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Riley Herbst Survives Chaos for Runner-Up Finish

Riley Herbst

Riley Herbst racing at Talladega Superspeedway (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Riley Herbst has had a rocky start to the 2024 NASCAR Xfinity Series season. Despite not having a top-10 finish since Las Vegas, Herbst sat sixth in the point standings coming into the Ag-Pro 300 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Herbst has flexed his muscles at drafting-style tracks, and today was no different as Herbst finished a season-best second place in a wild Talladega race.

On Friday, Herbst started the weekend strong, making the final round of qualifying and earning a ninth place starting position for Saturday’s race.

Very early on in the 300-mile race, the drivers migrated up to the top lane during Stage 1 to run single file around the wall. This played out well for Herbst as he started the race in the outside lane.

The stage began to wind down and drivers became more aggressive to earn coveted stage points. On the final lap of Stage 1, Herbst was running in the bottom lane behind Justin Allgaier. Coming out of Turn 2 onto the back straightaway, Allgaier went up the track slightly and got loose. This caused Allgaier to spin right in front of Herbst and pound the inside wall. Herbst missed the spinning No. 7 car and finished the stage in ninth place.

Everyone came down pit road under caution. Herbst’s No. 98 team had a tough stop, losing three positions, setting Herbst back to 12th on Lap 31.

The setback did not hold Herbst back for long and he was able to make it back into the top five smoothly. Although few in numbers, Ford shined in Stage 2 with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer and runner-up finisher from Texas Ryan Sieg leading laps.

They were not able to hold off Austin Hill though, who won the stage and kept Richard Childress Racing as the only team to win a stage on the drafting-style tracks this season. Herbst was still able to gain a few stage points, finishing in eighth place.

Stage 3 went green on Lap 55 and Herbst restarted in sixth.

Riley Herbst

Riley Herbst leading the field at Talladega Superspeedway (Photo: Ricky Martinez | The Podium Finish)

While jockeying for position at the front intensified, Herbst began sliding back through the field. Just 10 laps later on Lap 65, Herbst was in the 20th position when a caution came out for a big wreck up front. Parker Kligerman and Sieg made contact while fighting for the same real estate and clipped Brandon Jones, sending him into the outside wall. The wreck also collected 10 other cars, one of whom was last week’s winner Sam Mayer.

The caution allowed Herbst to regroup and after a smooth pit stop, restarted in fifth with just 41 laps to go.

Sieg was able to take the lead away on the restart, but Herbst surged on the bottom and was able to clear Sieg and take the lead. However, Herbst’s momentum was quickly brought to a halt when a caution came out for debris that came off of AJ Allmendinger’s car.

After the short yellow flag, Herbst led the field back to green on Lap 78. On Lap 82, Hill was able to pass Herbst for the lead, but ended up getting passed by Kligerman soon after.

The Fords were not willing to go down without a fight, though. Herbst seized the lead back as the bottom line blew past the rest of the field. Unfortunately, Sieg suffered a flat tire and had to pit, hurting the momentum the three Ford cars carried and splitting them up in the pack.

With just two laps to go, Kligerman made slight contact with the rear bumper of race leader Hill, spinning the No. 21 car in front of the pack. Herbst was able to slow the car down and, after making some contact with Matt DiBenedetto, made it through the wreck.

This caution sent the race into NASCAR overtime with a lot of the front runners low on fuel.

And sure enough, on the following restart, mayhem occurred. Shane van Gisbergen ran out of fuel in the top lane, hurting both Custer and Herbst’s restart. The front of the pack got jumbled up and Sheldon Creed spun around. Jesse Love also made contact with Kligerman while racing for the lead. The contact got Kligerman loose, causing him to shoot up the track into the side of Josh Williams, knocking them both out of contention.

Riley Herbst

Riley Herbst in the middle of three-wide racing during the Ag-Pro 300 (Photo: Ricky Martinez | The Podium Finish)

Not wanting to risk running out of fuel, Herbst and Custer came back down pit road to top off on fuel for the second overtime restart.

Herbst restarted right outside of the top 10 and, after crossing the start/finish line, got into the back of Ryan Ellis and spun him out. However, no caution came out and the race stayed green.

On the final lap, Herbst was on a mission to get back into the top five and was in a good position on the front straightaway. Seeing the victory closing in, Herbst made a daring four-wide pass attempt, going between Anthony Alfredo, Brennan Poole and Joey Gase. Coming to the line, Gase got turned from behind by Leland Honeyman and Herbst edged out Alfredo to finish a close second to Love.

“It was hectic for sure, with a lot of people battling fuel,” Herbst said. “I’m just really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

The superspeedway races had been dominated by Richard Childress Racing this season, but Herbst showed that other teams can run with them, leading 13 laps.

“We kind of know that we’ve lacked a little bit on the plate tracks to the RCR guys, and I felt like we’re as good as them now,” Herbst said post-race. “I felt like we could beat them, but it was a weird race.”

Today’s race also set the Dash 4 Cash contenders for next weekend’s race at Dover, in which Herbst will be a part of thanks to the runner-up finish.

“It’s kind of been an up-and-down start to the year, but I’m proud of everybody on this No. 98 team for sticking with me and I’m ready to go win $100,000 at Dover,” Herbst said.


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