KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Riley Herbst had to scratch and claw for everything he got Friday night, but when all was said and done, the Las Vegas teenager breathed a sigh of relief after sewing up SCOTT Rookie of the Year honors for the ARCA Racing Series.
Herbst came into the Kansas ARCA 150 at Kansas Speedway two points down on Gus Dean in the race for top rookie honors, but was able to overcome that deficit after Dean got into the wall off turn two with 36 laps to go and had to make two pit stops, one for repairs and a second for speeding.
In the end, that swing saw Herbst soldier home to a ninth-place result, while Dean crossed the line three laps down in 15th.
The difference in positions relative to the other rookies in the race meant that Herbst ultimately vaulted past Dean in the final rookie standings, making up six points in total to end up with a four-point margin over Dean and an even 400 points for the year.
Bret Holmes finished third in the final tally, 14 markers back of Herbst.
While Herbst was overjoyed with the final outcome, he admitted that Friday night’s race was an uphill climb from the word go.
“These Joe Gibbs Racing guys worked on this car all night long,” said Herbst. “We definitely didn’t start where we wanted to, but that’s been our M.O. all year: we haven’t qualified good, but at the end of most of these races we’ve been up front and in the thick of things. We dialed ourselves out there a bit on one of our pit stops, but we got back to where we needed to be. We just couldn’t quite capitalize on that last restart.”
Herbst’s impressive season saw the 18-year-old pick up a victory at Pocono Raceway in June, to go along with a pole at Elko Speedway, six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 19 races — all despite not being old enough to run at the season-opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway in February.
With 2017 being Herbst’s first year in a national touring series, the young gun stressed that his focus was expediting his learning curve week-in and week-out.
“This year has just been about learning, every time I hit the race track I was trying to soak in as much as I could,” Herbst said.
That goal was proven positive by virtue of Herbst’s top-five finish in the season-long points standings. Factoring in the race that he missed at Daytona, and it’s likely that Herbst would have ended the year third in the title race, behind only champion Austin Theriault and runner-up Dalton Sargeant.
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