Saturday, May 13, 2023

XFINITY: Difficult stretch for Riley Herbst continues with Darlington last-place finish in Ken Block tribute scheme

PHOTO: @nascarchile

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Riley Herbst scored the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Shriners Children’s 200 at the Darlington Raceway when his #98 Monster Energy Ford was eliminated with crash damage after 29 of 147 laps.

The finish, which came in Herbst’s 120th series start, was his first of the season and first in a XFINITY Series race since March 12, 2022 at Phoenix, 40 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 8th for the #98, the 163rd for Ford, and the 379th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 44th for the #98, the 1,010th for Ford, and the 1,132nd from a crash.

While still in pursuit of his first career XFINITY Series win, Herbst has marked his sixth season in NASCAR’s top three series with his Cup debut in this year’s Daytona 500. Teamed with Rick Ware Racing and carrying sponsorship from SunnyD, Herbst made it to the finish on the lead lap. After the last-lap pileup, he crossed the line in 10th. His second Cup start came just last month in Talladega, where he again came home on the lead lap in 20th. This coincided with a strong start to this year’s XFINITY season, where he ran Top 10 in the first six straight races. But coming into Darlington, he’d finished no better than 21st in the four races since.

With “Throwback Weekend” coming up, Herbst would be one of two drivers running tribute schemes to the late Ken Block, who died in a snowmobiling accident n January. As it happened, Herbst’s would be the only one to qualify. On Friday, Josh Reaume came up short in the #33 Colonial Countertops “Hoonicorn” Ford, a tribute designed by Keith McGee for the Truck Series race that resembled Block’s iconic #43 Mustang. Herbst, who shared Block’s sponsor in Monster Energy, would run the dazzling black-and-white colors run on Block’s Ford Fiesta rally car in 2010. The team produced merchandise, with all proceeds going to Block's Forty-Three Institute.

The Ken Block scheme revealed on May 8th
PHOTO: @MonsterEnergy

At Darlington, Herbst ranked 23rd of the 41 entered drivers in practice, then secured 18th on the grid with a lap of 162.426mph (30.276 seconds). The three teams sent home were Garrett Smithley in the #4 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet, Chad Finchum in the #66 Wild Willies Ford honoring Eric McClure, and Dawson Cram’s tribute to Bob Keselowski in CHK Racing’s #74 Magnum Contracting, Inc. Chevrolet. Smithley’s own “throwback” scheme, one of many honoring Kevin Harvick, would ultimately run the race Sunday as teammate Brennan Poole would run it in place of his own #6 Chevrolet, which bounced off the wall on his own qualifying lap. Poole’s blue door numbers were added to Smithley’s car, making it his backup, resulting in a tail-end penalty for Saturday’s race.

Also penalized was 38th and last-place starter Blaine Perkins, who made his first XFINITY start since his serious crash at Talladega last month. Perkins’ #02 PayDay Chevrolet – Ryan Daley’s “throwback” to Harvick’s 2003 XFINITY Series car – had an issue that prevented him from taking a la in qualifying. This resulted in an unapproved adjustments penalty, the same incurred by 15th-place Jeb Burton in the #27 Capital City Towing Chevrolet, 26th-place Kaz Grala in the #26 Fire Department Coffee Toyota, 37th-place Joe Graf, Jr. in the #38 Bethel Motor Speedway Ford, and 22nd-place Sage Karam in the #44 CRC Chevrolet. Karam’s adjustments were the most significant. Heading through Turns 3 and 4 on his qualifying lap, Karam struck the wall and kept his foot in it. Without a backup car, the team repaired his Richard Childress “throwback” entry in time for the race.

When the race went green, the Perkins and Graf were in the final row with Graf last across the stripe, 3.744 seconds back of the lead and just 0.044 back of Perkins. Running a “throwback” scheme to the Legends car he ran at the Bethel Motor Speedway, Graf was still last on Lap 3, but quickly closing on Perkins, who was neck-and-neck with Gray Gaulding in the #08 Panini Ford. Both Graf and Perkins cleared Gaulding on Lap 4, but Perkins then radioed his right-front tire went down. The caution came out, but the broadcast indicated it was for Sammy Smith’s spin in the #18 Pilot / Flying J Toyota. Regardless, Perkins took last on Lap 5, and also said his brakes weren’t hot enough as the pedal wasn’t working right. As Perkins was told to pick the high lane for the restart, Poole pitted his #6 the next time by, which gave Poole the last spot on Lap 7. 

