Front Row Motorsports is getting closer to its name.
A team from Mooresville, North Carolina is having a big weekend in Indianapolis. Zane Smith, Camping World Truck Series regular season champion, opened the playoffs with a third-place finish at Indianapolis Raceway Park on Friday night. Then two Team Cup riders, rookie Todd Gilliland and veteran Michael McDowell, delivered amazing results in Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Gilliland finishing a career-best fourth and McDowell finishing eighth. It was a rare duet from the top 10 FRM.
These performances marked the first time that all Truck and Cup team drivers finished in the top 10 on a race weekend. It wasn’t as important as McDowell’s poor 2021 Daytona 500 win, but it was enough to give FRM, underfunded and understaffed compared to top-notch NASCAR operations, a real weekend in the sun.
It comes just days after the team was issued a massive NASCAR fine for an improperly modified part of McDowell’s car at Pocono Raceway. McDowell was fined 100 driver points, crew chief Blake Harris was fined $100,000 and suspended for four races, and the team lost 100 owner points.
“We got hit on hands after Pocono because of some of the things that NASCAR didn’t like about our car,” FRM general manager Jerry Freese told NBC Sports. “It was important for the guys to come back to Indy and show that this is not what we were trying to achieve in any way. They wanted to show in Indy and we want to show again this week in Michigan that we have speed week in and week out. I’m happy for them that they recovered from a rather difficult situation last week.
“I think we can get on a winning streak if we put it all together sometime this year.”
Gilliland, in his first full season in the Cup since moving from the FRM Truck division, qualified ninth at Indianapolis and managed a fourth-place finish in the chaos of the last laps. He finished 12 races in a row which is a key statistic as the team tries to give him as much time on the track as possible.
“We may have been a little conservative on Todd this year and maybe a little more aggressive on Michael’s car tuning,” Freese said. “Todd is a newbie and in many cases he will be walking the tracks for the first time. In Indy, the crew chief decided to get a little more aggressive with the settings now that Todd has a bit more knowledge base running various road courses. Todd really stepped up. We may have delayed it a bit.
“He did such a good job doing exactly what we wanted this year, doing all the laps without getting into bad situations, getting the car home safe and sound and having all that experience.”
Both FRM Cup riders showed consistency in the finish races this season. McDowell leads the series in lap percentage, 99.55%. Gilliland is ranked fourth with a score of 97.84%.
“It’s a cool statistic that confirms what we’ve been saying about the team,” Gilliland told NBC Sports. “It’s really great that as a team we’re better at not tearing things up as much as some other people.”
Gilliland, 22, has mostly raced in the Truck Series for four seasons, winning twice. He said he expects a sometimes tough transition to the Cup.
“It’s been a tough season,” he said. “I think part of the reason we expected it is because it’s hard to jump from a truck into a cup. We had guys who won the Xfinity championships who still have a hard time moving on to the Cup.
“We expected some parts to be very difficult. We had limited rehearsal time and I haven’t been to a few tracks yet. And yes, the schedule is tough. The competition is much higher than anything I’ve ever faced.”
According to Gilliland, the Next Gen car made the move a little easier.
“We have seen the best of the best make mistakes,” he said. “We had guys getting out on their own. The car did a good job of leveling the playing field and opened up some opportunities for our team.”
Freese said the team is hopeful that Gilliland can continue to expand its horizons for the remainder of the season.
“He accomplished the mission from our perspective for the first half of the year,” he said. “Now that he has a knowledge base and the team got to know him better and what he likes about the car, he is more comfortable talking about what the car does.
“I don’t know if there is a really good measuring stick, but we are not trying to pressure him with any numbers. We feel he is moving in a positive direction with more consistency and more competitive finishes.”