Kansas Preview: Front Row Motorsports Early Success Sets Stage for Record Year
All Three Teams Set Up for Summer Success
The early season success by Front Row Motorsports (FRM) has the team in position to make a summer push to break team records and make its biggest improvements in its history.
Starting with McDowell's magical Daytona 500 win, the No. 34 team rattled off two more top-10 finishes. Last week, McDowell finished third and raced for the win. The No. 34 team has now tied the high mark for FRM in both top-five and top-10 finishes in a season.
Alfredo, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year driver, is getting more laps and more experience in the NASCAR Cup Series. The No. 38 team is working hard to give Alfredo the opportunity to race for top-10 finishes this season.
In the Truck Series, Todd Gilliland is not only looking for another playoff berth, but also to break into victory lane again.
All three teams are back in action at the mile-and-a-half Kansas Speedway this weekend.
Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series race begins at 7:30 p.m ET on FS1.
Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with the live broadcast on FS1.
Gilliland comes into Kansas Speedway in the Speedco colors and coming off two consecutive top-10 finishes. The team is ninth in championship points. His best finish at Kansas Speedway is third in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
"It's been a great time to be at Front Row Motorsports and to be a part of the Speedco/Love's Travel Stops race program," said Gilliland. "We're all excited to see FRM run well and be in the position that we're in so early in the year.
"Over May, June and July, we are really going to get into the heart of the schedule. If you have had good runs early in the season, it's easier to keep that momentum going. Our Speedco team, we have had two good races in a row and we feel confident heading to Kansas.
"But, overall, when you see the entire organization running well, I think it makes everyone push harder to keep the results going. It gets me excited to run well. I want to keep this great season going and show another great result."
Alfredo heads to Kansas with the cool looking DUDE Wipes scheme adorning his No. 38 Ford Mustang. Alfredo talks about what he's seeing at FRM:
"I've been pumped all week, especially after Talladega. We had such a great day and it makes you want to get to the next race. You want to come back and do it again. It gives us a lot of confidence.
"And I have DUDE Wipes on the car, and it's such a cool looking car. We ran into trouble at Bristol last time they were sponsoring us and we want to give them a good race. So, when you have the entire team running and performing well, you know you can do it.
"I just have been feeling great all week. I have a cool looking car for Sunday and I can't wait to get to Kansas."
This week, Michael McDowell was on the Ford Performance Teleconference. Below is the transcript provided by Ford Performance:
Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 CarParts.com Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series for Front Row Motorsports, is coming off a third-place finish in Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. He spoke about that run and his season to date as part of the weekly Ford Zoom call with members of the media.
MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 CarParts.com Ford Mustang -- YOU ANNOUNCED A DEAL WITH CARPARTS.COM YESTERDAY. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT? “It was a lot of fun. I’m thankful to CarParts.com and their partnership. It started last year during the pandemic when we didn’t have fans at the racetrack and we didn’t really know when we were gonna be racing and how it was gonna look, and they came on board anyways and believed in us. So, it’s been a fun partnership to work with them. We did a handful of races with them last year and again this year coming up, so I’m excited about Kansas and getting CarParts.com back on the car. The TV commercial was a lot of fun. We’ve been doing these little skits and putting out some YouTube clips the last 12 months, but to finally get something fully produced and to have a national TV ad campaign going with my ugly mug in it is a lot of fun. When we do our different things at the shop we’re not using actors. I’ve got my crew guys there and they’re on the sets with us and doing the different videos. We’re a one-stop shop at Front Row Motorsports. We provide all the entertainment you need.”
HOW DO YOU MANAGE EXPECTATIONS NOW OR RESET YOUR GOALS? “I think having realistic goals is important because this sport is so up and down that if you’re not achieving something or you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing anything, you can be miserable. That’s not a good setting in the shop and at the racetrack and with your team, so we do feel good about what we’ve done this year and what we’ve been able to accomplish, but we don’t want to stop there either. We’ve got to keep pushing and so we know the racetracks where we have a good shot at it and have an opportunity and, fortunately, this year with this schedule, there’s more than ever. We have more road courses coming up, getting to go to some new road courses, getting to go back to Watkins Glen, which has been a strong track for us. So, there’s definitely more for us to accomplish. I think going into this season the number one goal was to win a race, which we were able to do, and beyond that is more top fives and more top 10s than we had last year, and to continue to grow those numbers because it’s not just about stats, it’s about when you’re in the top five and the top 10 you’re achieving a lot as a team. You get some of those Bristol races or maybe a Martinsville, where 15 guys fall out -- those are gimmees and we’ll take them every day, but it’s more running consistently in that top 15 and having a shot at legitimately being there every weekend, so we just keep pushing forward. We’re enjoying it, too. We’re not getting crazy and thinking, ‘Man, we’re gonna go win every weekend.’ We know where we’re at and we know what we have to do and we know what we still have to build upon, but we’re just trying to execute and get the most that we can every weekend.”
