Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Is Front Row Motorsports Poised for Its Biggest Season Yet?

1. Is Front Row Motorsports in store for its biggest season yet?

Front Row Motorsports had its best NASCAR Cup Series season in history after Michael McDowell made the playoffs and dominated at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last year.

It was monumental moment for the organization, but it’s not even close to the team’s potential ceiling.

Starting in 2024 — FRM’s 20th season in Cup competition — the team will expand its relationship with Ford and form a new alliance with Team Penske.

Part of FRM’s new deal with Ford Performance is its inclusion as what’s called a tier one program, which will feature increased support and communications from both Ford and Penske.

The partnership looked to be on full display during Wednesday’s (Feb. 14) Daytona 500 qualifying, as McDowell will start on the outside pole — tying the best start in his Cup career — alongside Penske’s Joey Logano for Sunday’s (Feb. 18) Daytona 500.

During Daytona 500 media day, McDowell said he expects to win this year and the next.

After two decades in NASCAR, FRM has built a formidable team with McDowell and third-year driver Todd Gilliland. Last year was not the end, but only the beginning.

See also
Legacy Motor Club Addition Gives Toyota 'Strength in Numbers' for Daytona 500

2. Who will win Rookie of the Year in all three series?

There are three exciting rookie classes in the upcoming 2024 season. And while the race will be relatively uncontested in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, both the Cup and NASCAR Xfinity series will feature tight battles.

For Cup, the contenders are Josh Berry, Carson Hocevar and Zane Smith. Of the three, my pick is Hocevar. Right now, the biggest question mark surrounding him performance wise is the strength of Spire Motorsports. The team has made great strides in the past, but the team is still a way away from being a weekly contender. But 2024 will be the first full season with Gainbridge’s involvement in the team, and the Trackhouse connection with Smith’s No. 71 car will also serve to improve the team’s performance across the board.

Hocevar arguably has the highest ceiling of the three. He had multiple top-20 runs in Legacy Motor Club’s No. 42 last season, in what can only be described as the season from hell for the organization. One of these runs include an 11th at Bristol Motor Speedway after running top 10 most of the night. He may be inconsistent with poor results or wrecks based on his driving style, but he has shown so many flashes of brilliance in the Next Gen car that he will shine the brightest of the three if Spire is up to par.

In Xfinity, the race will come down to either Jesse Love, the 2023 ARCA Menards Series champion, or Shane van Gisbergen, an Australian Supercars sensation who has moved to the States for his first full-time NASCAR season after taking the racing world by storm with a Cup win on the Chicago street course last year. Love may perform better on ovals and have better week-in, week-out performance, but the advantage goes to van Gisbergen, as he will be a winning threat in all the road courses on the schedule. He will win at least one of them, and by then, he may have acquired enough oval experience to make a run through the playoffs.

The two Truck rookies are Thad Moffitt and Layne Riggs, plus part-timer Conner Jones, and Riggs will win the award going away. He has already collected a top five and multiple top 10s despite bouncing between teams for part-time starts the last two years, and he will be taking over the ride with which Smith won the 2022 Truck championship. While FRM’s Cup team has slowly risen through the ranks, its Truck team has been an elite ride since inception. That will only continue with FRM’s new alliance with Ford, and Riggs will claim multiple victories this season.

3. Which non-chartered team will have the best performance on Sunday?

The final four spots for the Daytona 500 were up for grabs between six cars, and the official field was set during Thursday’s (Feb. 15) Bluegreen Vacations Duels. Of the four that qualified, Anthony Alfredo and David Ragan locked in their spots through qualifying speed, while Jimmie Johnson and Kaz Grala punched their tickets in the Duels.

Alfredo surprised with his qualifying lap and Johnson is back with a new-look Legacy team under Toyota, but it will be Ragan and RFK’s No. 60 that will have the best finish of all the part-time teams.

Ford has brought hot rods to superspeedways in the last several years, and the Blue Ovals ended a 11-year streak of Chevrolet winning the Daytona 500 pole on Wednesday. RFK’s Brad Keselowski led the most laps in the last two Daytona 500s, and with Ford’s speed, Ragan’s experience and the manufacturer’s strength in numbers, Ragan will be a key player in Sunday’s finish.

See also
The Inauspicious Hope of the Duels

4. Who will win the 66th running of the Great American Race?

This is a prediction that’s akin to throwing darts on a dartboard, but I’m going to choose the driver who I’ve been singing praise to all offseason: defending Cup champion Ryan Blaney.

On an episode of Happy Hour in November, I predicted that Blaney would go back-to-back and be in store for a six-win season. I stuck with Blaney during an appearance in The Fast Lane with Ed Lane radio show on Monday (Feb. 12), when I predicted that Blaney would be the favorite on Sunday.

And why wouldn’t he be? He’s arguably the best superspeedway racer in the business today with three wins at Talladega Superspeedway and a 2021 victory in Daytona’s 400-miler. He won a Duel in 2020, and he’s finished second in the 500 twice (2017 and 2020). He led 118 laps in the 2018 running before finish seventh, which marks the most laps led by a single driver in the 500 since 1992.

He’s done everything but win the 500, and teammates Logano and Austin Cindric each have a Harley J. Earl trophy to their name. One of those teammates will start on the pole, and it’s the speed of Penske and Ford, combined with Blaney’s superspeedway prowess and his momentum as the defending series champion, that will net the No. 12 team the victory.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Ted

Remember when this team was starting & parking, and everybody complained. This is why they did it,… to hopefully one day making their team competitive. Michael McDowell has really helped elevate this team. Also, Mcdowell’s past crew chiefs, Drew Blickensderfer & Matt McCall (who is now helping ressurect RFK Racing), have also really enhanced FRM.

Last edited 2 months ago by Ted
Charlie

Predicting the winner is like stabbing a gnat on a Super Speedway.
I think it is great Front Row is working with Penske and moving up at Ford. Bob Jenkins is a class act. They earned it the hard way.

Carl D.

”Like stabbing a gnat”… Ha! Like me trying to win an argument with Mrs. Carl D.

Dan

Blaney would have that 2022 Daytona win if not for Cindric running him into the wall coming to the checkers. Ok to race someone to the finish for a win but squeezing a teammate to do it is lowdown. If I were Blaney I wouldn’t trust racing near Cindric.

Shayne

Hamlin tried to take McDowell out with his block. A little research shows that Hamlin has a beef with McDowell too. Ford and Chevy better not give Toyota an inch on the track. Hamlin will wreck you to put a Toyota up front. Take him out early if he tries his usual tactics.

DoninAjax

If a driver causes his teammate the chance for the win he better win it himself or there will be consequences.

Hamlin will start a wreck that takes out half the field to give himself a better chance to win Get ready for two or three GWCs.

At Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta GWCs should be single file restarts.

Carl D.

Who will win? Kes finally gets to the finish line first. Hey, a fan can hope…

Bill B

I caught a bit of an interview with Douchey Hamlin earlier in the day. He was asked if the new car was the reason he hasn’t done well at the Daytona 500.
His answer was that it was him, not the car. Then went on to explain that he has been too conservative and not pushing hard enough trying to stay out of the wrecks. So I hope last night wasn’t what he meant when he said he was going to push harder, basically he was blocking recklessly. Driving like an idiot isn’t the answer either Denny.

DoninAjax

But that is what he is best at! And blaming the other guy!

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