Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Riley Herbst Smokes the Field at Las Vegas

Some weekends you finish 37th, other weekends you go to your home track and smoke the field by 15 seconds. Riley Herbst started his 139th NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday (Oct. 14) and finally broke through for the first win of his career.

The Las Vegas native was running third near the end of the second stage. He looked on as John Hunter Nemechek reeled in Herbst’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer. As Custer and Nemechek raced past the lapped car of Brennan Poole, Herbst was able to pass them both and win the stage.

Following the pit stops during the stage break, Herbst fell back to third, but eight laps later he re-took the lead. The race went caution-free the rest of the way and Herbst made it through a round of green-flag pit-stops, stretching his lead to as much as 15 seconds on the way to victory.

Despite starting last due to a mechanical issue discovered in practice, Nemechek rebounded to finish second, and stretched his points lead margin to 26. Custer finished third with Chandler Smith and Sam Mayer rounding out the top five.

Justin Allgaier finished sixth with Austin Hill coming home seventh. Brandon Jones, Daniel Hemric and Layne Riggs completed the top 10.

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Winners

For Herbst, this win may have actually been worth the long wait. To get his first win at his home track, in such convincing fashion, had to be satisfying. After the race, Herbst told Frontstretch how a strong run at Talladega Superspeedway in the Cup Series helped with his confidence.

Even with starting in the back, the Las Vegas sportsbooks had Nemechek as the favorite. Early on it was easy to see why. When the caution flew on lap 4 for Patrick Emerling‘s crash, Nemechek had already driven up to 19th. The future Legacy Motor Club driver finished sixth in the first stage and third in the second stage.

Nemechek’s runner-up finish allowed him to expand his points lead over Justin Allgaier. Nemechek heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 47 point cushion over the cut line. After the race, Nemechek told Frontstretch he was happy a non-playoff driver won.

Custer might’ve had some slight disappointment with seeing his teammate win in such dominant fashion while he had to settle for third. But Custer was arguably the biggest winner of the day from a points perspective. With a win in stage one and a second in stage two, Custer’s third-place finish gave him the most points scored of any driver on the day. With that result, Custer was able to leapfrog Mayer and head to Homestead 15 points above the cut line.

Chandler Smith and Mayer didn’t really help their championship hopes with their finishes at the back end of the top five, but they didn’t hurt them either. Both drivers will head to Homestead looking for a great run, or they could face a must-win situation at Martinsville Speedway.

Let’s give a shout out to Riggs. His Xfinity Series debut came at Texas, and it was a weekend to forget. That weekend Riggs crashed in qualifying and limped home a battered car in 19th after surviving the high attrition race.

This weekend was another story. Riggs ran inside the top 15 all day and was able to score a top 10 in just his second Xfinity start.

One more honorary ‘winner’ this week. Ryan Reed. Remember him? He drove the Lilly Diabetes car for Roush Fenway Racing as recently as 2018. The California native collected two Xfinity wins throughout his career. When Roush closed its shop after the conclusion of 2018, Reed faded into obscurity. A joint effort between Alpha Prime Racing and MBM Motorsports brought Reed back into the fold for the first time in almost five years. Reed ran a solid race and finished 20th.

Before the race, Reed told Frontstretch about what he’s been up to and how the deal came together.

Losers

Sheldon Creed had the worst day among the playoff drivers. He finished 15th, which was actually two spots ahead of fellow playoff driver Sammy Smith. Creed ran poorly throughout the day, ending up a lap down despite a clean race. He fought an ill-handling car and was not able to get it where he needed it. Smith still scored eight more points than Creed due to collecting points in both stages. Smith’s finish was worse than he ran all day, thanks to a loose wheel that caused a second pit stop under green.

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Lap 18 marked doom for Brett Moffitt and Joe Graf Jr. Moffitt bounced off the wall on the frontstretch and left Graf nowhere to go. Graf had a hard impact with Moffitt’s AM Racing Ford, leaving both cars damaged. Moffitt was able to soldier on and bring it home 24th, four laps down. Graf’s day was ended by the wreck, and he had to settle for 37th.

We don’t often have ‘The Big One’ at Las Vegas, but in the Alsco Uniforms 302 we got something close to it. Kaz Grala appeared to blow an engine on lap 54. The mechanical failure spread oil all over the track just as drivers were trying to navigate a turn at full speed. Rajah Caruth was swept up in the mess but fought back for a respectable 23rd. Other drivers caught up in the wreck included Poole, Jeremy Clements, Josh Williams, Anthony Alfredo and Kyle Weatherman.

Fuel For Thought

With a recent surge, Mayer was able to get ahead of Custer in points prior to this weekend. Mayer’s struggles on mile-and-a-halfs this year have been well documented. Finishing fifth had to almost feel like a win for him and his team, right? Well, he still lost a bunch of ground in the points due to the better runs by Chandler Smith and Custer. Mayer went from being above the cutline to 16 points below.

With two races to go in the Round of 8, Nemechek is in pretty good shape. Heading to Homestead, the other three spots are still up for grabs. Among the current field of playoff drivers, it was Mayer who had the best finish (fifth) in last season’s Homestead race. In the previous round Mayer was able to score a walk-off win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL to advance. Can he pull out another clutch win at Homestead?

What about Creed? He announced he wouldn’t be returning to Richard Childress Racing next season, in the middle of a playoff battle. Seems to me the timing couldn’t be any worse. Now he finds himself at the bottom of the playoff grid, but he’s been pointing to Homestead for weeks as his best chance to win. Can he pull a Mayer and tip the playoffs on their head? If so, it would put Hill and Allgaier on shaky ground heading into Martinsville.

Where to Next?

Three races to go. Can you believe it? We’re off to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Contender Boats 300. Last season Noah Gragson dominated this race, leading a total of 127 laps. Can JR Motorsports repeat that level of performance in this key playoff race?

It all gets underway on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 3 p.m. ET. Catch the race on USA Network and streaming on Peacock, or listen in on the Motor Racing Network and on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.

About the author

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

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3 Comments
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Steven

How many millions of dollars has it taken for this squirrel to find an acorn. NOT impressed.

Bernard

Where did you finish Steveo?

Skyler

Riley finally got his win, now next year, can be be champion?

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