NASCAR Cup Series Preview 2021: Front Row Motorsports

Veteran endeavors and rookie debuts will lead the way from Front Row Motorsports’ 2021 NASCAR proceedings.

2021 Front Row Motorsports Driver Chart
Driver Car No. Crew Chief Primary Sponsor(s)
Michael McDowell 34 Drew Blickensderfer Love’s Travel Stops
David Ragan (part-time) 36 Derrick Finley Select Blinds
Anthony Alfredo (R) 38 Seth Barbour DUDE Wipes/MDS Trucking

History

Despite relatively conservative settings, Front Row has been one of the Cup Series’ modern staples, regularly fielding cars since 2009 after first arriving five years earlier. The late John Andretti was the first full-time driver of the car, with names like David Gilliland, Josh Wise, and Brett Moffitt all assuming the titles in years since. Renowned part-time names include Terry Labonte, Jeff Green, and Joe Nemechek.

Front Row earned the ultimate triumph in the spring of 2013, when Gilliland pushed David Ragan to a victory at Talladega, allowing FRM to sweep the top two sports. Three years later, the team made a brief appearance in the NASCAR playoffs, earning a spot when Chris Buescher won a rain-shortened summer race at Pocono.

2020 in Review

2020 was a breakout year of sorts for FRM, as the team earned a personal-best seven top ten finishes between Michael McDowell and Rookie of the Year contender John Hunter Nemechek, their best being the former’s seventh-place posting at Indianapolis. Nemechek had respectable efforts but he left at the end of the year to take over one of Kyle Busch’s Tundras in the Camping World Truck Series.

“Last year, we feel like we made a pretty big gain just from overall competitiveness and speed in our race cars,” said McDowell, whose 23rd-place finish in the standings was FRM’s best posting since Buescher reached the playoffs. “I feel like we have the potential to be more competitive this year than we even were last year, but you just never know until you get to the racetrack.”

Meet the Drivers

Michael McDowell

Experience: 13th full season
Career Cup Victories: 0
2020 finish: 23rd
Best standings finish: 23rd (2020)

It’s a shame that McDowell’s season was mostly remembered for his get-together with Bubba Wallace at the All-Star Open event at Bristol in July. Having worked with low-budget teams for most of his career, McDowell put up the best numbers of his Cup Series career, earning a career-best four top-ten finishes, each of them coming away from superspeedways. Prior to that, McDowell had one such result, coming at Homestead in the 2016 finale. This season will be his fourth in the No. 34 Ford.

“It’s a lot of fun because on those good days where you sneak out a top 10 or a top five you really feel like you’ve accomplished something,” McDowell said of competing with a mid-budget team. “Then you obviously have those ups-and-downs, on those days where you run twenty-something you can kind of brush it off and get ready for the next week. But just seeing the steady progression for us is what I think is the motivator. Last year, you always have high expectations, but when you actually go out there and perform we started to feel like, ‘Hey, we can do this. We can run 15th every week and we can beat two or three of these big teams and do it on a weekly basis.’ So that was a lot of fun and very rewarding and hopefully, we can keep that going into 2021 as well.”

Even McDowell’s crash with Wallace at the Open led to some good in the end. The pair auctioned off the bumper from Wallace’s downed No. 43 for the non-denominational Motor Racing Outreach, a religious organization that provides service and worship opportunities for drivers on the NASCAR circuit. Such an endeavor raised over $20,000.

David Ragan (part-time)

Experience: 16th season
Career Cup Victories: 2 (Last: Talladega, spring 2013)
2020 finish: N/A
Best standings finish: 13th (2008)

Ragan will once again briefly end his retirement to run the Daytona 500, doing so last year in a collaborative effort between FRM and Rick Ware Racing. Daytona is the site of Ragan’s other Cup Series victory, which came in July 2011 in Jack Roush’s No. 6 Ford. Ragan finished fourth in last season’s 500, his first top five since subbing for an injured Kyle Busch in 2015.

Anthony Alfredo (Rookie)

Experience: 1st season (No prior Cup Series starts)
Career Cup Victories: N/A
2020 finish: N/A
Best standings finish: N/A

Alfredo already has a lot to prove, even before he makes his first Cup Series start. Choosing the Connecticut native to take over for Nemechek in the No. 38 was a surprising decision considering he hasn’t run a full Xfinity Series season yet. He has some short track success to his name, finishing in the runner-up slot in the CARS Late Model Tour with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team.

