Santino Ferrucci

On Saturday afternoon, Santino Ferrucci visited Texas Motor Speedway as a spectator, taking in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES action and talking to old friends. Less than 24 hours later, he scored a ninth-place finish in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda in the XPEL 375.

Ferrucci got the call to replace Jack Harvey in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda at 9 a.m. Sunday after Harvey was not cleared to race following his hard crash in practice Saturday. Ferrucci was allowed to complete a Driver Substitution Session Sunday morning to ensure the car, which needed massive repairs Saturday night, was OK.

After starting last in the 27-car field, Ferrucci ended up as the biggest mover of the race, gaining 18 positions on the leaderboard.

“I feel pretty good, but I’m actually pretty worn out, too,” Ferrucci said. “No practice, no testing, no sim, just jump in the race today, and we’re able to go from last to the top 10. I feel like I did a good job for the team. The team did a fantastic job, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Ferrucci said the goal was “just go drive, take it easy and don’t go a lap down.” But ever the competitor, the Connecticut native wanted more as he was impressed with the speed of his RLL teammates Graham Rahal and Christian Lundgaard.

“It was nice to come home with a top 10 and show a little bit of what the car has at the end there,” said Ferrucci, who in two previous Texas races finished fourth and 21st.

Ferrucci said he was tipped Saturday night he might be needed Sunday. So, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, for which Ferrucci will race in the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, shipped his race seat overnight to Dallas, where Ferrucci moved during the offseason.

Harvey, who is 5-foot-10, lent Ferrucci, who is 5-4, his firesuit for Sunday’s race. Ferrucci ran the Driver Substitution Session in Harvey’s larger seat, and his seat wasn’t put in the No. 45 car until about 30 minutes before the green flag dropped.

With Ferrucci’s home just 30 minutes from the 1.5-mile oval, he was certainly the most convenient driver. But he also has a history with the team, having competed five races in the No. 45 car in 2021 with a best finish of sixth in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and Belle Isle. His last NTT INDYCAR SERIES race came at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville last August, where he finished 11th.

After scoring his fifth top-10 finish in the last six NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, Ferrucci got the NTT INDYCAR SERIES itch again.

“I think I belong here,” he said. “I think that if given the opportunity to run full time that I would be back here. And I think it shows that all of the races I did with Rahal, I have all of them in the top 10 except for one. It shows we’re consistent.”

McLaughlin Gutted but Extends Championship Lead

Scott McLaughlin left Texas Motor Speedway “gutted” about narrowly losing to Josef Newgarden in the XPEL 375 after a last-lap, last-corner pass by his teammate prevented him from opening the season with consecutive wins.

McLaughlin took the white flag in Sunday’s XPEL 375 as the leader in the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet after leading a race-high 186 laps in the first oval race of the season before finishing just .0669 of a second behind Newgarden’s No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet.

“Looking back at it, if I would have thought about it in my head, which I already have done a million times, my car was tightening up, especially in traffic,” McLaughlin said. “I guess I wasn’t prepared to take the risk on the outside of (Turns) 3-4, which looking back at it I should have.

“I’m a race driver. I want to win. It definitely hurts.”

McLaughlin admitted it was an interesting change in perspective from this track a year ago, when he scored his then-career-best finish of second when he chased Scott Dixon to the finish line in his oval debut.

“It’s funny, like last year I was fist pumping and jumping out of the car finishing second,” he said. “I’m like today, it sucks. That’s how it is. That’s how we’re growing. I’ll learn from this and get better.”

On the bright side, the New Zealand native continued to show his might as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship contender. In 348 laps between the two races this season, McLaughlin has led 235 laps, more than half run thus far.

What’s more, he extended his championship lead to 28 points over his Team Penske teammate Will Power, who sits second.

“It is what it is,” McLaughlin said. “At the end of the day, it’s one of those days when you look back at the end of the year, championship-wise, it might work out very good.”

McLaughlin looks to continue this momentum during a crucial stretch of the season that cements the title contenders for the Astor Challenge Cup. Up next is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 10 (3 p.m. ET, live on NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network).

McLaughlin finished 11th in his Long Beach debut last season.

Malukas Rebounds from Challenging Start for Career-Best Finish

David Malukas nearly crashed off Turn 4 early in the race battling side-by-side with Conor Daly in the outside lane. He stalled the car exiting his pit box after his first pit stop on Lap 82. And yet he rallied to score a career-best 11th as the highest-finishing NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie.

Malukas rose from 19th on the starting grid in the No. 18 HMD Honda before taking the checkered flag just outside the top 10 and led his first three NTT INDYCAR SERIES laps during a green flag pit stop cycle. It was an encouraging rebound after crashing out of the season-opener in St. Petersburg and struggling on track Saturday.

“My confidence is boosted a lot, especially after St. Pete,” he said. “Thankfully we rebounded the next race, so that’s already over. I’m really happy to have such a good finish and to be the highest-finishing rookie.”

Malukas, 20, credited his spotter Pancho Carter for helping coach him through the 248-lap race on the 1.5-mile Texas oval. Malukas, who is a first-generation American racer of Lithuanian descent, said Carter was predicting his moves all race long and advising him on which ones were good and bad.

He also said after struggling with stalling the car multiples times Saturday, his Dale Coyne Racing with HMD team coached him on how to quickly re-fire the car. When that happened on the first pit stop, Malukas said he was briefly frustrated before he recited his notes on how to fire up his car.

Unfortunately, his stalled car got in the way of his Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing teammate Takuma Sato, who was entering pit lane in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda. Malukas said he planned to apologize to Sato for the incident.

Malukas said after finishing 26th at St. Petersburg, he threw away his lucky racing shoes and used brand-new ones in this weekend’s XPEL 375. Now, he’s hoping they’ll bring him more good luck after his strong oval debut as he sets his eyes on the Indianapolis 500.

“I feel really excited for Indianapolis, especially after Takuma Sato,” Malukas said. “He’s very, very quick. I think from my side, I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate or a better team to give me the car I need at the Indy 500 on the oval to make me feel comfortable and confident.”

Odds and Ends

  • With a third-place finish, Marcus Ericsson earned his career-best oval finish in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
  • AJ Foyt Racing rookie Kyle Kirkwood led his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES laps, five, during green flag pit stop cycles. He had a strong start to the race before crashing out on Lap 114 after contact with fellow rookie Devlin DeFrancesco.
  • Three drivers in the top five finished where they started: McLaughlin second, Will Power fourth and Scott Dixon fifth.
  • The stars were out at Texas Motor Speedway with WWE superstar Rey Mysterio riding shotgun with Mario Andretti in the Ruoff Mortgage Fastest Seat in Sports. “I’ve done a lot of things in my life, and this ranks right up there. That was incredible,” the two-time heavyweight world champion said. Mysterio also visited with NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers Rinus VeeKay and Pato O’Ward before the race began. Also taking in the action were Ashley Reyes, who stars in the Hulu sitcom “How I Met Your Father,” and Rich Ellis, of “I Am Not Okay with This.” Said Reyes about her two-seater ride: “That was incredible. I get it now.”