Boundless growth is the result of a ‘long four years’ for Herbst

Riley Herbst is not perfect.

The 25-year-old Las Vegas native knows he’s not perfect and has no problem admitting as much. In fact, Herbst thinks anyone who tries to say they are is a liar. Needless to say, he’s open and accepting of constructive criticism.

“If you’re not willing to learn and get better, I think that’s a fault of your own,” Herbst says. “It’s obviously a shock when somebody tells you that you’re not good, but they care about you enough to let you know, and they see something in you that they want to come out and help you grow into a better race car driver and hopefully a [better] person.”


Such a shock has gone to Herbst’s core last few years. On and off the track, he’s worked individually and with his Stewart-Haas Racing team to grow. There’s been a need for more patience and maturity, finding a way to be less temperamental, and using all of that to reach his potential on the track.

He’s been surrounded by the best to help that happen. Kevin Harvick and KHI Management are among them. Davin Restivo, who was paired with Herbst one year ago, has been another critical piece of the puzzle. The list goes on.

“It’s a step back…reflecting and leaning on people who are wiser than you and have more experience,” Herbst says. “I’ve been lucky enough to do that with probably one of the best of all time with Kevin. He’s helped me tremendously. My former crew chief, Richard Boswell, helped me grow up. Davin has been a great mentor to me as well. There’s just been [immeasurable gains].

“Sometimes as we go, we don’t see the results and people start asking all the normal questions and all you can say is, ‘It takes time. It’s a process.’ I feel like we are the definition of that, and I’m excited and proud of where we’ve come from and where we’re right now.”

Herbst joined Stewart-Haas in 2021 to drive the No. 98 Ford Mustang. In each of his first three seasons, he made gains that reflected in the numbers. Last season was a single-season career-high in top-five finishes (10) and he finally broke through for his first career victory. Fittingly, it came in Las Vegas, a dominating performance where Herbst continuously drove away from the field and led 101 of 201 laps.

“It’s just a grind,” says Herbst. “It’s a small-step process. You don’t wake up one night and be a Hall of Fame race car driver — at least not for me. I know that’s not in [the] cards that I’ve been dealt. It’s an honest climb up the ladder and hope to be better each week, and that’s where our mindset has been.

“We want to be better than we were last week, and if we’re not, then we take that as a failing grade for the weekend and we go onto the next.”

Consistency has been key for Herbst and his SHR team, regularly running up front and setting themselves up for another shot at the Xfinity Series playoffs. Matt Thacker/Motorsport Images

Having a victory on his resume was a massive weight off Herbst’s shoulders. He didn’t hide the emotions in victory lane or his post-race interviews, mentioning those who had given up on him and those whose support has never wavered. Now he jokes the questions went from, “When are you going to win?” to, “Well, there are a lot of one-win wonders out there. When are you going to win a second time?”

There is always something to chase, which Herbst is accustomed to, but he feels fortunate to be in a position where he believes his team is one of the top three in the series when at their best. Restivo stepped up as a leader, addressing the No. 98 team about focusing on what they can control.

“We’ve worked at it,” Herbst says. “It’s not going to come by happenstance; we’ve worked hard and there’s been some up times and a lot of down times, and now I think we’re reaping the rewards of our hard work.

“It’s been a long four years.”

Even then, Herbst smiles when he talks about the journey.

“It’s been fun,” he says. “It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a dream come true. I get to drive race cars for a living at the best teams in NASCAR and that’s what so many people dream of. That’s what I dreamed of as a kid, and sure, I wish some things had gone differently, but it’s all part of the journey, and it’s been a lot of fun. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

As he sits now, Herbst is fifth in the Xfinity Series championship standings and looks on track for a postseason berth. Grabbing that second career victory would make his path easier.

When asked about his reputation or what the perception around him might be nowadays, he says, “I’m extremely comfortable in my skin. I’m excited for the future. I’m excited for the opportunities that are in my grip if I can capitalize on them. I’ve always said I thought I could get to this point and I’m nowhere finished; there is still a long way to go to where I want to be. It might have taken longer and more work than I wanted when I first hopped into the No. 18 car at Joe Gibbs Racing, but that’s long past now and we’re in the No. 98 car and have climbed the ladder and gotten better each year. That’s something I’m proud of.”

Now, Herbst might potentially be looking for his next opportunity. Stewart-Haas Racing is shutting down, but Gene Haas is staying in the sport and will continue to field two Xfinity Series cars. Time will tell if Herbst stays or goes, but he knows one thing: if an owner is looking for a driver, he hopes he’s at least a consideration.

“I hope they are able to see where I started and where I currently am, and I feel like that’s unrivaled in the top three series,” Herbst says. “It might not be the best thing to say, but I’m proud of the growth that I’ve had and I feel like it’s some of the best I’ve ever seen. I’m excited about that, and hopefully that’s enough to keep us racing. This is a performance-based business, and winning cures everything.”

Story originally appeared on Racer