2011 Ride: No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
2011 Primary Sponsors: Taco Bell (18 races), Gander Mountain (2 races), T-Mone (Bristol), Thanks Bristol Fans (Bristol Night Race), Stephen Siller Tunnell To Towers Foundation (Richmond – fall), A&W All-American Food (Atlanta), World Hunger Relief/FromHungerToHope.com (Talladega – fall), TastyKake (Charlotte – fall)
2011 Owner: Bob Jenkins
2011 Crew Chief: Peter Sospenzo
2011 Stats: 36 races, 0 wins, 1 top five, 2 top 10s, 4 top 20s, 6 DNFs, 30th in points
High Point: For a team like Front Row Motorsports which, in the Ford camp, is like the weaker sister compared to the Roush Fenway and Richard Petty Motorsports organizations, the high point of the 2011 season was a somewhat surprising third-place finish at the Daytona 500, finishing just a few feet behind upset winner Trevor Bayne. Gilliland, pushing Carl Edwards down the stretch, showcased how the new “pairs tandem” drafting system could give even the biggest of underdogs an opportunity to contend for the win.
Earning the podium result, Gilliland would find himself in uncharted territory – at least for a short while. For the first two races of the 2011 season, the Riverside, Calif. native was inside the top 10 in points, a true high-water mark for the FRM organization. While it did not last throughout the season, Gilliland still finished a respectable 30th in the final standings considering his resources after a solid ninth-place effort at Talladega in the spring, paired with a 12th-place finish at Infineon Raceway that helped buoy FRM to their highest final points position ever.
Low Point: In the spring race at Texas, with sponsorship from Gander Mountain, the No. 34 FRM team would only last a scant 44 laps in the race before being collected in an accident that totaled the Taco Bell Ford Fusion. After that event, it seemed like Gilliland’s season highlights on intermediates, the bread and butter of the Cup schedule were few and far between.
Summary: Considering the limited funding of FRM and the fact that Gilliland ran virtually unsponsored for one-third of the season – an effort to pump more money into the organization outside of team owner Bob Jenkins’s franchise fees being paid for by Taco Bell – Gilliland had a more-than-respectable campaign in 2011. It also helped that the former high school golf teammate of Tiger Woods was actually in the same ride for all 36 races, no longer participating in the ride-swapping that often dominates on a week-to-week basis at this small program.
Such stability allowed for some slight improvements in overall results for the team, along with a full year of working with underrated crew chief Peter Sospenzo. The question going into 2012 is can the FRM organization and Gilliland build off this momentum?
Team Ranking: First of two. Gilliland was far more consistent than the No. 38 duo of Travis Kvapil and JJ Yeley, solely responsible for the yearly highlights of the FRM organization.
2012 Outlook: Despite a solid season, the quality of drivers available on the free-agent market leaves Gilliland unsigned at press time. It appears FRM might be holding out to go after a high-profile name, like Brian Vickers or David Reutimann, before committing to their “old reliables” like Gilliland that have been a part of the organization for several years.
Sponsorship, as well remains in question although the team will be committed to running the distance in all 36 races with two cars.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2007 Grade: D
2008 Grade: D
2009 Grade: C
2010 Grade: B-
2011 Grade: B
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