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Gilliland at Home Out West, Alfredo Brings Speedy Cash to Vegas and McDowell Joins Ford Performance Teleconference

A Look Ahead to the NASCAR Weekend in Las Vegas

After three consecutive weekends in Florida to begin the season, the NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series are off to Nevada and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It will be the first of two consecutive weekends on the west coast for Front Row Motorsports (FRM). The goal is simple and clear- continue the momentum that Michael McDowell and the No. 34 Ford team has built while trying to lock Todd Gilliland into the Truck Series Playoffs. For Anthony Alfredo, it is to record his best finish of the season.

Gilliland and his No. 38 Speedco Ford F-150 team will begin the weekend Friday with a 134-lap battle televised live on FS1 at 9:00 p.m. ET.

McDowell and Alfredo will hit the track on Sunday afternoon for a 267-lap main event. The Cup race will be televised on FOX at 3:30 p.m. ET.

It’s hard to find a driver with more success on the west coast race scene than Todd Gilliland- especially just a few short years ago. Gilliland found his footing and plenty of checkered flags while competing in the former NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Series. The same series that his father and grandfather also had wins in.

Winning the 2016 and 2017 championships in the development series, Gilliland has been to Victory Lane 14 times in states Iowa and west. The young, 20-year-old driver, who now lives in Mooresville, N.C., knows that he’ll never lose the memories where his family grew up.

“For me, Las Vegas, Phoenix and most of California, that is where my family lived and started racing,” said Gilliland. “I may not live on the west coast, but most of the time it feels like my home. And when we go there, I’m just comfortable. I’ve spent much of my life racing there and seeing my family, it’s just a good place for me. I really love it.”

Nothing will make the trip better for Gilliland than taking a win Friday night at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Gilliland has five previous starts at the mile-and-a-half oval with three top-10 and one top-five finish.

“I’ve finished fifth at Las Vegas, but I know we can win Friday,” continued Gilliland. “I like the track and I just think we have a good plan going into the weekend. Having no practice, the team spends a lot of time at the shop in prep. I know the guys spent a lot of time working late to get it right. That gives me a lot of confidence.”

Gilliland also wants to lock himself into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs with a win racing the Speedco Ford F-150.

“Speedco and Love’s Travel Stops already have a big win this year with Michael (McDowell) and that team is in the playoffs,” continued Gilliland. “I really want to put the Speedco Ford F-150 into the playoffs, too. The people at Speedco and Love’s Travel Stops have been great to myself and FRM. I want to give back and get them another win.”

For the second time this season, Alfredo brings the colors of Speedy Cash to the track. The No. 38 Speedy Cash Ford Mustang had a little makeover since Daytona. The black, green and red scheme now features larger flames and an enhanced logo placement on the upper and lower rear quarter panels for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate.

“It’s funny,” said Alfredo. “Fans are so into the sponsor schemes and when you make a small change, they notice. They get excited and love it. Personally, I think our Speedy Cash colors really stand out on the track. If you’re sitting in the stands, like sometimes my family does, they can’t miss where we are running. So, for me, that’s cool.”

Alfredo brings the Speedy Cash Ford Mustang to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway looking for his best Cup finish to date. With back-to-back Top-25 finishes, Alfredo is building his confidence.

“I think so,” added Alfredo. “We really can’t count the Daytona 500 because we were caught in that wreck so early. But, the Daytona Road Course and last week at Homestead, I felt that I got better. We use the first Stage of the race to feel it out. Then, we just want to pick off spots. Our goal is pretty clear this weekend. Let’s get our new best finish. I’m feeling good heading into Sunday that we can do that.”

Earlier this week, Michael McDowell joined the Ford Performance media teleconference. Below is the transcript from Ford Performance.

Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Love’s Travel Stop Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series, goes into this weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway fourth in the point standings. The Daytona 500 winner is also on a season-opening streak that has seen him post a top-10 finish in all three events, one of only two drivers to do that. McDowell was this week’s guest on the Ford Zoom call and talked about a variety of topics.

