Race Weekend Central

Sam Hunt Talks Scaling Back & Working with Corey Heim

Virginia native Sam Hunt is in his sixth year of ownership in NASCAR, helming the Sam Hunt Racing team that fields the Nos. 24 and 26 Toyotas in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The team had Kaz Grala behind the wheel full time and a rotation of drivers the second car in 2023 but has since scaled back slightly. Both cars are still in operation, with the No. 26 the week-in, week-out car while the No. 24 makes occasional appearances. But the former has a rotation of drivers that includes Corey Heim, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Sage Karam.

Though the team has yet to score a victory, it has a number of top-five finishes to its name and has knocked on the door of winning several times.

Frontstretch caught up with Hunt at Richmond Raceway on March 30 to discuss the team’s evolution.

Adam Cheek, Frontstretch: Is it good to be back in Richmond at your home track?

Sam Hunt: Yeah, absolutely. Always fun to be near family, friends and the hometown.

Cheek: First of all, today’s actually my 26th birthday, and you guys run No. 26. So how did you guys settle on that number?

Hunt: Originally, when I started and went from the former K&N Series (now ARCA Menards Series East) to Xfinity, the number options were really limited, so it was either a number over 50 or the one number that was available under 50 was 26. I felt like that was just a good number for what was available, so it was really luck of the draw.

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Cheek: Start of the season, it feels like you guys haven’t gotten the finishes you deserve. What are you adjusting?

Hunt: Yeah, I think we’ve brought good racecars every week so far. We’ve been in position for really good finishes, and I think now it just comes down to closing these days out and not making those small mistakes that might cost us a finish. But everybody at Sam Hunt Racing, Toyota, TRD, … there’s so much effort going into this smaller program right now. And it’s cool to finally see it blossoming and to see us running so far up front.

Cheek: You guys scaled back a little bit this year. What went into that decision?

Hunt: Yeah, a lot goes into that. It’s obviously a business and things kind of ebb and flow. And for us, Kaz decided to go Cup racing, and we had some things change very late in the game.

So we just felt like our team [could] primarily focus on running one car full time, work on the details of the car work on getting these cars built further ahead of time. And increasing our performance was the right path, and it’s proven to be the right one so far. I feel like we’ve been fast every week.

Cheek: How much did that help you guys to have someone in a full-time seat?

Hunt: It helps a ton. It’s nice to build with one guy and to have repetition. I think there’s pros to both situations. Right now, we serve as a place for up-and-comers or talented guys that are still trying to get that full-time ride and a chance to show their skill set.

So, obviously, Corey Heim is a kid that I’ve been a believer in since he was late model racing. For years, I’ve always said I wanted him in my car at some point, so it’s cool that he’s here now in a solid capacity. He’s really bought into our program, and he’s gonna help make us better as we try and get that first win.

Cheek: How does having an up-and-comer like that help?

Hunt: Corey’s special because he’s young. Obviously, he doesn’t have a lot of Xfinity experience — he’s talented, [and] his natural ability is off the charts, but not everybody realizes how hard Corey studies and prepares. I mean, he is just an animal when it comes to preparation every week: his time in the simulator and his time with the team.

So I think we’ll see Corey racing on Sunday at some point in the future, and it’s just really cool that he’s gonna spend some time with us and help us grow to be a better team

Cheek: You’ve had a lot of open-wheel guys behind the wheel: Sage Karam, Santino Ferrucci and Daniil Kvyat. How does that aid development?

Hunt: I think it’s a really cool thing that we do. I think it’s always fun to have guys that compete in different genres of motorsport and come from overseas that want to see what the NASCAR thing is all about and want to dip their toes in. So, for us, we really welcome the crossover, and I think as the sport grows, we’re just gonna see more and more of it.

Cheek: How did you guys decide to do the reflective numbers? It seems like more teams are doing that now.

Hunt: Obviously, GearWrench had the reflective number with Kevin [Harvick] at SHR [Stewart-Haas Racing], and we thought it’d be really cool to try it out. And GearWrench, who’s been a great partner of ours, was all for it and all for the design.

We’re always trying to be creative, whether it’s how the cars look, how we make them fast, how we take the resources we have and compete with these bigger teams. Just falls in the creative realm at SHR [Sam Hunt Racing].

Cheek: Going into this season and the changes in your driver lineup, what went into that? How did you start planning that out? It’s gotta be a little chaotic, right?

Hunt: It’s very chaotic. Obviously, there’s a challenge that comes to having different drivers. Jeffrey’s [Earnhardt] a great guy. We’ve always loved Jeffrey — he wants a fair shot in solid equipment and feels like he can get it done, and we’re excited to see how he progresses through the rest of his races. Corey [Heim], obviously, is a really talented up-and-comer that, through the Toyota program and TRD, has just been a natural fit here.

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It’s rewarding when you either see these guys succeed in our car — land in our car in some capacity — or move on and run on Sunday. John Hunter [Nemechek] and a lot of guys that have come through this place in different capacities have made careers [out of it].

Cheek: I saw on Racing Reference that you’re at 150 total starts between all your cars — 150 entries as an Xfinity owner [now at 155]. What’s that milestone like?

Hunt: I had no idea. I had no idea we had done that many races. It’s kind of scary, actually. But no, it’s cool. I think when we started, it was a one- or two-race deal, and it was a long shot to make it to race three.

It’s just kind of a dream to be here 150 races later and still, I feel like, growing in a good direction, is really special. But it’s kind of just a testament of the people that work for me. We just have really good humans that work for us, and the culture’s fun. That’s probably what I’m most proud of.

Cheek: What’s next for Sam Hunt Racing this year? What are you looking forward to the most?

Hunt: Man, I think this year, we’re just focusing on being good everywhere. I think in the past, we’ve hit it at certain tracks, and at certain tracks, we may have not been as strong.

Right now, the focus is we want to bring a good racecar, whether we’re plate racing, whether we’re short track racing. Obviously, the intermediate racing is going to be probably the toughest for us, but we’re pushing that program, and I think throughout the year we can improve the mile-and-a-half program and be as competitive there as we are on short tracks and road courses. We’d be in a good spot going in.

Cheek: Since we’re both VCU alumni, are we going to see a black and gold car anytime soon?

Hunt: I would love a black and gold car. if anybody watches from the VCU side, we have had this idea for a couple of years now and need to figure out who the right person to talk to is about it.

It would be really cool to run a Rams primary car here [at Richmond], have VCU students out. I think there’s a lot of cool things that can happen there. We just need to connect the dots and get the school on board.

About the author

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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Deacon Blues

Awesome conversation with Sam Hunt, Adam! Cheers to your 26th!

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