Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Can Front Row Stay Undefeated at COTA?

This Saturday (March 23), the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will roll into Austin, Texas, for its annual trip to Circuit of the Americas.

Since its addition to the NASCAR schedule in 2021, the Truck Series in particular has been treated to some pretty good racing around the 3.426-mile, 20-turn road course.

However, one team somehow keeps winning at COTA through it all: Front Row Motorsports.

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FRM is currently 3-0 in Truck Series competition at COTA between two drivers. Yes, you read that right. Front Row Motorsports has yet to lose a Truck Series race at COTA.

Todd Gilliland won the inaugural truck race in 2021, winning stage one and leading just eight of the 41 laps (but keep in mind, COTA is nearly 3.5 miles long, so 41 laps is a pretty long race – the Cup race is just 68 laps, for reference).

The win, just the second of Gilliland’s three career Truck Series wins, was not without some adversity, as he and FRM were hit with a penalty on the pit stop following his stage one win for a crew member jumping over the wall too soon. While the win was the only one Gilliland managed in 2021, it did earn him and the team an additional $50,000, as COTA was part of the Triple Truck Challenge that season.

When Gilliland was promoted to FRM’s vacant NASCAR Cup Series ride, Zane Smith continued what Gilliland had done the year before. He also won COTA in 2022 after an insane four-wide pass for the lead with 2 laps to go. The three leaders, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman and Stewart Friesen, came together in the hairpin of turn 11, washing up the track and allowing Smith to sneak by and steal the win.

As a side note, the excitement in the commentary provided by Andy Lally made the pass all the more exciting. Can we please get him back in the broadcast booth sometime?

The following year, Smith made it two-for-two and gave FRM its third-straight win in as many races at COTA. In the first NASCAR premier series race in over a half-decade with no stage cautions, an increase in strategy allowed Smith to take advantage of a timely caution and inherit the lead.

Busch again lost out, as a caution (for an electrical fire aboard Parker Kligerman‘s No. 75) came out before he had a chance to pit and had to restart deep in the field. He was only able to finish runner-up behind the No. 38.

Smith celebrated by burning his truck down — literally. He damn near burned the track up, too.

Now with Smith graduating to the Cup Series for 2024, Front Row Motorsports will now put its efforts behind rookie Layne Riggs to maintain its dominance. Though with the way this season has gone for the 21-year-old, that hope is easier said than done.

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Riggs started out the 2024 season with back-to-back 33rd-place finishes at Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. At Daytona, the result came by way of a crash on lap 6 that he was collected in. The damage wasn’t bad, but he ran out of time on the Damaged Vehicle Policy (DVP) seven-minute repair clock and was forced to retire from the race.

At Atlanta, the result came by way of disqualification for improper windshield fasteners — the team incurred the exact same penalty with Smith at Homestead-Miami Speedway last season. Not that it would have mattered, as Riggs only managed a 24th-place finish despite scoring stage points.

Add a mediocre 22nd-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the No. 38 team is not off to the hot start it’s accustomed to. However, things are trending up at the right time, as Riggs and FRM finished 10th at the most recent race at Bristol Motor Speedway; the first top-10 of the season for them.

It’s pretty clear that there are growing pains with the team. This is the first time in FRM’s Truck Series history that it is working with a rookie — both Gilliland and Smith had raced at least one full Truck Series season before joining forces with FRM. Riggs has had no such prior experience, only making a handful of starts here and there throughout 2022 and 2023.

But where Riggs has experience is how to wheel a car. Riggs is the 2022 Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series champion, a division of NASCAR Roots that involves racing on local short tracks across the country. While a road course is far from the same as a short track, the effort that goes into braking, throttle control (at times), and control of a truck are all helpful at a road course.

And at an almost 3.5-mile beast like COTA, that could play into Riggs’ favor with his short track experience.

So while Riggs has still yet to fully solidify himself as a frontrunner, he can certainly turn his season around with a win at COTA and make sure that Front Row Motorsports remains the king of the COTA Truck race.

The XPEL 225 at COTA begins Saturday, March 23 at 1:30 p.m. ET. It is the first race in a doubleheader with the Xfinity Series. Television coverage can be found on FOX Sports 1.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • Young’s Motorsports will bring three trucks to the track for COTA, entering the Nos. 12 and 20 for the first time in 2024 to go along with the full-time No. 02 of Mason Massey. Dale Quarterley will drive the No. 12, while Vicente Salas will make his Truck Series debut in the No. 20.
  • Along with Salas, Skip Barber Racing School instructor Carter Fartuch will make his national series debut in the truck race at COTA. He will drive the No. 22 Reaume Brothers Racing Ford, previously occupied by Keith McGee.
  • Racing phenom Connor Zilisch will take over the No. 7 Spire Motorsports entry at COTA after Kyle Busch drove the truck the previous three races. Group1001, which has sponsored Busch the last three races, will hop aboard Roper Racing’s No. 04, which will be driven by Marco Andretti in his first of six races with the team.
  • The No. 66 of Conner Jones is not entered this week at COTA for the first time since the season opener at Daytona. This is the second of nine races Jones is not scheduled to compete in on his quest to pull a Corey Heim and win Rookie of the Year as a part-time driver. He will also miss the next race at Martinsville Speedway before returning at Texas Motor Speedway on April 12.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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