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Riley Herbst turns the page with move to Stewart-Haas Racing

Riley Herbst will drive the No. 98 Xfinity ride for Stewart-Haas in 2021. Herbst joins NASCAR America to describe what the move means, why he needs to limit mistakes, and the details the challenges of a new car and team.

After an uneven rookie season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Riley Herbst parted ways with Joe Gibbs Racing.

He’s landed on his feet - and will soon climb into the dominant car of 2020.

Herbst will replace Cup Series-bound Chase Briscoe as driver of the No. 98 Ford, which claimed a series-high nine victories this past year with Briscoe at the wheel.

Meanwhile, Herbst went winless in JGR’s No. 18 Toyota and was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. While he posted a respectable 17 top-10 finishes, he only led 15 laps.

In contrast, his teammates, Harrison Burton and Brandon Jones, combined to win seven races and lead 451 laps.

During a Thursday video teleconference, Herbst reflected on his struggles. He noted his lack of experience compared to Burton and Jones, as well as competition changes made due to COVID-19, but he didn’t give himself a pass entirely.

“I wasn’t surprised that (Burton and Jones) won races,” said Herbst. “I was a little surprised that we couldn’t break into Victory Lane. That did shock me a little bit. Then again, with the whole COVID protocols and being at these race tracks I’ve never been to before with no practice and no testing, I think people forget about that. ... I think we adapted well to it.

“Do I think I performed to my expectations or anybody’s expectations? I don’t think so at all. But I think that’s what this year’s for, with the No. 98 team.”

While Herbst was a rookie in 2020, he had been part of the JGR family since 2017.

He ran full-time for the team’s ARCA Menards Series program in 2017 and 2018, then split 2019 between partial schedules in ARCA, Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series.

Herbst said that leaving JGR behind has been a “big transition,” but a necessary one to keep his career moving forward.

It also comes with pressure to equal Briscoe’s stellar performance in 2020.

“I have to win races,” Herbst said. “I have to be competitive. This car was the best car, week in and week out last year. That had a lot to do with Chase Briscoe. He’s in the Cup Series now, and a heck of a wheelman himself.

“But I know (crew chief) Richard Boswell and all the guys on the No. 98 team are really smart and know what they’re doing. They’re going to be bring me just-as-fast race cars as they did last year with Chase.

“It’s on me.”