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NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson congratulates Riley Herbst on ARCA win

Updated June 15, 2017 - 4:19 pm

As soon as he crossed the finish line to win his first ARCA race last Friday, Riley Herbst’s Twitter account began to buzz with congratulatory messages from other stock car drivers.

One was from no less a stock car driver than Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.

“So cool to see @rileyherbst get a W here in Pocono,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.

So cool of him to mention it, the 18-year-old Las Vegan said after leading 45 of 80 laps of a 200-mile race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania on a NASCAR weekend.

“Yeah, that was really neat,” Herbst said during a telephone chat Tuesday about the Automobile Racing Club of America win. “He’s been a hero of mine so for him to tweet, that was super good.”

Herbst’s father, Troy, who was nervously watching from the pit box as his son wheeled a Joe Gibbs Toyota to a victory in just his sixth ARCA start, said he met Johnson racing in off-road deserts when Jimmie was just starting out. The two still have a great relationship, according to the Hall of Fame off-road driver.

Just as important, father and son said, is the relationship between Riley Herbst and Brendan Gaughan.

Gaughan, an Xfinity Series veteran who also has driven in the Cup Series, has served as a de facto driving coach and advisor to the Herbsts on all things NASCAR. He was among the first to slap the youngster on the back during the victory lane celebration at Pocono.

“Brendan has been a big help getting me going in the right direction, talking to good people (in NASCAR) and not talking to bad people,” Riley Herbst said.

The win vaulted the youngster to third place in ARCA points and gave him confidence that he can succeed on the big tracks upon which the Cup drivers compete.

“Especially going into Michigan” Herbst said of racing this weekend on a banked 2-mile oval that will be even faster than Pocono’s three-cornered layout. “We’re third in championship points; we want to keep climbing the ladder. That’s the goal.”

Sealed with three kisses

Last week before he was to race in a NASCAR Truck Series event and receive his high school diploma during a ceremony at Texas Motor Speedway, Noah Gragson was asked if he went to his high school prom or had a girlfriend.

Neither, he said. Driving one of Kyle Busch’s Toyota trucks at a high rate of speed was keeping him too busy.

The 18-year-old from Las Vegas tried to make up for lost time at Texas.

After he received his diploma from track president Eddie Gossage, he planted a kiss on an unsuspecting trophy girl. Then he planted two kisses on a second trophy girl.

“This wins best graduation ever,” Gragson wrote on his Twitter account. “Thanks Texas Motor Speedway.”

Young Gragson didn’t get to smooch either trophy girl after the race. At least not in victory lane. After earning his first pole position, he settled for a seventh place finish.

White flag

As if he wasn’t busy enough winning the pole at Texas and making even better time with those trophy girls, Noah Gragson also found time to engage his truck owner Kyle Busch in a crazy eating contest.

If Gragson got 500 retweets during lunch, he said he’d swallow a big hunk of Wasabi, which often is called Japanese horseradish.

Busch said if he got 500,000 retweeets, he’d eat a whole cup of good ol’ American horseradish.

He didn’t come close to 500,000. But Busch said he’d still eat a spoonful of horseradish — without drinking water — to show his young protege how it is done.

Each posted a film on Twitter. Based on the wild look in Gragson’s eyes and the steam coming from his ears, Busch was declared the winner.

As of this writing, neither driver has landed sponsorship from a horseradish company or Pepto-Bismol.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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