After starting the year with a half-dozen results inside the top-10, it would have been difficult to imagine that Riley Herbst would be in danger of missing out on the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.
But, here we stand, two races remain in the regular season, and a plethora of issues throughout the year – many of which not of Herbst’s doing – have hampered his season-long points standing.
Friday’s Wawa 250 at Daytona International Speedway quickly became another instance of a mechanical issue for the Stewart-Haas Racing team, after a screw that was reversed back into the steering box, caused it to begin falling apart.
At the end of the first stage, as the field was coming to cross the start-finish line, Herbst was limping his Monster Energy Ford Mustang to the pits, after the left front tire had exploded on his No. 98, tearing off the fender.
While the issue was able to be resolved and fixed mid-race, it dropped Herbst three laps behind the leader, with the imminent threat of several cautions putting the team at ease about getting those laps back.
Then, it was time to play the waiting game. As a result of several more multi-car accidents and retirements, as well as mechanical issues on pit road, the Stewart-Haas Racing entry was able to salvage a 24th-place result.
“We didn’t have a night,” Herbst quipped about the early-race mechanical issue. “It was just despicable what happened. Last week we had a malfunction on the racecar, and this week we had a malfunction on the racecar. Twenty points out, two races to go.”
Last weekend at Watkins Glen, Herbst was looking to bring home a solid result for his team, when he started to suffer some issues with the transmission. Electing to stay on-track to collect points, the track bar on the No. 98 broke, forcing him to retire from the race.
“We can do it, we got the guys to do it, we’re fast at Darlington, we’re fast at Kansas,” said Herbst. “Just disappointed more than anything. I don’t know how we can fight for a championship when we can’t even keep it running.”
Three weeks ago, Herbst found himself sitting on the positive side of the cutline, with a 40-point advantage over his major competitor Parker Kligerman. Now, after finishes of 12th, 24th, and 35th, the driver of the No. 98 sits 20 points below the cutline.
So, the frustrations are valid, considering the Summer he has had, but for the Las Vegas, Nevada native, things have seemingly reached a career-low, after a total of three mechanical issues in the last three races.
I’ve never been more frustrated in my life, this is extremely hard to swallow,” Herbst exclaimed. “We’ll come together as an internal group at Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity shop – and try to learn from what happened tonight. We figured out what happened last week, that was our deal, and we’ll do the same thing on Monday and fix this week’s problems and go to Darlington and go try to win.”
While the path to the post-season isn’t impossible without a win, things are bound to get more difficult as the regular-season finale approaches, especially with the performance Parker Kligerman has been putting together as of late.