IS THERE A REAL DIFFERENCE IN THE WAY THE TEAM IS OPERATING NOW? IS THERE A LITTLE PEP IN THE STEP WITH EVERYBODY? “Definitely, and I think it wasn’t just this year, it’s the end of last year as well. We were having good results and running well, so we all felt like we could do it, but this sport in particular, momentum is a big thing and confidence is a big thing. I don’t want to say that we weren’t confident because we were. We believed in what we were doing and felt like we had a good thing going, but it just starts to build and build when you get results, so you have a little bit more swagger at the shop and everybody is pumped up and excited. And I think it’s the little details and that’s what our sport is all about. It’s all about people and it’s all about details and those guys are willing to stay that extra 10 or 20 minutes to get it just right, or they’re willing to cut it back off and do it another time because they feel like if we can get a little bit more that it’ll pay off on the racetrack. When you have results and confidence and morale, people are willing to go that extra mile and work a little bit harder -- not that they weren’t working hard before, but you just have more to give and I think that’s what you see.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE COTA ROAD COURSE? HAVE YOU SEEN THE F1 RACES THERE? “Definitely excited. To answer your question, I definitely watch the Formula One races and the sports cars have raced there as well and Indy Cars, but it’s a track I haven’t raced at. I got the opportunity to go there last week at the Skip Barber Driving School in a Ford Mustang and finally get an opportunity to see the racetrack. I’ve been on the simulator and played it on iRacing, but to get there and to see it. It’s a magnificent facility, a really fun racetrack, a lot of elevation changes, great passing zones. I’m definitely excited that we have the opportunity to race there this year and, to be honest, I’m thankful that we have a practice session too, just so we can sort out our cars on that particular racetrack and kind of learn some of the nuances, but an amazing facility and excited to get rolling there.”
DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE SOME ADVANTAGE WITH ELKHART LAKE CONSIDERING YOUR EXPERIENCE THERE? “I use the term advantage loosely in the Cup Series because being a road racer I thought that that was an advantage, but the guys are so good and the teams are so good I wouldn’t call it an advantage, but I think I’m at less of a disadvantage going to Road America, just having a lot of seat time there and having some success. Being in good cars, too. I think that’s probably the biggest difference is I’ve been in a Gibbs car there and I’ve been in an RCR car there, so I have a good feel in good equipment of what that should be like, so I think that helps and that translates with that feel, so I’m looking forward to going to Road America. It’s my favorite racetrack. It was well before I got into the NASCAR Series. It’s just a great facility, an amazing, challenging, aggressive, man’s man of all road courses -- Road America is it. You’ve got to be brave, you’ve got to be calculated, you’ve got to be precise. It’s one of the greatest racetracks in the world.”
MISSING FROM YOUR COMMERCIAL WAS DREW BLICKENSDERFER. DOES HE GET ENOUGH TV TIME ON RACE HUB THAT HE DOESN’T GET ANY MORE? “You all know that Drew is the star of this race team. He wasn’t there for the commercial shoot, but he definitely gets enough TV time and he does a great job.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE CONFIDENCE YOU GAINED AFTER YOUR FIRST WIN AND IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN YOURSELF SHOULD YOU REALLY BE THERE? “The first part, where you’re talking about Matt D. He has that fire. He has that burning desire to win a race. He’s got a lot of heart and a lot of fight in him, so with the right opportunity that he’s in with a good team and a good car he’s gonna get there. As far as the feeling like you have a shot at winning and getting to the racetrack, I think, yes, you should go there and you should feel like you can do it. I’ve always felt like I can do it. I always felt like I had the ability to do it, but a lot of times you know going there that there is no chance that it’s gonna happen, so you have to continue to grow and learn and build to get to that moment. For me, I always looked at like those start and parks and some of those uncompetitive rides as ‘I’m gonna master getting on pit road, or pit road speed, or a restart and when i get in this situation when I’m in a competitive car, I’ll be able to execute when it counts.’ So you’re always building towards that win, whether you’re in that situation where you have a car or a team good enough to do it because we all know without a fast car and a fast team it’s virtually impossible at the top level, but the belief in yourself, absolutely. You have to have the belief in yourself and I think, for me, what has changed isn’t so much confidence or belief in myself after the Daytona win because I feel like that was there, if anything it’s just a big relief of pressure. I noticed at Talladega, and I’m not gonna articulate it well, but you saw my desire to win the race. I wanted to win that race, but I was a lot better mentally and I made better decisions during that race because I didn’t feel that angst or ‘this is it, this is my last shot, if I don’t do it now it’ll never happen again’ because that’s what I felt for so many years when I’ve been in those positions, and so when I played those last couple laps back, a few years ago I’d have done things differently, not more aggressive, but just because you feel that ‘no matter what, this is it, it has to happen right now, it’ll never happen again,’ and you actually make poor decisions, instead of making good decisions. So, I don’t know if I articulated that well, but my desire to win is the same, the pressure to win is lower for me, which allowed me to do a better job on Sunday than I’ve done in the past because I felt like I was able to be more methodical and less panicked. I can’t speak for Matt D., but just knowing how badly he wants that win and leading that lane, and then having to make that choice and knowing that if you make the wrong choice, you’re gonna lose the race, sometimes that can get to you and hurt you. It’s not a desire to win, it’s actually the opposite, it’s the anxiety of not winning that causes you to make poor decisions.”
