Herbst’s afternoon was certainly nothing to scoff at, as he proved that he could hold his own at the top echelon of NASCAR.
By leading the field for 10 laps around the 2.66-mile superspeedway, the Las Vegas, Nevada native became just the fifth driver to lead double-digit laps for Front Row Motorsports in a NASCAR Cup Series event.
Throughout most of the race’s final stage, Herbst was able to silently maintain a position in or around the top-10, which as the race’s conclusion drew closer and closer, started to bring the long-time Xfinity Series driver into the discussion for a potential upset victory.
In the closing laps of Sunday’s race, Herbst’s No. 36 Beast Unleashed Ford Mustang would serve as a pusher for eventual race-winner Ryan Blaney, who after the race, made sure to give props to the young driver in his victory lane interview.
“I have to give a big thanks to Riley Herbst,” said Blaney. “He did a really good job out there the last couple of restarts. He hasn’t had a lot of Cup starts, but he did a great job of pushing me, so thanks to him.”
That shout-out – from the winner of the race no less – definitely ensured that Herbst’s name was present in the thoughts of several NASCAR Cup Series drivers and team owners, which when running part-time, is exactly what every driver wants.
“It’s always good that the Cup Series drivers know you’re racing and try to earn their respect,” said Herbst. “The last thing you want to do is come into this garage and make a fool of yourself. So, hopefully, we didn’t do that and continue to build my name and respect in this garage and go back to the other garage and try to go win.”
With things admittedly not going so hot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – with Herbst and the No. 98 missing out on the Playoffs – Sunday’s incredible showing in the Cup Series is likely to give Herbst the confidence to finish the season strong.
“All in all, it was fun,” Herbst exclaimed. “I just tried to run all 500 miles and just learn today, just things haven’t been going great for me in the other garage, so hopefully we can turn that around, too.”
Next for Herbst, is the Xfinity Series event at Charlotte ROVAL, where he’ll continue to search for his first career win. As for the Cup Series, that’s all for the 24-year-old, in terms of scheduled starts in 2023.