By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
A career-high finish by Riley Herbst was the last thing on his mind after a controversial last lap in Saturday’s Sugarlands Shine 250 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The 20-year-old had a clean race as chaos happened behind his No. 51 Monster Energy/Advance Auto Parts Toyota Tundra.
Gus Dean’s massive late-race shunt on the backstretch sent the race into overtime and Herbst was one of a few drivers in excellent position of battling for the win.
Indeed, Herbst was able to put himself in the right spot to capture his maiden NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory in his seventh start with just Johnny Sauter needing to get by.
Herbst found a slim opening in the tri oval, but Sauter blocked him below the yellow line. As a result, both were on the apron before moving back across the track unscathed, but it cost Herbst a shot of automatically locking the Kyle Busch Motorsports’ tuck into Championship 4 as far as the truck owner points battle is concerned.
As Sauter crossed the line in first, Spencer Boyd and Herbst’s teammate Todd Gilliland were able to beat Herbst as he ended up fourth.
NASCAR reviewed the video and penalized Sauter, inheriting the win to Boyd. Herbst was now officially listed as the third-place finisher. It’s the Las Vegas native’s first career top-five finish in 16 national touring starts.
Herbst said he would’ve done the approach of getting by Sauter different, but it would’ve resulted in the Big One which he felt it wasn’t necessary.
“Yeah, I could have absolutely stayed in the throttle and wrecked the whole field. I didn’t think that was necessary though,” Herbst said. “Tony Hirschman (spotter) put me in a good spot. He gave me a huge run off of (Turn) 4 and I faked Sauter to the high side and he bought it. I went to the bottom and he drove me all the way to the grass.”
Herbst added that Sauter’s penalty for forcing him below the yellow line was justified after robbing him a race win.
“I’m glad NASCAR made the right call there,” Herbst said. “I’m bummed that he did drive me in the grass because I feel like we could’ve ended up in victory lane for sure. All in all, it was a good day in the 51 Tundra. I’m happy with the result.”
Upset with the way Sauter raced him, Herbst’s third-place result played a bigger picture which is the owners title. With 39 points Saturday, he helped move the No. 51 team from fourth to third in points.
The KBM truck is now 10 points above the cutoff line with just Martinsville and Phoenix remaining in the Round of 6. ARCA Menards Series title contender Christian Eckes, winner of two Truck Series poles this season, will run the No. 51 Toyota at Martinsville.