Race Weekend Central

2009 NASCAR Driver Review: John Andretti

John Andretti

2009 Ride: No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Chevrolet
2009 Sponsors: Taco Bell, Window World, Long John Silver’s, A&W, MyAutoLoan.com, CARFAX
2009 Owner: Bob Jenkins
2009 Crew Chief: Steven Lane
2009 Stats: 34 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 0 DNQs, 36th in points

High Point: When FRM showed up at Daytona in February, it was the first time they knew they’d race in the Daytona 500. With an alliance with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing scoring the team a spot in the Top 35 in owner points, John Andretti was locked into the field for a race that he’d himself raced into with the No. 34 team just a season before.

This year, with sponsor Window World in tow, Andretti delivered a strong 16th-place finish for FRM, outrunning the far more-hyped second Window World entry fielded by Phil Parsons and driven by Terry Labonte. What’s more, the top-20 result was Andretti’s best in the Daytona 500 since 2004, one of only four times he’s cracked the top 20 in 14 starts in the Great American Race.

Most importantly, Andretti nailed down a solid points day with his Daytona run, one that set the foundation in place for FRM to remain locked in the Top 35 the entire season for the first time in the program’s history.

Low Point: As with any team working on a limited budget, dodging wrecks is paramount week after week. And while Andretti did an admirable job keeping the No. 34 car out of trouble all season long, one of the year’s few hiccups came at Dover in June, where the Taco Bell Chevrolet blew out a right-front tire and smacked the boiler-plate steel walls of the Monster Mile, relegating Andretti to a 34th-place finish after completing only 253 of the 400 laps run.

While there were several finishes worse for him as the season progressed (he finished 36th at Charlotte suffering from carburetor issues), none were more destructive than this spring weekend in Delaware.

Summary: It was a year of firsts for Andretti and the No. 34 team. Andretti found himself in a full-time ride for the first time since a stint with BAM Racing in 2007 and his first run at a full schedule since 2003 (well, almost a full schedule… he skipped two races in May to run the Indianapolis 500). And for FRM, they capitalized on their first five races in the Top 35 in owner points by staying there all year.

To be frank, none of Andretti’s races were spectacular, but considering the means of the No. 34 team, they got the job done. Andretti avoided much of the on-track trouble that plagued him during his run with previous organizations, and went a long way to help FRM establish itself as a full-time team instead of one scraping to make the field every week.

See also
Bubble Breakdown: 1 Final Look at 2009's 4-Team Battle to Finish in the Top 35

Until then, he goal was to make the Top 35 and to become an established team. Mission accomplished.

Team Ranking: First. Andretti’s teammates in FRM’s No. 37 car (which by season’s end was attempting every race) included Tony Raines and Travis Kvapil, but in a start-and-park capacity only. For all intents and purposes, this was a single-car effort in 2009.

2010 Outlook: Though there has been no official announcement, it is expected that Andretti will return to the No. 34 team for 2010. As FRM’s Nationwide Series driver Raines noted at Memphis, owner Bob Jenkins is the type that will likely wait until a few weeks before Daytona to select a driver for his cars. That said, Andretti did exactly what Jenkins asked of him in 2009; he kept the No. 34 locked into the field.

Jenkins said in an interview late in the 2009 season that he didn’t see “any wholesale changes coming” to his race teams, which seems to suggest that Andretti is on his way back come Daytona. What’s more, Jenkins is pleased with what his team was able to do on-track in 2009.

“We’ve tried to build a nucleus that can survive in a down economy, that’s consistent and solid, so that when good times do come around, we become a logical choice for somebody.”

“This race team needs to be sponsored, but I don’t want having sponsorship be the deciding factor in whether or not we can race,” Jenkins said.

So until that elusive sponsor comes along, 2010 appears to hold more of the same in store for this outfit.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2007 Grade: C-
2008 Grade: N/A
2009 Grade: C+

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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