Front Row Motorsports GM Jerry Freeze Remains Optimistic on Team’s Outlook for 2022

One year removed from winning the Daytona 500, Front Row Motorsports look for similar success in 2022 (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images via NASCAR Media).

Front Row Motorsports are still savoring the fruitful glory a Daytona 500 win provides to a NASCAR Cup Series program.

Entering 2022, they’re also thinking ahead with the future. While the concerns about the seventh-generation car lingers the two-car Cup program, optimism remains.

General Manager Jerry Freeze spoke with the press Thursday about FRM’s outlook with the Busch Light Clash drawing near.

Among the greatest concerns impacting the Cup garage is the inventory of the new car. Both Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing appear to be OK on inventory.

For FRM, Freeze commented it may take a while to arrive and knows it won’t be cost saving right away.

“We are concerned. We got two cars that you can take to the racetrack tomorrow and a third that’s on its way of being assembled. That’s about it right now. The chassis part are becoming readily available but some other things I feel like are behind,” said Freeze.

“Hopefully, we’ll have more inventory, but I got to believe these cars you take to the Clash, they’re gonna end up being Daytona backups or California primaries. It’s certainly much different than the days of having 30 race cars in the shop.

“We’re pretty concerned on our end and everybody I’ve talked to, they’re on the same boat. Can’t cry too much about it and we got to make it work. I’m sure we’ll be at those races and we’ll figure it out.”

Those concerns played a huge role on not entering a third Mustang for the 64th Daytona 500. Talks were made with David Ragan, who brought the third car to a fourth-place finish in 2020.

However, inventory and team personnel changes curb stomped those plans. Instead, Ragan will drive for Rick Ware Racing’s No. 15 Ford Mustang as part of a multi-race deal.

Derrick Finley, who has been with FRM for the past 10 years, played a key role on Ragan’s past efforts. Without him, Freeze admitted it’s impacted the opportunity of entering the No. 36 team at Daytona.

Furthermore, FRM had to “beg, borrow and steal” track equipment that was from the Camping World Truck Series team to make Ragan’s Daytona 500 efforts possible.

Ragan’s fifth-place result in the 2020 Daytona 500 also marked Rick Ware’s first Cup top-five as a car owner (Photo: Luis Torres | TPF).

“We would love to do it again and talked to David early on,” said Freeze. “But given the challenges of getting the new car and having enough inventory established, there was no way we could put a fair effort for David. He decided to look for another opportunity with Rick. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re in a better position next year, we’ll do it again.”

While it’ll just be a two-car effort at Daytona, continuity remains instrumental. They’ll have defending 500 winner Michael McDowell entering his fifth straight season with FRM.

Freeze believes the new car will fit McDowell’s driving style. This facet could make the organization more competitive, particularly with the goal of being more than just a team that’s made two playoff appearances in eight seasons.

By doing so, the need of aligning with fellow Ford teams like RWR’s tech alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing isn’t on the radar. Letting things unfold is what Freeze is eyeing towards with owner Bob Jenkins looking at different stuff down the road.

“We feel like Michael will be in a more competitive position with this car. Being more of a road racing type car that fits his background,” said Freeze. “I think we’re making more commitments long term of making the team better. It’s more organic of how Front Row gets better more so than just lining up with another organization.”

Before making the move to stock car racing in the late 2000s, McDowell was a Star Mazda (now known as the Road to Indy) scholar and a Bob Bondurant instructor (Photo: Stephen Conley | TPF).

Joining McDowell is two-time Truck Series winner Todd Gilliland, who’ll make the leap to the sport’s highest level.

Unlike the past few years, Gilliland will have staying power because it’s a multi-year contract and, for the most part, helping FRM flourish in the Truck Series the past two years. Also, Gilliland relishes his maiden Cup season more so after the much publicized “bummed” reputation during his tenure at Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Since then, FRM had drivers come and go after one season in Cup. In succession, those drivers were Matt Tifft (health), John Hunter Nemechek (returned to the Truck Series) and Anthony Alfredo (competing in Xfinity this season).

Freeze explained how Gilliland’s multi-year deal will bode well for the No. 38 going forward, using Nemechek as an example.

“Both were rookies but had a lot of racing experience and winning races at various levels. With John Hunter, the circumstances with COVID and sponsorship issues kind of left us at a crossroads. He decided to go to the Truck Series and that was a really good move with him.

“With Todd, just because we’ve had a relationship since he was 10 years old in some shape or form. He’s been driving our track for the last couple of years, and I think there’s a much better opportunity to grow something that has staying power.

