Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Bryan Davis Keith · Thursday April 8, 2010
One year ago, after the Sprint Cup Series had completed 500 grueling laps at Martinsville and Jimmie Johnson was celebrating another win, Front Row Motorsports was ready to limp home. Driver John Andretti finished 35th, four laps down, while the team’s second driver, Tony Raines, couldn’t even get its start-and-park entry into the field.
One year later, Front Row Motorsports returned to Martinsville Speedway — three cars strong, all of which were there to go 500 laps. The team had a new sponsor in tow, manufacturer support in Ford Racing, and three drivers who each had a role to play in the organization. What’s more, they were all in the top 35 in owner points, and all would take the green flag on a Monday afternoon.
- – -
“It’s been quite an undertaking, for sure,” says FRM General Manager Jerry Freeze of turning a single-car team into a three-car operation over the offseason.
“We were planning on running a second car all along for 2010, and were talking to David [Gilliland] about driving for us. Then Kevin Conway came along, and [he] had an opportunity with his sponsorship. Initially, we were talking about doing something in the Nationwide Series, but the sponsor came back really wanting to do a Cup program. So, to me, that became our second car.”
“But our car owner was like ‘man, I’d really like to do a deal with David’ and fund it out of his restaurant business. So when we had the opportunity to get the owner points from Yates for both the No. 96 and the No. 98, and to go into 2010 with three locked-in cars, we made the decision to go ahead and run the third team, the No. 38, and hire David.”
It wasn’t quite that simple, as the No. 38 team had to come together in a big-time hurry.
“Our team came together two weeks before Daytona,” noted driver David Gilliland. “We’ve had a lot of building in a short amount of time.”
But despite the mammoth undertaking, FRM has so far managed to pull off what scores of teams have not been able to do in NASCAR during a rough economic patch: Survive. And that, according to Freeze, all comes back to the team’s owner, restaurateur Bob Jenkins. A successful businessman who has made his money acquiring struggling restaurant franchises only to turn them around, Jenkins has applied the same discipline that has succeeded in that world to owning his race team.
Says Freeze, “Bob gives us enough of a budget to race on. With our motor program and the drivers we’ve got, we feel like we can be of value out there for a sponsor. At the end of the day, sponsorship is very hard to come by in this economy. So our whole thing is to try to survive as a race team, to be that solid team when corporate America is getting more friendly about putting their names on the sides of race cars again. Unlike so many that have gone by the wayside the last few years that have been so weighed down by overhead, so dependent on that corporate dollar to survive, we’ve got a business model that’s lean and mean. [I mean], we’ve got a 28,000 square foot race shop that we race three teams out of. We’ve got about 20 people per team, and there are no fancy planes, or buses, or Taj Mahal race shops.”
“It’s not what you need to win races and make the Chase, but we’ve got enough that we can show up every week, go out there and finish 15th through 20th, somewhere on a good day.”
And while Jenkins’ business model of providing enough to race without breaking the bank is largely to thank for FRM still being around, there’s something to be said about the realistic expectations that every member of the team seems to have.
“We know we’re not going to knock off Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush, any of those teams,” states Freeze. “But we feel like we can be one of those teams that runs 15th through 30th every week in the rundown.”
The team also made an astute move with regard to driver hires in the offseason. After John Andretti managed to keep the No. 34 car locked in the top 35 for all of 2009, a campaign that Freeze notes Andretti ran as a favor to Jenkins (“I know him and Bob have a real special relationship as driver/owner,” he remarks), the organization reunited former Yates Racing teammates Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland, who injected much-needed life into the Yates organization back in 2008.
The move has already paid off, at least according to Gilliland.
“Some teammates and some people that work together in the garage area probably don’t trust each other 100 percent,” he says. “Travis, I feel 100 percent confident in working with him. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever worked with, and I feel 100 percent confident that if he says something helped his car and it’s race day, I feel 100 percent putting that in my race car and going racing. That’s the trust you need to have in a good teammate.”
- – -
It’s hard to question the moves that FRM has made in getting to where they are, a legitimate three-car Sprint Cup operation. Bob Jenkins’ business model is lean and mean, and has the teams still showing up week after week. Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland have a proven track record as teammates. And in getting manufacturer support from Ford shored up, the team was able to get away from the unenviable position they were in during the 2009 season; being a small-time team responsible for their own motors.
“Last year, I think they owned their own engines, and that’s tough to do at this level,” said Gilliland. “I think as a whole the engine program has helped the organization a lot.”
But despite making all the right moves, the challenges still remain, and they’re daunting. Reality is, Front Row Motorsports is still what they were even back in the days of 2007, where Kevin Lepage qualified for only two races in 27 attempts with the team; a small-time organization with a small-time budget, playing against the Goliaths of American motorsports.
