INTERVIEW: 2020 JGR Xfinity rookie Riley Herbst

Image by LaBounty/LAT

INTERVIEW: 2020 JGR Xfinity rookie Riley Herbst

Riley Herbst was something of a stock car renaissance man in 2019, doing time in ARCA, Trucks, Xfinity, K&N and who knows what else. It was all great means to an end, as in October the Joe Gibbs Racing organization announced that the 2017 ARCA Menards Series Bounty Rookie of the Year recipient will race the Monster Energy No. 18 car full-time for JGR in the 2020 Xfinity series.

Q: You’ll be in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing car and racing full-time in the 2020 Xfinity Series. In the racing media it’s been mentioned more than once that it’s the fulfillment of a dream for you.

RILEY HERBST: Yeah, man, this is absolutely crazy. I never really would have believed this was going to come true. It’s just been an awesome opportunity to work with everyone at Gibbs, and the guys over at Monster and stuff like that. The seat opened up, and we were there for the negotiation and we made it happen. To be in the iconic No. 18 car for next year for Joe Gibbs Racing is something special, and I’m really honored to drive it.

Q: You started racing karts when you were five years-old and steadily went through Legends, Super Late Models and numerous NASCAR East and West series races before moving up to ARCA. You’ve certainly committed yourself to climbing the ladder in stock car racing. 

RH: Absolutely. Sometimes I’m like, “Man, did I make the right choice?” However, with opportunities like this, it definitely makes me think that I made the right choice, and I’m excited for what the future holds.

Q: You came out of the Toyota Racing Development and NASCAR Next programs. Did they prepare you well along the way?

RH: Yeah, it is pretty cool because a lot of the people that we train with and study with and things like that, we are good friends with. It was cool because we all learned off of each other, but we also try to be better than them.

Q: 2019 was pretty tumultuous for you. You ran a random schedule of ARCA races with JGR, Xfinity races for JGR and the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports. This doesn’t even include the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races you lined up. Was it difficult to constantly be stepping in and out of different equipment?

RH: Man, I would say 2019 has probably been one of the hardest years of racing I’ve ever had. I’ve had great opportunities, but it was tough, like you said, to switch from each vehicle. We also had some bad luck that you can’t control. Other than that, it was a lot of fun, to say the least, but it definitely was difficult to switch between cars so often.

Q: How different is the racing – as well as the racers – you are out there battling with in ARCA, Xfinity and Trucks? Does the racing and even the talent vary from series to series?

RH: I would definitely say the competition is stronger the higher you go up, obviously. The Cup Series and to be a Cup Series champion is the ultimate goal. The competition is tough. The ARCA series is tough and Truck series is that much harder and the Xfinity series is that much harder on top of the Trucks. It’s cool to learn from, but it’s a learning curve each time you step up, for sure.

Herbst raced in a bit of everything in 2019, but next year, his focus will be on Xfinity with JGR. Image by Harrelson/LAT

Q: What were the highlights of your 2019 season? You almost won in the Truck at Talladega and had several other strong top five and top 10 finishes in the cars.

RH: Yeah, I ran really well at Pocono ARCA (ED: He finished second overall). The Truck race at Talladega, we kind of got that one stolen from us. Kansas and some of the others I felt like we had good results at, but we had stuff go wrong that was not in our control.

Q: Some fans may not realize that you come from a prolific off-road racing family.

RH: Yes, it’s pretty cool. It’s like 180-degrees different from most forms of racing, but racing is racing. My family was into off-road racing down in Mexico and on the west coast. It’s really cool. I definitely had an opportunity to go drive those cars, but I wanted to see if I could try to make a career out of stock car racing back here on the east coast. We’re giving it our best shot, for sure.

Q: I know it’s still relatively early, but how are you going to approach the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series? Are you forming a plan in your head?

RH: A little bit. I definitely have great resources around me. I’ve got a very knowledgeable and veteran crew chief with Dave Rogers. I’ve also made some friends over the last few years such as Christopher Bell. I’m not going to be afraid to reach out and ask him questions, because he’s one of the best in the Xfinity series and a really good driver. I definitely have to use my resources. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned – you definitely can’t be afraid to use your resources. The people that use their resources the most definitely win the most races. That’s what I’m going to try and do next year.

Q: As a native of Las Vegas, you’re from the same metropolis as the Busch brothers. That’s kind of cool.

RH: Yeah, it is really cool. Las Vegas has produced a lot of racers and a lot of racing. Sin City has some race car drivers in it. Kurt and Kyle Busch have definitely been my idols since I was a young kid. I know Kyle pretty well because I’ve ran his Trucks and he’s helped me out with advice on where to put your race car or how to think and stuff like that, so that helps me out a lot for a young driver like myself. He’s a super-cool dude.

Q: What are the goals you want to achieve in NASCAR?

RH: Man, I want to be good. I want to be a Cup series champion and I want to say that I beat the best. I want to have a championship against all the best drivers in the world, for sure.