Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography

Riley Herbst has a simple goal for Sunday's Cup race at Nashville

LEBANON, Tenn. -- Riley Herbst makes his second Cup Series start on an intermediate track Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC). This race, while just another event on the Cup schedule, is an opportunity to show that he is in a better spot than he was at Kansas Speedway in May.

"It was pretty dismal," Herbst said about his first intermediate start with Rick Ware Racing. "So we're looking for hopefully a little bit more competitive pace this week in Nashville."

Herbst, who competes full-time in Xfinity for Stewart-Haas Racing, made his Cup debut in 2023 and he delivered strong finishes in his first few Cup starts.

He finished 10th in the 2023 Daytona 500 and then he crossed the line a career-best ninth at Talladega later that season. He finished top 20 in three of his four starts that season.

This season's spring race at Kansas was an entirely different matter. Herbst finished 35th and two laps down at the 1.5-mile track while adjusting to the major differences between the Cup and Xfinity cars, as well as the differences between the superspeedway and intermediate packages.

"They just drive so different," Herbst said. "It's just completely 180, and it just took me a while to wrap my head around it. And I still don't think my head is fully wrapped around it."

The Cup and Xfinity cars used to be similar to each other. The Cup cars were just more powerful. This made it much easier for drivers to naturally go from a Truck entry to an Xfinity car to a Cup car. This was the traditional NASCAR ladder.

This is no longer the case after NASCAR teams moved to the Next Gen era. There are now too many differences between Cup and Xfinity cars. It's to the point where making starts in one series won't help a driver become more comfortable in another.

At least, this was an issue Herbst faced at Kansas as he tried to continue adapting to the Cup car.

"The tire patch is so much bigger," Herbst said about the Next Gen car. "The steering is way different than a truck and Xfinity car. The aero balance is just crazy. The throttle pedals, they're not hanging pedals. They are mounted on the floor.

"It's just small things that you wouldn't think are huge, but actually when you grow up doing something one way and you hop into something that is completely different, it's just truly hard for people to adjust. At least for me."

Herbst says that he doesn't fully have his head wrapped around the Cup car on an intermediate track, something he has tried to remedy with extensive homework in the weeks leading up to Nashville Superspeedway.

Delivering a much better finish at Nashville than he did at Kansas is the goal. Achieving this is no simple task. However, if Herbst can show speed while racing door-to-door with the best drivers in the Cup Series, he could help himself in another important way.

Herbst is one of the Stewart-Haas Racing drivers still searching for a full-time ride for the 2025 season. He said Saturday at Nashville that he has options in Truck, Xfinity, and Cup. It's just a matter of finding the right fit for him and for Monster Energy.

Delivering a solid finish Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway doesn't necessarily make this process easier, but it certainly won't hurt.

"My goal is simple," Herbst said, "it's to complete all the laps and get as much experience as I can for whatever may happen in the future."