Riley Herbst suffers championship blow in LOR struggle


By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

BROWNSBURG, Ind. — From car failure to a window net error, early favorite Riley Herbst endured a tumultuous debut outing en-route to a 12th-place run at Lucas Oil Raceway (LOR) – one that even he knows may have brought his championship hopes to an end.

“It’s tough to say,” Herbst said when asked if his championship quest had been derailed. “It definitely didn’t help us at all, but we’re going to a track that we absolutely dominated at next week at Pocono (Raceway). We can’t get caught up in the points. We’ve just gotta keep doing what we do and put everything together.

“We were the best car to beat tonight. Mistakes happened and things didn’t fall our way.”

Herbst, 18, arrived in the Indianapolis area with little margin for error in the championship battle. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver sat 390 points out from leader Austin Theriault after missing the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway – in need of wins and strong runs to close the gap.

For a time it appeared Herbst would escape LOR with the result he desired. After starting second, Herbst was the only driver that kept in touch with leader Austin Cindric early in the race. When Cindric faltered the rookie took over the top spot, holding the lead for 11 laps. He faded back in the middle section of the race after a few issues on restarts, but had climbed his way back into the fight for the win with 60 laps to go.

Then his troubles began in earnest.

The Las Vegas, Nevada native was leading the field on a Lap 141 restart when his No. 18 Toyota briefly stalled, dropping him behind the pack. Herbst climbed back into the top 10 over the ensuing run, but when the caution flag flew for rain he mistakenly took down his window net – forcing a trip to pit road that trapped him a lap down.

After running with one of the evening’s best cars, Herbst finished the Sioux Chief PowerPEX 200 in 12th. Championship rivals Daytona Sargeant and Theriault finished first and third, respectively.

“When you get walled two different times on a restart that doesn’t help much,” Herbst said of his evening. “Then on one of the final restarts I was clearing out the engine and our car went black.

“We fell all the way back and finally started marching back forward, but then the rain came and I made a mistake and pulled the window net down. Under the caution laps I got it pulled back up to where it needed to be, but apparently ARCA didn’t approve of it so we had to come down and put it back up.”

Herbst leaves LOR with a heavy gap in the standings, but the rookie’s strong cars give him hope moving forward.

“We were the fastest car,” Herbst said. “We were running down the (No.) 99 (Cindric) early, blew the doors off the (No.) 77 (Sargeant) and somehow they ended up in victory lane. That doesn’t make you feel good, but we’ll move on to Pocono.

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