With top 10 finishes in his first two starts of 2022, Riley Herbst appears to be inching toward the first victory of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career.
Only he’d prefer it to be by leaps and bounds.
“I think this has to be the year, to be honest,” the 23-year-old Las Vegan said about the possibility of putting together a breakthrough season. “What has to happen is keep doing what we’re doing and building on each week and finishing races.”
His next chance comes on his hometown track. Herbst will drive the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 300 on a Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval that hasn’t been kind to him since he turned pro.
“It’s hard to put into words,” he said when asked what winning at LVMS would mean. “Vegas hasn’t been too good to us in the past — we’ve had speed but we haven’t been able to finish, we’ve been caught up in the mayhem on restarts. But hopefully this year is a little different.”
A lot was expected from the youngster when he took over the No. 98 after Daniel Hemric replaced him at Joe Gibbs Racing following the 2020 season. Herbst inherited a ride that current Cup Series driver Chase Briscoe drove to eight wins in 2019, including both LVMS races.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge just because it was going to be a whole new team (for me) with a new crew chief (Richard Boswell) and new everything,” he said in looking back at a 2021 season that saw him earn two seconds and two fourths but exit the playoffs during the first round. “It was definitely a disappointment, to say the least.
“But that year’s behind us now and we’re off to a good start this year so we’re looking to keep it going.”
After pushing Austin Hill to the victory in the season opener at Daytona and finishing fourth, he steered an ill-handling car to ninth place in California last week. Herbst will start his hometown race fourth in points behind AJ Allmendinger, fellow Las Vegan Noah Gragson and Justin Allgaier.
“I think we’re in a way better place this year than we were last year,” an optimistic Herbst said about being caught up in crashes that weren’t his fault during the early part of 2021. “So we’re really looking forward to this race this weekend.”