HOW DETRIMENTAL IS HOW THEY DO QUALIFYING RIGHT NOW? “I feel like it’s unique. I think we would all like to qualify and have it kind of how we used to have it in that regard, but I think this is the fairest way that you can do it based on our limited schedule. Basing it just on points, I feel like that can put you in a real slump too, where you’re running good but those first five races -- like Aric Almirola had a lot of issues those first five races. He would start in the back every single race for a majority of the year because of that and then that snowballs. Track position is so important and you can’t get stage points and you just never get out of that hole, so I feel like having the formula that we have that has a percentage of the points and a percentage of your last race is good. It goes both ways. When you have a bad day, you’re like, ‘Oh, man. I’m gonna start pretty far back there.’ But when you have a good one you know that that’s gonna help you the next few weeks. Is it ideal? I think it’s ideal for our current schedule and situation, but I think from a sport standpoint we’d all like to go back to qualifying and have it be as legitimate as possible.”
WHAT MAKES ROAD AMERICA A MAN’S MAN TYPE OF COURSE? “I think it’s just got a few corners that really separate it. There are other tracks in North America like it. Mosport would be one that comes to my mind. Road Atlanta would be another one, and when I say man’s man track, what I mean by that is it takes a level of confidence and aggression to get the most out of it, and so the high-speed kink at Road America is one of the most daunting corners in all of racing. In an open-wheel car, a sports car, it’s virtually wide-open, but it feels like it’s a single-lane corner. We’ve seen just hellacious accidents on the exit there because if you get just a little wide and dip a wheel in the grass you only have about three or four feet before you’re in a concrete barrier, so it’s one of those corners that just grabs your attention. The long straightaways and the very deep braking zones allow for some great overtakes, but you have to be brave. Going into turn one is not an easy corner to pass, even though it’s a good brake zone. It just takes a lot of courage to make passes and to be fast there, so that’s just one of the things that stand out there. When you think about a Sonoma, Sonoma is more technical and you’ve got to be precise. You’re not trying to push it 11-tenths. You’re trying to be a six-tenths or seven-tenths because you need to save the tire and you need to be on line, where Road America you can really challenge yourself and push yourself hard.”
WHY HAVE YOU AND BRAD KESELOWSKI WORKED SO WELL TOGETHER ON THE TRACK AT SPEEDWAY RACES IN RECENT YEARS? “I think it’s just something that’s kind of happened organically. I haven’t really put a lot to it because there are other Ford teammates out there that we work with, but it just happens that Brad and Joey and I seem to be together a lot, but if I put thought to it I would say that, for me, a lot of these years prior to being at Front Row it was hard for me to find teammates and people to work with because I was driving for single-car teams and maybe not the most speed, so people kind of shove you out. They kind of spit you out and you’re in the middle or on the outside and just getting freight trained, so I feel like I had to work really hard in those years to wedge myself in there and be there, and Brad and Joey, and there are a handful of other guys, always seemed to work with me and I worked with them. And then also, too, I don’t know how many years ago, but for a few years I did a lot of development for Team Penske and a lot of R&D, and for two years I was a test driver and doing all the wheelforce testing for Ford and doing their tire model testing and simulator work, so I’ve worked closely with Brad and Joey even though I haven’t been “teammates” but at the same time it’s just worked out. The one thing that I feel really confident with Brad is he’s good at making decisions. He’s a good decision maker and so I feel really good being hooked up with him and I feel like he’s predictable or at least I understand and can predict what he’s gonna do, where even inside of our camp just driving style-wise there’s other guys that do things differently, so you just kind of find those matches that works well for you and it’s all about getting yourself the best finish you can for your team and your car, and the best way for me to do that is to work with certain people that it seems to help my program.”
