By Crystal Clay and Adam Carabine
LAS VEGAS –The Herbst family and city of Las Vegas welcomed their own into Victory Lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Alsco Uniforms 302.
In his 139th attempt, Riley Herbst finally won his first Xfinity Series race in front of 60 close family members and friends. “This is a huge win off my shoulders, I’m just so relieved to be here in victory lane, and in my home city.”
Herbst, driver of the No. 98 Monster Energy Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, set a new Xfinity Series record on Saturday. Not only was it his first career win in any of the three national touring NASCAR series, but his 14.959-second margin of victory over points leader John Hunter Nemechek is the biggest in Xfinity Series history.
“When you’re in your darkest days, there’s nobody around you besides your mom. That’s her job, and she was the best at it. There’s many times when you just don’t know, and she’s the only one there to pick you up. I wouldn’t be here without her.”
Post-race, he was visibly excited. “We just beat everybody in the playoffs, trying to go to Phoenix - they all brought their best stuff, and we whooped ‘em by about 10 seconds! Everybody said I can’t do it, couldn’t do it, won’t win, not good enough… I just flat-out just beat ‘em!”
Herbst had a solid qualifying effort, starting the race in the 8th position, but his dominance really started in the late moments of Stage 2. On the final lap of the stage, Herbst passed his SHR teammate Cole Custer to take the lead.
Custer wound up at the front on the ensuing restart, but Herbst was not to be denied. The “Battle Born” Vegas native took the lead back 8 laps later, and never looked back. Aside from cycling through green flag pit stops, Herbst led the field for 103 laps through to the checkered flag.
Cole Custer, to his credit, played the good teammate after the race, saying “I’m so pumped for Riley, he worked so hard at it. They’ve had a rough year, and to have him win at his home track is pretty awesome for his first win,” after a third-place finish.
The Alsco Uniforms 302 had a rocky start, with two cautions coming in the first 14 laps. Later in the second stage, Kaz Grala had an engine failure at an inopportune time, resulting in a red flag to clean up fluid. The wreck cost six drivers their day, with four of them leaving the race.
The final stage remained green for the final 105 laps, contributing to both Herbst’s record-setting lead, and a lead lap with only ten drivers. A late-race caution could have ruined everything. “I didn’t want something funny to happen, but at that same time I knew I couldn’t control anyone else’s cars,” said Herbst. “If there was a caution, I was going to have to take it at face value.”
In victory lane, Riley Herbst was given a huge hug by his mother, and the emotion was clear on his face. “When you’re in your darkest days, there’s nobody around you besides your mom. That’s her job, and she was the best at it. There’s many times when you just don’t know, and she’s the only one there to pick you up. I wouldn’t be here without her.”
As for a home town celebration in Sin City? Herbst said: “We’re gonna go watch my Trojans beat up on Notre Dame, and then we’re going to drink!”