Friday's motors: Ferrucci shifts back to NASCAR still looking for a full ride

By Jenna Fryer
Associated Press

Charlotte, N.C. — Santino Ferrucci wants to race, in NASCAR and IndyCar or anywhere he can get a seat.

But he agrees with Graham Rahal, who a week ago said Ferrucci must stop crashing in IndyCar to be considered for a long-term addition at Rahal Letterman Lanigan.

FILE - In this May 22, 2021, file photo, Santino Ferrucci talks with a crew member during qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis.

“He's right, I am definitely not in position to be crashing cars,” Ferrucci told The Associated Press. “But in my entire IndyCar career, I'd never had a major crash before this season. I've had front wing damage, but nothing like this. But both crashes, I know what I did wrong — I was pushing too hard trying to prove that I deserve to be in that car.”

Ferrucci's first of two crashes was in a practice session ahead of the Indianapolis 500. The 23-year-old American cracked the fibula in his left leg and although he still wears a brace, he visited the Toyota Performance Center in North Carolina this week to work with a physical therapist.

The injury might have healed faster, Ferrucci said, had he not crashed again during qualifying ahead of the second race in the Detroit doubleheader. The RLL team had under two hours to repair the car in an all-hands-on-deck rush to get Ferrucci to the starting grid.

Rahal told AP two of his mechanics almost didn't make it to his car for the race because of heat exhaustion from rebuilding Ferrucci's car.

“I'm not trying to be hard on the guy, I spoke highly about him to my dad and he takes a lot of chances and on ovals in the past, his chances have worked out,” Rahal said. "He's brave. But from a technical standpoint, the team needs to move forward. Both crashes were driver error, and that's fine, too, that happens and I've done it a million times.

“But sometimes you need to leave something on the table because you need to get to the race. You need to make sure you're in one piece. He's just got to be smart.”

Despite the crashes, Ferrucci salvaged his four IndyCar races with RLL this season with four top-10 finishes. His sixth-place finish in the Indy 500 was higher than both RLL teammates Rahal and defending race winner Takuma Sato, and he showed enough that sponsor HyVee added three more races after the initial Indianapolis debut.

Next up for Ferrucci is a NASCAR weekend and his sixth Xfinity Series start Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He has a partial deal with Sam Hunt Racing but no available sponsorship for any races after Atlanta.

Ferrucci finished on the lead lap in four of his five races — he was two laps down in his NASCAR debut in February at Homestead — and has been 15th or higher in the ensuing races. He's had to learn the stock car and NASCAR nuances in real time because COVID-19 regulations have scrapped practice and qualifying from the weekend schedule.

“It's really hard to do this without any track time. Every single one of my laps in NASCAR has been race laps,” he said.

Atlanta, though, is the first track Ferrucci will be racing for the second time. He finished 15th there in March and expects the 251 miles of experience will give him a solid foundation for Saturday.

But after that, there is nothing on Ferrucci's schedule the rest of the year. He wants more races in both series but needs either supermarket chain HyVee to greenlight him with RLL in IndyCar — Ferrucci really wants to run the inaugural street race through downtown Nashville in August — or funding to come through to drive more races for Hunt in NASCAR.

“I want to be in top competitive equipment,” said Ferrucci, who drove 35 races over three seasons for Dale Coyne Racing and finished fourth in the 2020 Indianapolis 500 in the Coyne entry that is led by Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan.

Ferrucci's goal is to find a full-time ride in either series and hopefully still compete outside of those demands. If he landed a full-time Xfinity ride, for example, he'd still try to race the Indy 500. And if he landed a full IndyCar ride, Ferrucci said he'd want to work with Hunt in the Xfinity Series on off weekends.

“I want to be racing and I want to be in a full-time effort with the opportunity to put up consistent results,” Ferrucci said. “Wherever that takes me, I still want to be able to race in both NASCAR and IndyCar.”

More of Friday's motors

► Hill survives demolition derby on dirt at Knoxville Raceway

Austin Hill survived a Friday night demolition derby on the dirt at Knoxville Raceway for his first NASCAR Truck Series victory of the year.

Hill restarted on the inside beside Chandler Smith on the fourth overtime attempt and pulled away in Hattori Racing Enterprises’ No. 16 Toyota in the first NASCAR national series race on the historic half-mile dirt oval.

Hill passed Chandler Smith for the lead just before the field was frozen for a caution on the third overtime try, giving him the key inside position beside Smith.

“I didn’t think we were going to make it back up,” Hill said. “Track position was huge. It was really hard to get around people. You had to kind of rough them up a little bit to get around them. But we don’t stop, we don’t quit, even when we think we’re down and out.”

The 27-year-old Georgia driver wrapped up a playoff spot with a race left in the regular season. He has seven series victories.

The 19-year-old Smith was second, 1.207 seconds back in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 18 Toyota. He held the top spot through seven late restarts before Hill got the advantage on the final try.

The wreck-filled race had 14 cautions that consumed 80 laps and a 17-car pileup in Turn 1 on the first overtime try. The race went 179 laps, 29 more than scheduled.

Grant Enfinger was third, followed by Todd Gilliland, Derek Kraus and Matt Crafton. Kraus rallied after spinning early in the final segment after starting from the pole and winning the first two stages.

Jessica and Stewart Friensen became the first husband and wife to race against each other in a NASCAR national series event since Elton Sawyer and Patty Moise in 1998 at Atlanta in the Xfinity Series. Jessica was 26th, four laps back. Stewart followed in 27th, nine laps off the pace.

Donny Schatz, the 10-time Knoxville Nationals winner and 10-time World of Outlaws champion, was caught up in the big wreck in his Truck Series debut. He was 32nd.

“I had nowhere to go. I was just along for the ride,” Schatz said. “I thought I was going to have a top-10 finish.”