HOW DO YOU BALANCE DISCUSSING YOUR VIEW ON THINGS LIKE VACCINATIONS WHEN YOUR PROFILE HAS BEEN RAISED SO MUCH AFTER WINNING THE DAYTONA 500? “With so much that’s gone on over the last couple of years and with social media being somewhat polarizing and this election being polarizing and just all the events with the pandemic and racial injustice and all the things that have gone on the last two years, it’s very easy to get mixed up in it, and mixed up in it good or bad, however you want to look at it. At the beginning of this year I sat down with my team and sat down with Bob Jenkins our owner and we just agreed that we’re a race team. That’s what we do. We race. This is not a political platform for us. This is not for us to have agendas or trying to encourage people to do things how we do it or vice versa. We’re a race team. We’re gonna talk about racing, so that’s how I’ve kept it. When it comes to those things I’m just gonna talk about racing because that’s what I am, a race car driver. In my house and in my family we have these conversations and we talk about it, and the thing about it for me is that it shouldn’t be so divisive, and I don’t want to be a part of being divisive. That’s not what I’m about. I’m a race car driver, so you’ve got people that are anti this and pro this and it’s not that I’m trying to avoid the question, I’m just gonna talk about racing because that’s what we do. I feel a lot of times athletes feel like they have this platform to have a voice, and there’s too many voices out there. There’s just too many voices. I mean, you guys see it every day. Everybody’s got an opinion.”
WHY NOT USE IT FOR A PLATFORM, WHETHER IT’S POLITICAL OR NOT? YOU USED YOUR K-LOVE PARTNERSHIP TO SHARE YOUR CHRISTIANITY. WHAT MAKES THIS DIFFERENT? “For me, who I am is a follower of Christ. That’s who I am. I am not a pro-vaccinator. I am not an anti-vaccinator. I’m a follower of Christ. So the reason I use my platform to share that is because that’s who I am. That’s what is important to me. Whether you’re vaccinated or not is not important to me currently because I’m not a doctor or a scientist or a biologist. There are a lot of people that are telling you lots of different things, but, for me, sharing my faith is important because that’s who I am. I’m not a doctor or scientist, so that part of it isn’t important to me.”
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO GET ANOTHER TOP FIVE FINISH AND KEEP YOUR MOMENTUM GOING? “It felt good. I think not just the result but racing well, being up there all day, getting stage points in both stages and then getting another top five and being in position to win the race. But I think more than anything it’s running well and being in position to win the race. It felt great to kind of back that up. For me, statistically Daytona has been so good for me and Talladega hasn’t. I’ve had a few top fives at Talladega or maybe one or two now, but it’s not been the same as Daytona for me, so to get a good one under my belt and to build on the Daytona 500 momentum at Talladega, which has been a bit of a struggle for me, was definitely a confidence booster.”
WITH YOU BEING LOCKED IN THE PLAYOFFS DOES IT CHANGE YOUR STRATEGY THE REST OF THE SEASON? “We’ve heard all these years that you win and you’re in, but it’s actually not the case. As we’re all kind of learning that there is an outside chance that if there are more than 16 winners you could win a race and be out, so we’re not playing it conservative. We definitely don’t feel overly confident that that’s a locked done deal, and that’s part of the reason why I fought so hard to try to win that race at Talladega is if we get another win I’m pretty confident you’d be absolutely in -- statistically says you would be -- so two wins is what you need to make sure that you’re absolutely in, but it doesn’t change our approach. I think the one thing that it does is it allows us to be a bit more aggressive in terms of opportunities with strategy and things like that if something presents itself. You never want to give up a result, but this week at Kansas if you’re maybe a gallon short and you’re a lap or two short on fuel, you’ll probably roll the dice and try to get to the end and try to win a race if you can. If you run out of race and lose some points, it’s not a big deal, where those guys who are fighting for every point in 15th, 16th and 17th as you get closer to the regular season ending, they can’t give up anything. I do feel like we can be more aggressive and take more chances, but by no means is it a case where we’re sitting pretty and it’s a free-for-all. We still have a lot to fight for and one of the important things for us is staying ahead of some of those guys that could be those surprise winners. It’s important for us to be ahead of them in points, so in fact if you get to later in the year and a Cole Custer or a Bubba Wallace or one of those guys that’s behind you in points wins a race, that really puts you in jeopardy, so you can’t put your guard down, that’s for sure.”
ABOUT FRONT ROW MOTORSPORTS Front Row Motorsports (FRM) is a winning organization in the NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series and the 2021 Daytona 500 champions. The team was founded in 2004 and is owned by successful entrepreneur, Bob Jenkins. FRM fields the No. 34 and the No. 38 NASCAR Cup Series teams along with the No. 38 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team– from its Mooresville, N.C. headquarters. Visit teamfrm.com and follow FRM on social media: Twitter at @Team_FRM, Instagram at @team_frm and Facebook at facebook.com/FrontRowMotorsports.