NASCAR: Rick Ware Racing’s bold Daytona 500 move pays off

Riley Herbst, Rick Ware Racing, Daytona 500, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Riley Herbst, Rick Ware Racing, Daytona 500, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Not many people viewed Riley Herbst as Rick Ware Racing’s best option for the NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500. But he came through in his series debut.

When Riley Herbst, a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series driver for Stewart-Haas Racing, was linked to Rick Ware Racing’s vacant seat for the 2023 Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, the news was met with a fair amount of skepticism.

Herbst has competed full-time in the Xfinity Series for three years, all for top-tier teams, and has never finished higher than 10th place in the championship standings. Entering his third year with Stewart-Haas Racing following a winless 2020 campaign with Joe Gibbs Racing, he is still seeking his first series win.

The 23-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native also had no Cup Series experience, so it was somewhat of a surprise to see a team with two chartered/guaranteed entries turn to him for the biggest race of the season.

But in addition to the funding Herbst brings, Rick Ware Racing’s move made sense because of his history in NASCAR superspeedway races.

He has never won a superspeedway race in the Xfinity Series, but relatively speaking, he has been good at bringing his cars home in one piece, recording four fourth place finishes in such races from 2020 to 2022.

Herbst was involved in a number of incidents on Sunday, including an unforced single-car mistake entering the pits, but he was able to bring the No. 15 Ford home in one piece. In the Daytona 500, that generally translates to a solid result, and it did.

Herbst’s 10th place finish marked Rick Ware Racing’s third top 10 finish in the Daytona 500, all in the last four years.

Teammate and full-time drive Cody Ware finished in 14th place.

As a relatively underfunded and somewhat of a backmarker team, the Daytona 500 is one of the very few races in which Rick Ware Racing truly have a shot to contend for a solid result.

Many wondered why they did not turn to David Ragan, who recorded finishes of fourth and eighth place for the team in the 2020 and 2022 Daytona 500s, respectively. While Ragan probably remains the best option on paper, even now, Herbst’s commendable Cup Series debut quieted a lot of the critics.

Rick Ware Racing were one of just three teams with two top 14 finishers in Sunday’s race.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

Herbst is set to compete in additional superspeedway races for the team behind the wheel of the No. 15 Ford later this year.