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stop Ford Mustang — DO YOU HAVE BETTER CARS, BETTER ENGINES OR BETTER CONFIDENCE? “None of the above. I think that it’s a combination of different things and one of those things is that we ran fairly well last year at Homestead. We kind of had a top-15 car and were able to come back with something very similar with a few adjustments. I think the competition has actually come back towards us. My guys have done a great job. We’ve made our cars a little bit lighter, a little bit more downforce and we’ve made some small gains, but I don’t feel like we’ve done anything different or special as far as engines and chassis and all those things. We’re still getting the same equipment that we got last year. I feel like we’re executing better and I feel like starting up front helps a tremendous amount. When you start 25th or 30th it’s just hard to dig yourself out of that hole, so I think that the track position helped us early on. Obviously, we had a car capable of it, but I think there’s a lot of factors to it. We didn’t go out and buy new chassis and buy new cars and have a bunch of new parts and pieces. We’re running the same stuff we ran last year, it’s just our guys have done a good job of making it a little bit faster, a little bit better and feel like cracking down on some of the shenanigans going on has helped close the gap for us.”

DO YOU FEEL BRINGING BACK THE WHEEL WELL TEMPLATE HELPED YOU GUYS? “Yeah, there are a few other things too that definitely contributed I think to bringing the field closer together, not just the wheel openings, but just how you go through inspection and how you’re blocked up in the left-rear and how you’re not now, I think, has eliminated some other opportunities too.”

THE FIRST THREE RACES HAVE BEEN ALL DIFFERENT TRACKS. DOES THAT GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE COMING TO PHOENIX, A FLAT ONE-MILE OVAL? “Yes and no. So, this year has been going well and we sort of hit the setup at all three places, in particular the Daytona road course and Homestead with no practice, but Phoenix is a track that is one that we have circled that we really struggled at last year, not just our Front Row cars but Roush cars in general. We haven’t had what needed at that particular track and not just Phoenix but probably Loudon and Richmond as well. Hopefully, we’ve made gains. We’re definitely going back to those racetracks with a completely different approach from a setup standpoint, just because they were such a struggle, where Miami we sort of had something to build on from last year and Daytona road course we had something to build on from last year. Those races have been a struggle, in particular the shorter flat tracks, so we definitely need to improve and hopefully we did, but you just don’t know until you get out on the racetrack and see what you’ve got.”

GENERALLY SPEAKING, DO YOU HAVE A DEFAULT PREFERENCE WITH THE CHOOSE RULE OR ARE YOU LITERALLY MAKING THE DECISION ON A CASE-BY-CASE BASIS? “It is very case-by-case. There’s a lot of data and information to go through to look at history and what lane kind of is preferred and not preferred, but it is an ongoing process and it’s different at every track. It’s not super cut-and-dried. I hate having the option, to be honest with you. I just hate choosing and having to make that decision because you’re just like, ‘Oh, man. Did I make the right move? Did I not make the right move?’ So, it’s added a variable and another level of thinking that I don’t want.”

WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO RUN UP FRONT? “It feels great. It’s very rewarding, in particular last week at Homestead. It was, overall, an awesome team performance, not just on-track, but even our pit stops were good. We came in in the top 10 and left in the top 10 and even gained a couple spots, so there’s so much to having good on-track performance and it was just nice to have one of those days where it was all there. We had a fast car. We executed well. The strategy was good. The pit stops were good. Not that it was easy, but it was a pretty smooth day altogether and it was a special day for me. I know coming off the 500 it’s hard to compare to that, but to run how we ran at Homestead it was a very rewarding race for us.”

IS THE RACING ANY DIFFERENT UP THERE? “No, not for me yet. I think that there’s a couple different elements to it, but guys aren’t used to necessarily me being up there all the time, and so that made it a little bit different racing a lot of the guys that typically don’t race the 34 and I don’t typically race. There was some getting used to each other, let’s just say that, but, for me, the race was kind of the same. You’re trying to get every spot that you can, whether it’s the 2 that you’re trying to pass or the 43. It doesn’t matter which car it is, you’re just trying to get around them and next car, next car, next car, you just keep pushing.”

