Front Row Motorsports has undergone a lot of growth since its inception in 2004 as a part-time team in conjunction with Jimmy Means and his team, Means Racing. Over the years it has grown into a solid upper mid-pack NASCAR Cup Series team as well as a front-running Camping World Truck Series team with Todd Gilliland at the helm.
They’re not exactly contenders in the sense that Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing can be. However, aside from a rain-shortened win at Pocono in 2016 and the occasional top-five or top-10 on a short track, they’re almost always contenders on the restrictor-plate tracks with David Ragan leading an FRM sweep at Talladega in April 2013 for the team’s maiden victory. Both Ragan and David Gilliland provided strong runs for the team at Daytona and Talladega over the years and the addition of Michael McDowell meant that the team would continue to have their moments to shine as time went on.
Although McDowell’s beginnings were in road-racing, having won the 2004 Star Mazda championship and his first NASCAR race at Road America in 2016, he has shown himself to be a proficient plate racer. In 20 starts at Daytona, including yesterday’s 500, he has 12 top-15s including a win, three top-fives, and seven top-10s. That luck hasn’t translated so well at Talladega, where he only has a solitary top-five from 2019.
Still, a 500 win brings momentum and when it comes to teams like FRM, they can only continue upwards on the trajectory they’ve taken. Three wins since 2013 aren’t much, but neither is FRM with 60 employees and mostly secondhand equipment. Still, to a guy like McDowell who was once a part-timer and occasional start-and-park driver, they’ve given him the opportunity to thrive and he has taken them up on it.
The pairing of McDowell and FRM has shown some promise. In 2019 he scored two top-fives for the first time in a season, at Daytona (where he famously told fellow Ford driver Joey Logano, “I don’t get paid to push you,” after fighting for the win in the 500) and Talladega, finishing fifth in both races. In 2020 he scored a career-high in top-10s with four (Pocono, Indianapolis, the Daytona Road Course, Bristol). To add to that, 10 top-15s in 36 races. Also, in addition, he had only two DNFs and 97% laps completed on the season.
At 36, he’s on the other end of a career in NASCAR. He’s not the four-time ARCA race winner who finished second in points in 2006. He may not get a top-10 in points or win a championship in the Cup Series. We may never see him brutally dominate a race. But that’s perfectly fine. It’s been a long time and his climb is far from over. Thirteen top-10s in 358 starts isn’t something that’d set the world on fire.
But McDowell has established himself as a valuable asset to one of the hardest working organizations in NASCAR and one of the stronger competitors to race at restrictor-plate tracks and road courses. With a win in Sunday’s Daytona 500, it just goes to prove that the pairing of McDowell and FRM in 2018 was bound to be a successful one.