Following a disappointing run in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Homestead, NASCAR newcomer Santino Ferrucci looked to record a much better result for himself and Sam Hunt Racing at Las Vegas, one indicative of his driving ability and the hard-work by his team.
After starting 23rd, Ferrucci was able to work himself inside the top-20 in the first-half of stage one, sliding back to eventually finish 33rd after a loose car halted the 22-year-old’s progress over the long run. By remaining on the lead lap, crew chief Andrew Abbott was able to make some much-needed adjustments to the HydraVes Technologies Toyota Supra.
Stage 1 complete ✅
— Sam Hunt Racing (@Team_SHR26) March 6, 2021
The Woodbury, Connecticut-native looked to be driving a brand-new car in the second stage of the race, maneuvering throughout the mid-pack to make his first appearance inside the top-15 in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition. After multiple restarts late in the second stage, Ferrucci leveled back to 16th at lap 90, putting him in a good position to continue his progression through the field in the race’s final stage.
With over half the race remaining, Ferrucci had made some impressive strides, needing to be cautiously aggressive to bring home a solid result for Sam Hunt Racing. Taking what he had learned thus far, the 22-year-old was able to maintain a position inside the top-20 throughout the majority of the final stage, with his Toyota Supra becoming increasingly strong as the run progressed.
At times, Ferrucci’s No. 26 was producing lap times that were equal to – or faster than — the race leader, climbing as high as 14th-place before a rash of late-race cautions made restarts a frequent occurrence in the final ten percent of the event. Eventually, Ferrucci fell a lap down, but was able to get the free pass on lap 175 when Harrison Burton spun entering turn one.
During the final caution of the race, Abbott called the driver to the pits to put on four brand-new tires, giving the No. 26 the newest tires of cars on the lead lap. After some intense, contact-filled racing with Justin Allgaier, Ferrucci was able to record a 13th-place finish, the best result to date for Sam Hunt Racing on an intermediate track.
While the 22-year-old made an impressive run at Las Vegas, there is still a lot of learning to do before Ferrucci is totally comfortable in the car. However, for him to be running at the end of his second race in a stock car without any noticeable damage, is a monumental victory.
“It’s such a big difference from week one to week two,” Ferrucci told TobyChristie.com on Saturday. “Sam and his team have done a great job, only eight or ten guys strong. Toyota has been a huge help, our Supras have been quick both weekends, we just finally put it together in our HydraVes Tech Supra, and that’s what we got.”
It will be important to continue limiting mistakes – large and small — to put together full races and record solid finishes for the team. While his debut ended in a 30th-place result, Ferrucci says that a lot of the mistakes made at Homestead are just a result of total inexperience.
“Probably 90% of them, I mean everything that happened down to pit stop errors from my side, running the wall errors, communication, all of these things that we could have done better had we a little bit of practice,” said Ferrucci. “We went back, we reorganized, we did everything differently and we showed up here at [Las Vegas Motor Speedway] and we showed what we can do with a little bit of fine-tuning and adjustments, and we only plan to continue on with that trajectory.”
While Saturday marked the first top-15 finish for Ferrucci, the driver is looking ahead of the tail end of his schedule and thinking about what is obtainable for himself and his Sam Hunt Racing team.
“I think that it’s definitely realistic for us to be finishing where we are, it’s hard to tell with our car and what kind of prep we have, but I’d love to do a couple of spots better and try to break into that top-10.”
When speaking to TobyChristie.com about the prospect of a top-10 result, Ferrucci’s tone shifted to one filled with excitement and anticipation, as you could tell the 22-year-old’s imagination was running wild at the thought of racing against the powerhouses of the series.
“I’d love to start fighting in the top-10 consistently, at that point your fighting JR Motorsports, your fighting Penske, Joe Gibbs and RCR, you’re fighting all the “big dog” Cup teams to finish inside the top-10 and we’re a tiny operation. Is it achievable for us? Yeah, [but] we have to keep our head down and keep chugging, but it’d be awesome to do that and be that competitive.”
When talking about drivers who have transitioned from the NTT IndyCar Series to NASCAR’s National Series, Ferrucci joins a laundry list of well-known drivers who have attempted the transition in different ways. Dario Franchitti and Juan Pablo Montoya both made the move with Chip Ganassi Racing but were thrown into the NASCAR Cup Series almost immediately.
Tony Stewart had already been on-and-off the NASCAR scene when he run the full schedule in IndyCar from 1996 to 1998. When he chose to run NASCAR full-time, he immediately advanced to the NASCAR Cup Series with Joe Gibbs Racing and found immense success, eventually winning three NASCAR Cup Series Championships in 2002, 2005 and 2011.
While there is obviously a difference between an IndyCar and a NASCAR Xfinity Series car, it appears that Ferrucci has been able to learn quickly and adapt to the characteristics of the vehicle, while also having a great deal of fun.
“Yeah, it’s like going from driving one of the most precise cars, to driving a Lincoln Sedan,” said Ferrucci. ” It’s so much different, the racing in NASCAR is so much more fun and as a driver you really feel like you make that difference. We were really loose in stage one, but once we fine-tuned it, the race was so long, we were able to recover and come back.”
Next Saturday’s event at Phoenix Raceway will bring a new set of challenges for Ferrucci, as the 22-year-old will contest the smallest racetrack on his schedule thus far. If the driver and team are able to properly communicate and log laps throughout the event, it’s possible we could see Sam Hunt Racing and Santino Ferrucci back inside the top-15.