“That’s one thing we just need to do with the No. 38. We’ve done a good job with the No. 34 by having some constance there and building relationships around Michael,” said Freeze. “We’ve had a little too much turnovers with the No. 38 the last three years. Having Todd under our roof moving into the Next Gen where maybe a good place for a rookie to start.

“It gives us a good opportunity to build a program in Todd and I’m confident he’ll get the job done this year. With performance, you get attention from those partners, and we have to perform on the track a little bit.”

The Daytona 500 wasn’t FRM’s only NASCAR win of 2021. Todd Gilliland brought home the team’s maiden Truck Series victory at COTA three months later (Photo: Sean Folsom | TPF).

With Gilliland in Cup, the Truck program will continue with two-time series vice champion Zane Smith. It’s boosted team morale as they’ll have the same crew with Chris Lawson on top of the pit box.

“It’s super motivating. Zane’s in for Todd, but it’s the same team (from last year). We were really happy with (the No. 38 team’s) performance last year. We still have an alliance relationship with DGR. Otherwise, it’s an in-house Front Row truck,” Freeze explained.

“We started (the Truck team) more for Todd because he was getting a bummed rap where he was at. We wanted to help get his career back on course a bit and I feel like we did. We’ll benefit us long term now and already has with his performance in the truck.”

Like Smith, FRM were also competing for a championship at Phoenix last November. In this case, it was for the Truck owners’ title, a chase in which they ended up fourth.

Zane Smith in victory lane at Martinsville which punched his ticket to the Championship 4 (Photo: Michael Guariglia | TPF).

As fun as fielding a Truck team has been, Freeze wasn’t anticipating of having a Truck program in 2022. That changed after acquiring Zane Smith, a free agent after the 2021 season finale.

Part of that is accredited to Jenkins’ love for the program. In an era where money is vital, Freeze commented that Jenkins wasn’t interested in signing a mediocre driver with money.

“We all enjoy the truck being competitive Friday nights. To Bob’s credit, he wanted to keep it going and bring Zane in,” said Freeze.

“That was his thing: ‘Hey, if we can get a guy like Zane, I want to keep doing it. Let’s just not go hire somebody because they have little bit of sponsorship but they’re a mediocre driver. Let’s see if we can get him.’

“We got on the horn really quick, and Zane was still available, and we were able to put it together,” Freeze continued. “We certainly have championships aspirations, but you have to get off to a good start, win a race and get to that first round of the playoffs.

“Zane has certainly shown that once he gets into the playoffs, he knows how to get it into the final four. Maybe we can help just get one more spot better this year. We’re excited about the Truck Series. I think it’s going to be a really good program.”

On the sponsorship side of things, it’s different in Cup. While winning the 500 has helped them being marketable, there’s still some races needing to be filled out.

McDowell and Gilliland are close to having fully sponsored cars for the entire 2022 Cup campaign.

McDowell will enter his 15th season in the NASCAR Cup Series (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | TPF).

Love’s Truck Stop will be on the No. 34 Mustang for half the races and Fr8Auctions is expected to sponsor McDowell for at least five races. Freeze is in good spirits that the remaining races can be filled up, hoping it can lead to longer partnerships.

“We got a couple other new partners that we’re working on. We’re hopeful to have some announcements on the No. 34 to fill those other races. We’re pretty close, I think we got five races left on the No. 34 to have it sold out for the year,” Freeze on McDowell’s sponsors.

“We’re in better shape than we’ve ever been with that car. Winning the Daytona 500 has certainly helped that cause a bit.

“With the No. 38, it’s building a program out a little bit more. There’s more opportunity around it. We got a partnership with that’s evolved, and we’ll have some announcements about that in the coming days,” said Freeze.

“Some of the partnerships that’s been with Todd, in particular Frontline and CROSLEY Brands, will participate in level too. We still got a lot of holes to fill in that one. We got a lot of good one-race deals that we’re talking about multiple race deals that I feel like are looking promising. There’s a lot of good opportunities out there that we’re working on.”

Live coverage of the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum commences Sunday, Feb. 6 at 6:00 p.m. ET on FOX. The two-car team hopes to make the 23-car grid for the 150-lap main event.

Race coverage for the 64th running of “The Great American Race” begins Sunday, Feb. 20 at 2:30 p.m. ET, also on FOX.'
Luis Torres

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA (occasionally F1 and IMSA stuff as well). Whether it's the Daytona 500 or an ARCA Menards Series West race at Evergreen Speedway, content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going.

I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content.

Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to The Aces. Not only that, expect my social media filled with GIFs about my Seattle Seahawks because they make things a roller coaster experience.

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