HOW DO YOUR KIDS VIEW DAD NOW THAT HE’S A DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION? “I don’t think they view dad any different. I don’t think so. You’d have to ask them, but they were excited for the win, but kids, not that they don’t care, but it’s not gonna change their lives immediately and for them it’s a fun moment but you’re still back to school work and chores and everything else the very next minute.”

WHAT DO YOU DO NOW THAT A LOT OF YOUR GOALS HAVE ALREADY BEEN MET? “I’m processing all of that too, trying to figure out what that is. I haven’t been in this spot before, so you’re trying to process that. You always want to have goals and you always want to have something that you’re trying to achieve and we have. We have achieved that already, so what does it look like next? I’m not exactly sure what the expectation looks like, but I think the approach and the mentality stays the same, and our approach has always just been to fight hard, give it everything you have and if that’s 20th, then you fight as hard as you can to make sure you get a 20th or better. And if you’ve got a 15th-place car, you fight as hard as you can to run 15th or better, so I don’t know how we’ll be at Vegas and I don’t know how we’ll be at Phoenix. I would love to be the guy that comes on here that I think sort of everybody wants to be like, ‘Yeah, we’re legit. We’re gonna win five races this year and we’re gonna contend for the championship.’ I don’t know that to be true, but I do know we’re gonna fight our guts out and we’ll see where we end up because I don’t know. We don’t know what it looks like going to Vegas. We don’t know whether we’ll have the speed that we did at Homestead or if we’re gonna run 20th, but we’re gonna fight hard and we’re gonna keep pushing at the shop, at the track and keep trying to move in a good direction, and I think that will pay off, but I really can’t tell you where I think we’re at or what the expectations are.”

ARE THE GUYS RACING YOU DIFFERENTLY. MAYBE WITH MORE RESPECT OR MAYBE HARDER BECAUSE YOU ARE NOW A THREAT? “I’m not really sure. I think that at Homestead I felt like I was there racing pretty hard. What I can just tell you, I won’t throw out names because I don’t want to turn it into that, but I literally saw a driver wave another driver by and then race me for the next seven laps like it was the last lap, so there are two things that I think about with that. One is there are top guys that don’t want to be passed by the 34 and I get it, I understand that because they think that they’re having a really bad day of the 34 is going around them. On the flip side, I somewhat deserve it because I race the guts out of everybody and always have. Even when I was in bad cars I never made it easy on anybody, so I don’t expect them to make it easy on me, if that makes sense. There are guys out there that race each other really well and they’re always up front. I think of Martin Truex. He is a fair racer. He races hard. He knows when to push it. He knows when not to push it, and I think that out of everybody out there he’s one of the guys that will cut you a break and he expects you to cut him a break, and he does. He has that mutual respect. I’ve raced everybody so hard that I don’t think that I’m gonna get cut breaks, and honestly I don’t expect it (laughing). So, my feelings are not hurt when they guys are racing me really hard.”

HAS THE RECENT SUCCESS INCREASED THE AMOUNT OF FIGHT FOR YOUR TEAM? “Yeah, definitely. And I think momentum is a big part of our sport. Momentum and confidence is hard to fabricate. You can’t just make it up. You either have it or you don’t and you only have it with results and performance, so I do think that. I do think that we have more confidence and, like I said, it affects every area from the shop to the pit stops to myself. All of those things are definitely important, but I feel like at the same time we’ve taken a very similar approach that we have in the last few years and we’ve been making steady gains and I think that’s why we’re at where we’re at, so we don’t want to change too much because you don’t want to overthink it and you don’t want to get outside of what’s been working for you, but definitely everybody has confidence and a little pep in their step and it affects every area.”

HOW HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS? “That’s such a tough question to answer. I’ve had it several times. You think that I would have done a better job of being prepared for it. I hate to say it like this, but my life hasn’t changed a whole lot since winning the 500. I mean, it’s been very exciting and it’s been busy and very thankful to win the race and to have all the things that come with it, but as far as your actual life it doesn’t change. I think that’s the thing that is hard to describe. I’m still taking my kids to school and I’m still doing all the things I do and still going to the Ford simulator every week and still working out — still doing all the things you normally do it’s just that you’ve got a win sticker on your car, you’re locked into the playoffs and you’ve got an awesome trophy at the house. Those things are great and I don’t want to downplay it, but as far as changing my life I feel like we just keep pushing away like we’ve always done.”

A FEW DRIVERS HAVE SIGNED UP FOR THE BRISTOL DIRT NATIONALS. ARE YOU PLANNING TO RACE IN THAT THE WEEK BEFORE THE CUP EVENT AND WILL IT BE AN ADVANTAGE? “I agree with everybody. I agree with Kurt that the cars are so different and the style is so different that it’s not gonna be a huge learning experience from the driving style and how you need to approach it, but I think that any track time in any race is good to do. I think that anytime that you can be in a race car and you’re working all those sensors and learning new things that it’s always gonna help. It doesn’t matter what you do, so I agree with both. Yes, I do have a couple tests lined up and I am working on being in that race as well. We’re trying to hammer out the details. We’re getting pretty close, but trying to put it all together. Like I said, I do agree with Kurt, it’s not the same. I was fortunate to run the ARCA race at Springfield and DuQuoin and in big, heavy stock cars like ours with a lot of power you are not slinging them in there sideways and running on the right-rear, yaw it out all the way up against the cushion. Our cars just don’t do that as well, so I think that you can learn some bad habits as well as gain some track knowledge.”

IS THIS RACE BIG IN THE SENSE THAT IT’S ALSO A PLAYOFF TRACK LATER IN THE YEAR? “I think that it’s important because you go there twice, and I think any racetrack that we go to twice is important because of that reason. Every race counts and every point counts, but the playoff situation makes it even maybe an asterisk mark next to it. As far as us trying a lot of crazy, wild things this weekend to get prepared for it, we’re not. We felt like we had a pretty decent car there the last couple times, so we just want to keep improving upon that and see if what happened at Homestead will happen again at Vegas, where we make a little bit of a gain and the competition kind of comes back our direction and, all of a sudden, we’re in the fight. Nothing out of the ordinary, but we do know it’s important with it having two races, for sure.”

HOW HAS YOUR FAITH GOTTEN YOU TO THIS POINT AND WHAT ROLE HAS IT PLAYED IN YOUR SUCCESS? “For me, my faith is the foundation of who I am, so it affects every aspect of my life every single day, and it’s what’s most important to me. As far as my career goes, I could see very easily how God has provided opportunities for me to stay in this sport and, honestly, I think you all could probably see it too. There are a lot of great drivers right now that are no longer in our sport that are more marketable, more talented, younger and better-looking and could attract sponsors and all those things, so I’ve seen God continue to provide opportunities and it’s also been a struggle, too. The struggle, I think, is where your faith really comes into play. Mountain top experiences are great, but it’s in the ditches and it’s in the trenches is where God is really shaping and molding you and so I feel, for me, as far as my faith and the win, I’m not a prosperity, gospel kind of guy. I was serving Jesus before the win and I didn’t need the win for me to know that He’s good and that I was gonna do that the rest of my life. The fact that I got to experience the win, I feel like is incredible and I never had that feeling that I did it. I never crossed the line and I was like, ‘I did it. I finally won. I did all this hard work.’ I literally felt like God allowed me to experience this and be a part of something way bigger and cooler than I could dream up.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE R&D AND MANUFACTURING FREEZE THAT’S BEEN GOING ON. WHY THAT’S HAPPENING AND WHAT DIFFERENCE IT HAS MADE? “I’m probably not the best versed on it, but I’ll do my best job, just don’t take these as facts but as how I understand them is when the new car was on schedule to get rolled out there was sort of a development freeze in certain areas and certain parts couldn’t be re-designed and there’s the submittal process and all that. And then obviously with that being delayed a year and with COVID there were even more freezes put in place as far as development goes, on what you could submit, parts you’ve already submitted. Like I said, I’m not as versed as some of our competition guys here, but what I’ve seen is that a few years ago every week or every month you have all new suspension, all new chassis-designs for one little gain. One little aero gain underneath the car required all-new spindles, all-new brake ducts, all-new suspensions. I mean, we’re talking about $50,000, $60, 000, $70,000 a week in updates, and so when you had to submit what you had, and there’s some wiggle room in there and you can still make things better and stronger, but you’re not completely redesigning components and chassis and everything that goes along with it, I believe, has allowed us to catch up in the sense that we’ve always had quality people that knew that they were doing, we just were always so far behind that we were scrambling. Well, now that we have the same bits and pieces week after week, month after month and now year after year, we’ve just been able to make everything a little bit better, a little bit faster, a little bit stronger and be more efficient with what he have and not have to be so far behind chasing our tails trying to figure out what’s the next big chunk and what’s the next big spend we have to do to try to keep up.”

WHAT IS THE ATMOSPHERE AT THE 34 SHOP? “It’s been fun. Everybody is excited and got pep in their step, just enjoying it. We know that these things don’t always last forever. We would love for them to, but we’ve been enjoying these weeks that we’ve had and running well, and I think too that there’s a level of intensity right now to keep it going and to keep it rolling, so it’s fun. It’s a fun time to be at Front Row Motorsports. We’re all enjoying it and it’s a tremendous team effort, and everybody has worked really hard here in all the departments in all the areas to get us to where we’re at.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR CELEBRATION WHEN YOU ARRIVED AT THE AIRPORT AND BACK AT THE SHOP? “It’s obviously been very enjoyable and fun, but it’s also different. It’s different than your normal Daytona 500 victory and tour and flying all around and all the different things that come with it because of COVID and just trying to do everything we can to be socially responsible and safe as we can. At the shop, it looks very different. The celebration is different. The celebration with your friends and family looks a little bit different, but I’m not complaining. I’m thankful that my family is healthy and happy and everyone is doing well, but it definitely is a challenge to try to fully embrace and enjoy it all, but it’s been fun. That lasts about four or five days and it was right back to the racetrack and back to work, and I like that. I like the rhythm of our sport. I like every week is a new week and a new opportunity, but I’m still enjoying the victory and still enjoying the win and just trying to take it all in.”

IS IT TRUE YOU DRIVE YOUR OWN BUS? “I did, and I do. There’s been years where I haven’t, but a majority of my career I’ve been on the road with my family and we did that for about eight years and then it got to a point where I couldn’t do it anymore. I wasn’t doing anything well. I wasn’t doing my job as a race car driver well. I wasn’t doing my job as a motorcoach driver well, or trying to get my kids back to school on Monday after racing all day on Sunday and I was just wore out. So, thankfully, my in-laws came and drove the bus for a couple years and it was great to have family with us and for my kids to have their grandparents there, and that took a big burden off of me because it was very challenging to keep up with everything, especially when I went back full-time. This year I’ve been driving it, but with the one-day shows and the restrictions and protocols it’s not as necessary to bring it to every race, so I’m not really sure what the future holds with that, but I enjoy windshield time. I enjoy spending time on the road and it just lets you think and it kind of helps me decompress a little bit.”
ABOUT FRONT ROW MOTORSPORTS

Front Row Motorsports (FRM) is a winning organization in the NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series and the 2021 Daytona 500 champions. The team was founded in 2004 and is owned by successful entrepreneur, Bob Jenkins. FRM fields the No. 34 and the No. 38 NASCAR Cup Series teams along with the No. 38 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team– from its Mooresville, N.C. headquarters. Visit teamfrm.com and follow FRM on social media: Twitter at @Team_FRM, Instagram at @team_frm and Facebook at facebook.com/FrontRowMotorsports.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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