He’s got the sauce: Anthony Alfredo ready for step up to Cup

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Anthony Alfredo admits that if someone told him a year ago that he’d be a NASCAR Cup Series rookie in 2021, he probably wouldn’t have believed it.

But on the cusp of his Cup debut in the Feb. 14 Daytona 500, he’s glad for the opportunity.

“I’m just so thankful,” said Alfredo, driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford, in a Friday media teleconference.

“I feel very blessed and definitely wasn’t sure what was gonna happen, but I felt like I had a great year last year, and I was just hoping things would come full circle because of putting the effort forward and all the people who have been by my side throughout my career.”

That uncertainty was evident after his final Xfinity Series start with Richard Childress Racing last October at Texas Motor Speedway.

The week before at Kansas Speedway, his hopes for a top-10 finish ended on a late restart, when contact from behind sent him into the wall and on his roof.

But at Texas, he climbed from 18th on the grid to finish a career-best third after a tight battle with race winner Harrison Burton for the runner-up spot; Burton tracked down and passed Noah Gragson on the last lap to claim the victory.

On pit lane, an emotional Alfredo was close to shedding tears.

“It’s just kind of soaking in – what I got to do this year was really cool,” he told NBC Sports after the race. “… I just hope I get to do this full-time next year and run for a championship.”

He got his wish. But instead of remaining in Xfinity, the 21-year-old will compete on Sundays.

It marks the end of a relatively quick progression up the NASCAR ladder.

From 2015-2017, Alfredo raced late models (in 2017, he drove for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s JR Motorsports team) before entering what’s now known as the ARCA Menards Series East in 2018.

In 2019, he got his first exposure to NASCAR national series competition with 13 starts in the Camping World Truck Series for David Gilliland Racing. Last year, Alfredo moved up to Xfinity with 19 starts for RCR.

Now, three years removed from his last full-season effort and with only partial Truck and Xfinity seasons under his belt, Alfredo makes the biggest jump of all.

But the driver known as “Fast Pasta” isn’t worried about a potential lack of seasoning. He believes he’ll get plenty of that in Cup.

“What really stuck out to me is just being able to run full-time and to do it with the largest schedule in NASCAR, if you will, is huge for me to develop, grow and just get overall experience,” he said. “I’m looking forward to learning and being able to compete every week.

“Running part-time – sometimes you have a good run and you have to wait a couple weeks and you kind of lose that momentum, and if you have a bad run and you’re off for a couple weeks, you can’t go out the next week and try to rebound.

“I’m looking forward to being able to (race) a lot of times this year. Probably all the races combined in the Cup schedule is probably as many Xfinity and Truck races put together (that) I’ve run, which sounds a little wild to say. But … It’s a great opportunity and I have amazing people who believe in me, so I’m very thankful for that and that boosts my confidence in myself.”

One of those people is Michael McDowell, his Front Row Motorsports teammate.

The 14-year Cup veteran is on his third rookie teammate in as many seasons after Matt Tifft in 2019 and John Hunter Nemechek in 2020.

Tifft has since had his driving career paused due to seizures and transitioned into team ownership, while Nemechek is back in the Truck Series this season with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

From McDowell’s perspective, Alfredo has struck a different chord with him due to his personality and willingness to learn.

“Right before we did this (teleconference), I was just talking to him about some of the stuff we’ve got going on this week with simulation and just working through things he needs to think about and things that don’t pop up until you get in the race and it’s too late,” McDowell said Friday.

“It’s nice to help guys be able to shorten that learning curve, and really with him, it’s been pretty easy just because he’s so eager to learn, easy to get along with and very respectful and humble, so it’s been fun.”

Those qualities may prove invaluable for Alfredo this season, as he seeks to build his future at NASCAR’s top level.