“It’s a huge step for myself and my career and to be competing against childhood heroes of mine, guys who have been racing not only in their career but in this series since before I was born or maybe one years old. I think guys like (Ryan) Newman have been in the series since I was one or two, so there are a lot of veterans out there and I know that they have a tremendous amount of experience in general in racing, let alone just this level, so I’m looking forward to learning from them.”

“It’s going to be a challenge to compete with them on a regular basis, but that’s what probably has me most psyched about this year.”

Alfredo did show some strong potential while sharing Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity ride with Myatt Snider and Kaz Grala. He earned top tens in five of his first nine starts (including a fourth at Homestead) and closed his tenure out with a third-place showing at Texas. The No. 38 will be one of two Rookie of the Year contenders on the Cup Series level, squaring off against Chase Briscoe and Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 14 Ford.

Outlook

Contending at non-superspeedway events might be a tad too much to ask for from FRM’s perspective, but putting a car in the top 20 in the standings is a realistic goal.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Front Row Motorsports announces 2021 lineup

Michael McDowell returns to the No. 34, while Connecticut native Anthony Alfredo joins after a standout debut in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Front Row Motorsports announced its plans for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season on Wednesday. The low-budget team will retain veteran Michael McDowell for its No. 34 Ford, while Connecticut native Anthony Alfredo will take over its No. 38 machine. FRM will also run a third car, the No. 36, at the Daytona 500, which will be piloted by David Ragan.

Alfredo, 21, joins the team after a strong debut on the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Richard Childress Racing. John Hunter Nemechek drove the car last season, earning three top-ten finishes. Nemechek and FRM parted ways shortly after the 2020 season and will return to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to drive a Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Sharing the No. 21 Chevrolet with Myatt Snyder and Kaz Grala, Alfredo made 19 starts, finishing in the top 20 in all but four of them. He would save the best for last with a third-place finish at October’s Texas event, one of two postings in the top-five (the other being a fourth-place at Homestead in June). Despite running a part-time schedule, Alfredo finished 18th in last season’s Xfinity standings, second-best amongst those who did not a full-time slate (behind only Daniel Hemric one spot ahead). Alfredo also has experience with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports, finishing in the runner-up slot on the CARS Late Model Tour in 2017.

“This is really an unbelievable moment,” Alfredo said in a statement on NASCAR.com. “When you start out racing karts as a kid, you dream of making it to the sport’s top level. I want to thank Bob Jenkins and everyone at Front Row Motorsports for making this dream a reality. I know the challenges ahead, but I’m here to work hard and prove myself.”

Alfredo will compete for the Cup Series’ Rookie of the Year Award. He’s currently set to battle fellow 2020 Xfinity competitor Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team for the title.

McDowell, 36, will return for his fourth season with FRM. Last season, he posted the best numbers of his Cup Series, earning a team-record four top-ten finishes and placing 23rd in the standings. Drew Blickensderfer will return for his third season as the No. 34’s crew chief.

“Michael has really solidified his place as our veteran leader,” team Bob Jenkins said in the statement. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that has helped us continue to grow our program.”

Ragan retired from full-time racing after the 2019 campaign but will run the season-opening Daytona 500 in an FRM machine for the second straight season. The 35-year-old brought home FRM’s first Cup Series victory in 2013 at Talladega and placed fourth in last season’s opener.

Debuting in 2005 and opening up full-time racing four years later, FRM has gained a reputation as one of NASCAR’s stronger low-budget teams. The team made a surprising appearance in the 2016 Cup Series playoffs, earning a spot when Chris Buescher won a rain-shortened race at Pocono.

In addition to their Cup Series reveals, FRM also announced that Todd Gilliland would return to his role in the team’s Truck Series entry. Gilliland, 20, earned four top-five finishes en route to a playoff appearance in the No. 38 truck last season. His father drove for Jenkins and FRM at the Cup level for six full seasons, notably sitting on the pole for the July 2014 race at Daytona and finishing second behind Ragan at the aforementioned Talladega triumph.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags