NASCAR neophyte Santino Ferrucci ready for Xfinity debut

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Over his previous three seasons in the NTT IndyCar Series, Santino Ferrucci developed a reputation, for better or for worse, as one of the series’ most aggressive drivers.

But as he begins his stock car career in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with no practice or qualifying beforehand, he’s looking to avoid the highlight reel.

MORE: Saturday Miami Xfinity race – Start time, weather, TV

“You just want the car to come back in one piece, log some laps for us,” Ferrucci said during a media teleconference Wednesday. “We have five in a row, so there’s no sense in throwing away your first race trying to do something spectacular.

“It’s all about trying to be consistent and building up to it slowly.”

The same can be said for Sam Hunt Racing, which will have Ferrucci in its No. 26 Toyota for the next five Xfinity races. He’ll be the team’s third different driver in as many weeks.

Brandon Gdovic finished eighth in the season opener on the Daytona International Speedway oval, giving the team its first Xfinity top 10 finish. Kris Wright finished 18th last week on the Daytona road course.

As Hunt builds his program – which also will welcome John Hunter Nemechek for select races later this season – he strives to stay true to a lesson learned from his mentor, the late J.D. Gibbs.

“Success is surrounding yourself with the right people,” Hunt said Wednesday. “Having some competitive guys like Santino come into the program and care about it the way I do, and then having better people every time we go out.”

Among those people are Chris Lambert, the long-time Cup spotter for Denny Hamlin who also will spot for Sam Hunt Racing this season. Hunt considers Lambert “a huge asset from the tower, being able to see and coach and use his experience to help some of these less experienced guys.”

Lambert may be especially important to Ferrucci, who has a deep road racing background that not only includes IndyCar but years on the Formula 1 ladder system. He was a test driver for the Haas Formula 1 team from 2016-2018.

However, in his transition to stock cars, Ferrucci chooses to focus on ovals. And it’s not like he doesn’t know how to run those well.

He equaled his IndyCar career-best finish of fourth on four separate occasions at four different ovals, including in last year’s Indianapolis 500. He also earned Indy 500 rookie of the year honors in 2019.

But figuring out how to handle ovals in a slower, heavier stock car will be a challenge.

“Your intermediate tracks – there’s so many of them and you need to be able to adapt and drive the cars on the different types of tracks,” said Ferrucci, whose initial five races include three 1.5-mile tracks (Homestead, Las Vegas, Atlanta), the asymmetrical mile at Phoenix, and the flat half-mile at Martinsville.

” … Homestead’s really worn out, super loose, super slick. You go to a place like Vegas, where it’s very wide open, very quick. All the way down to Martinsville – which is not two hairpins, but a very technical track.

“Being able to prove that I can adapt and drive these big cars around those tracks that are crucial is what’s important to me.”

Ferrucci’s plan has the support of his new boss. The twisty tracks can wait for now.

“If we go and run top 10 or top five at a road course, it’s just gonna kind of be, ‘Well, yeah, he should, he’s driven Formula 1 cars, he’s a road course guy,'” Hunt said.

“I think Santino’s ambitions are not to just be a road course guy, but to be a good driver, whether it’s mile and a halves, short tracks, speedways or a road course.

“I’m sure we’ll cross the road course bridge at some point. But right now … We’re gonna stick to the mile and a halves and short tracks.”