And that makes technology an enormous challenge. In fact, according to Freeze, technology is the biggest challenge facing FRM today.
Says the GM, “Things change from week to week to week, whether it’s how do we get our cars lighter or how do we get them to turn better, because we’re not doing a lot of that development in that background… Ford gives us some of that now, but it’s not like we can get on the seven-post every day. But last year was quite a challenge, because we had no support and were just a single-car team. So basically, our R&D department was our crew chief just getting ideas from people. This year, at least, we’ve got three crew chiefs bouncing ideas off each other, we’ve got Ford.”
“Still, compared to the other end of the garage, it’s a thimble full of technology for our race cars. We’ve put some people in place to try to build in-house front clips, rear-clips, but that’s the challenge for us. How do we know how to build a better race car, and how do we build our cars that much quicker? We’ve got a small staff. There’s just four body hangers in our shop, two guys doing chassis/fab, and just a few guys doing finish fab. So for us, it’s just trying to get cars done each and every week, plus projects trying to make better race cars. It’s hard to get those introduced into the fleet when you’ve got a small crew like we’ve got.”
“The biggest challenge is to not slip farther and farther behind technology-wise in these cars. We’ve got to work smart, we can’t afford to just wing it, try a front-clip this week on this car or a rear-clip on that car. If we’re out to lunch, we’re out of the points.”
Falling out of the top 35 in points is an absolute nightmare scenario for this operation, and one that must be avoided. For the team’s third driver, rookie Kevin Conway, it also constitutes a unique situation that even juggernauts like Hendrick Motorsports would find challenging. Because while Conway brought desperately needed sponsor dollars to the FRM organization, experience behind the wheel didn’t come with it.
When asked about the challenge of bringing up a “green” driver, Freeze was understandably blunt.
“Just look at this weekend,” he said. “He’s never turned a lap at Martinsville Speedway. There’s a pretty big learning curve for him to get in these races, so for us taking the pressure of having to qualify off his shoulders, allowing him to come out here and just run laps, that’s big for him.”
Teammate Gilliland echoed those sentiments, noting:
“I think that not having run this particular car at these race tracks makes it tough. The COT is a handful. A lot of drivers say that, it’s tough for everybody. A lot of veterans come to the tracks and struggle. Just like Kyle Busch back at Bristol. He won the two races last year, but was 38th in the practices, qualified in the back. And that’s a guy that won the two races before with the same team. This car will throw you a curveball. It’s tough, challenging.”
But that’s not news to FRM. Because once again, realistic expectations have allowed the little team that could to tackle one of the most ambitious driver development projects this side of Danica Patrick – and so far make it work.
“The thing that’s impressed us with [Kevin] is that he hasn’t done anything crazy to get himself in trouble,” said Freeze. “He’s run the distance at every race he’s been in. He’s caused one caution flag that was his fault at Las Vegas where he spun out early, but he’s been getting a lot of great experience.”
“Atlanta is a great example. We were really out to lunch in practice, he was really struggling with the car, struggling with his feedback, and the team wasn’t really making great calls with the car. At the start of the race, we really weren’t good. But as the race went on and he figured out how to drive the track, he was able to give better feedback. And by the second half of the race, he was as good as our other two cars. He was multiple laps down, but he had really learned a lot.”
“I’m sure this weekend [Martinsville] will probably be the same way. We’ll be at or near the bottom of the sheet in practice, and this will be a hard one to run 500 laps and stay out of everyone’s way.”
“We knew what we were getting into when we hired Kevin, but it’s not like he’s an 18-year-old kid that you have to keep the choke collar on all the time. He’s 30, he’s a pretty smart racer, he just doesn’t have the experience level yet. He has to race within himself, and that was our goal for him. So far, he’s achieved it.”
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Speaking of achievement, as the sun set on Martinsville on Monday evening, with Denny Hamlin celebrating another win, Front Row Motorsports packed up to leave Virginia in a much different manner than they did one year ago.
David Gilliland had brought home his ride 19th, a stellar first outing of 2010 for sponsor Gander Mountain. Travis Kvapil came home 27th, right in the 15th-30th place window that Jerry Freeze had made reference to earlier that same weekend. And while Kevin Conway finished just outside that frame in 31st, his lap times had greatly improved from his 42nd place position on the practice charts in Happy Hour… and he had banked 498 invaluable laps of short-tracking without doing anything crazy to mess up his competitors’ days.
When asked about his appraisal of where the ever-growing Front Row Motorsports was as they prepared to tackle Virginia’s most treacherous paper-clip, David Gilliland noted, “I feel like we’re building as a team and everyone’s starting to get to know each other. It’s starting to gel, so I’m excited.”
After the results FRM posted one Monday in Martinsville, that’s readily apparent.
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