Heading into Friday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Martinsville, Riley Herbst, who’s in his second year of full-time racing, is looking to continue to add onto his success so far this season. Herbst has finishes in the top-10 at Phoenix and Atlanta, fourth and sixth place, respectfully.
Herbst, driver of No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing, is hoping to reach the same success as he did last season when he drove for Joe Gibbs Racing. This Friday will be Herbst’s sixth time racing at a short track and only his second time at Martinsville Speedway in his Xfinity Series career.
On Wednesday, Herbst spoke with the Bulletin to discuss the upcoming Cookout 250 at Martinsville Speedway.
Brian Cendejas/Martinsville Bulletin: Thank you for taking the time out of your day to sit down and talk with us. How are feeling at this point in the season heading into Martinsville?
Herbst: I am excited. Looking forward to getting back up to Virginia and seeing fans in the stands and hopefully put on a good show of short track racing Friday night.
It has been a little over two weeks since your last race, which was at Atlanta. What have you been up to since then and how do you prepare for Martinsville during that break?
Herbst: I went back home and stayed with the family a little bit over Easter weekend. It was good to see them. Now that we are preparing for Martinsville, we were going into the Ford performance simulator, doing a lot of homework, and watching film trying to get ready for Friday.
Last year was your first-time racing at Martinsville. You started 24th and you fought your way up to finish sixth. Considering this will be your second time at Martinsville, how confident are you knowing that you could put yourself in a great position once again?
Herbst: We had a good run there last year... so we are looking for a little bit more on Friday night, hopefully a few positions better. But I think we are ready for the challenge. It’s going to be hard. Starting a little bit closer to the front this year, than we did last year so we’ll take that and try to move forward.
You are starting seventh and you are in a much better situation compared to last year. Does it take any stress off of you knowing that you have 250 laps to make things work or does it add more stress considering you have Xfinity regulars like Noah Gragson, who is starting next you, and trying to fight your way upfront?
Herbst: It’s cool. We have 250 laps to work on the race car and a few pits stops to try to get better and better. I think our Ford Mustang will be fast right out the gate and try to pick up a few positions early and just log some laps there for a while.
What were some lessons that you learned last year that you are hoping to apply to this year’s race?
Herbst: Martinsville is very small, contact friendly. You've always got to keep your cool and do it one lap at a time. Things go by fast at Martinsville so you take it how you can.
In your opinion, what makes Martinsville unique compared to short tracks like Richmond and Bristol?
Herbst: Just the way it looks. It is called the paperclip for a reason. It is like two drag strips to 180 degree turns. It is a lot of fun to get around and there is nothing like it in the country.
Martinsville is a track notorious for beating and banging. How important is it for you to preserve your equipment, especially your brakes since it’s an area where most drivers have had a concern in the past?
Herbst: It is going to be a lot to take care of your brakes. Taking care of your front bumper, rear bumper, and also the front tires. You need all those things at the end to try to go win that race. I think the person with the most front tires and rear tires and brakes is going to win.
When you are dealing with a track as complex as Martinsville, have you talked to anybody such as your team owner or your mentors about how you are going to approach it?
Herbst: I think we do that all the time. Me and my crew chief Richard Boswell, he has a really good notebook and a bunch of notes to lean back on. We are well prepared and ready to take on the challenge.
Obviously, the goal is to get a win. Do you have a spot in mind where you are going to put that Grandfather Clock if you do win?
Herbst: I don’t know yet. I’m not thinking too much of the outcome. I’m just focused on the opportunity, what’s at stake and all 250 laps. But it would look good in the race shop lobby.