Out of necessity, Herbst’s expectations soared, despite only entering his second year at the Xfinity level. And no sugar coating on it, 2021 has been a struggle.
“[Everyone] “I had one set of mine, and I know I’m not going to hit that one because I’m not Chase Briscoe,” Herbst recently told NASCAR.com. “He’s in the trophy series now and I’m in the Xfinity series.”
Related: Xfinity Series Ranking | 2022 schedule
Throughout Herbst’s tenure at Stewart-Haas, he has not been caught up in comparisons to the former Xfinity drivers in the young team’s history. But it took team 98th until the fifth race in 2021 to finish in the top ten of the season, with three of the first four races having results of 26th or worse with three DNFs.
The silver lining during the 2021 season was that Herbst showed flashes of speed. It was something to build on for 2022, his third full-time season in the Xfinity series.
“Sometimes it just hits you,” Herbst said of not getting consistent finishes. “But then you have to step back and think we were on Track X and had a good pace, we didn’t finish. I made a mistake or crashed. It’s hard to get out of the finishing order because that doesn’t tell the whole story most of the time.
“Momentum is everything. It was tough last year, and we knew if we did what we were supposed to do, we would finish well.”
Consistency is key, and it’s something Herbst has honed over the course of the season. He entered the 2022 season with a new mindset of establishing the 98th Ford as the Weekly Top 10 competitor. From there, it was slowly about getting into the top five. It was also the first time in his racing career that the same crew chief was, full-time, for one season in Richard Boswell’s second.
This familiarity and chemistry with Boswell is just a small part of Herbst’s transformation during the opening 11 races of the 2022 season.
“The most important thing is that we spent the day on what the car is going to do for us and what the team is going to do for us,” said Boswell. “If that’s seventh, it’s strong seventh and we have a one-piece race car and something to work on.”
Finishing the races was a focus point that Kevin Harvick and his managing company helped Kevin Harvick Inc. In its implantation at Herbst, who joined KHI as a client prior to the 2022 season.
So far, so good.
“The main thing with him is to make sure we finish the races and take things out of the day we got them,” Harvick added. “He did a good job and [the team has] I did exactly that. You have to take ninth to take fifth, you have to take fifth to take fourth and so on.”
How good was it? With 11 races, Herbst has already earned four places out of the top five, one shy of his 2021 total. With eight places in the top 10, he tied with Noah Gragson for the second top 10 places to date, behind AJ Allmendinger Who has not yet finished in the top ten.
Not bad for Herbst, who is running his first Xfinity season with training and qualifying for each race.
“I don’t really know what that is, maybe an experiment,” Herbst said. “We’re more consistent and being able to finish has been huge for us as a team and allows us to keep moving forward, progressing and ultimately moving towards our race-winning goals.”
Boswell, who is striving for perfection, knows the 98th team has improved a lot since 2021. But with just 34 points per season, the team can still boost their performance.
“There are still ways to go,” he said. “All our goals are the same in wanting to win races; we want that for Riley and the guys on our team. But by all means, a huge improvement attributable to finishing the races.”
MORE: NASCAR on TV this week
Boswell credits Herbst’s improvement to accruing a significant amount over the past year and a half. By communicating with his team, Herbst understands what he needs from his car most and understands when Team 98 discusses different running setups.
But don’t think Herbst didn’t try hard even when success wasn’t on paper.
“He’s always worked hard and put his heart and soul into it,” said Boswell. “I think a lot of times he gets to rap bad because, quite frankly, his family has been successful. It drives me crazy because if people understood how hard he worked and how well he wanted to run, they would probably lay him off a little bit.”
After finishing third as season best in Darlington last weekend, Herbst finished eighth in the championship standings (ninth in the playoff standings), 54 points off the cut-off streak.
While 54 points represents a solid margin on the stacked Xfinity field this season, Herbst plans to maintain a consistent approach as the year progresses, despite having two Kaulig Racing cars, including Series Champion Daniel Hemrick, entering Richard Childress Racing behind him in points. If he gets a win before Bristol Motor Speedway in September, he will be locked in the post-season.
“We worry about ourselves and progress as a team, and we’re getting closer to our goals of winning races,” he said. “I think we take a step forward every week.
“It doesn’t surprise me. I knew I could have done this last year if we could have achieved what we were supposed to and did the things we were supposed to. But we didn’t win, so I’m not satisfied. It’s great that it ended well. Every week, I think we need to keep doing that and not lose sight of the goal and we have to keep laying the foundation. But I really want to win a race, and I have to win the race. This is my third year full time and you have to start winning with some time.”