Poole remained last for the Lap 8 restart, where Sammy Smith spun once more, and Gaulding re-took last place on Lap 9 before Smith pitted, taking last on Lap 11. Pitting along with Smith was 13th-place Riley Herbst, who Poole’s spotter warned might have a flat tire. Herbst, too, thought this was the case, though the crew discovered the right-front tire was “dirty” instead. The pit stops put Herbst and Smith both two laps down with Herbst taking over last on Lap 13. The now 36th-place Gaulding was lapped on the 23rd circuit, meaning both Smith and Herbst now had to catch the #08 just to be in position to get one of their two laps back.

On Lap 29, Herbst dropped Sammy Smith to last and set after Gaulding. But mere seconds later, the spotter said, “We really hit it hard here, hold it up. . .We're probably done here. Hard hit.” After racing Sage Karam down the backstretch, Herbst cut down a right-front tire and hit the Turn 2 wall, which didn’t draw the caution flag. Taking over last again on Lap 31, Herbst made it to pit road, and the crew told him to go to the garage. The team wanted to have him roll to the backstretch entrance of the garage area, but instead decided to enter through the Cup garage on the frontstretch, which was blocked by cones. Herbst made the turn on Lap 36, where NASCAR declared him out under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” “Sorry buddy, we just gotta keep our heads straight,” said the crew. “It’s been a tough few weeks, but we'll get through it.”

Perkins, too, cut another tire during Herbst’s issues, and was already four laps down in 37th as the #98 pulled behind the wall. On Lap 40, Perkins’ crew told him to shut off the engine and said they were done for the day. Unlike Herbst, the crew elected to have him wait until the end of Stage 1, then limp around to the backstretch garage entrance. This was done on Lap 46, though the #02 was now smoking badly and briefly caught fire as it stopped by the fire truck in the infield. NASCAR declared his trip to the garage a “mechanical” issue, meaning they could return to the track, but the Our Motorsports team did not.

The Bottom Five was completed by a massive 15-car pileup on Lap 70 triggered by Richard Childress Racing teammate Sheldon Creed and Austin Hill, running still another pair of Harvick “throwback” schemes. At the same instant, both Creed and Hill lost control racing for 1st and 3rd, spinning into traffic and collecting several cars. Taking 36th was Chandler Smith, whose #16 Quick Tie Products, Inc. Chevrolet was caught against the outside wall, then tangled with Dover winner Ryan Truex in the #19 Toyota Outfitters Toyota, who was 35th. Taking 34th was Brandon Jones, whose #9 Menards / Cheez-It Chevrolet collided with Creed’s #2 Whelen Chevrolet after Creed slid down to the apron. Both Creed and Hill managed to continue, finishing 25th and an impressive 4th, respectively.

Making only his second XFINITY Series start – and first with Spire Motorsports, whose series debut was delayed by rain at Dover, forcing their withdrawal – Carson Hocevar bounced back from a last-place debut in COTA to finish a strong 6th and led three laps in the #77 Premier Security Chevrolet. Hocevar was joined the Top Ten by no less than both Sam Hunt Racing Toyotas – the first time that’s happened in the SHR team’s history. Kaz Grala took 9th in the #26 Fire Department Coffee Toyota ahead of Corey Heim’s #24 Gearwrench Toyota.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #98 in a XFINITY Series race since March 23, 1996, when Jeremy Mayfield’s #98 Northstar Motorsports Ford was involved in a crash after 50 laps of the Dura Lube 200.

38) #98-Riley Herbst / 29 laps / crash
37) #02-Blaine Perkins / 35 laps / suspension
36) #16-Chandler Smith / 67 laps / crash
35) #19-Ryan Truex / 68 laps / crash
34) #9-Brandon Jones / 68 laps / crash

1st) CHK Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (2)
2nd) Big Machine Racing, B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management, Sam Hunt Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (7)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


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