2022 Cup Series Season in Review: Front Row Motorsports

It feels odd to write this, but Front Row Motorsports had a decent season for a team that didn’t win or a race and landed cars in the top five in just three of 72 attempts during the NASCAR Cup Series season.

For a two-car team with nothing close to the resources of the sport’s big players, Bob Jenkins’ organization negotiated the move to the Next Gen era just fine and posted some of its best results in 14 seasons as a full-time team.

Front Row Motorsports veteran Michael McDowell had his best year

Todd Gilliland and Michael McDowell wait on the grid during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Kwik Trip 250 at Road America on July 2, 2022 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. |  Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Todd Gilliland and Michael McDowell wait on the grid during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Kwik Trip 250 at Road America on July 2, 2022 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images

No, Michael McDowell didn’t repeat as the Daytona 500 champion, but how many times can you count on Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski opening the door for you by screwing up with the white flag waving?

The 2021 Daytona triumph remains McDowell’s only victory in 429 starts, but every other aspect of the just-completed season with Front Row Motorsports screams, “Big win.” The mere fact that he finished seventh and sixth at Darlington, maybe the most torturous oval in NASCAR, speaks volumes. But McDowell was also running near the front on superspeedways and road courses.

After a career-best five top-10 finishes in 2021, McDowell blew that away with 12 results in the top 10. He also set a career high by finishing on the lead lap 24 times, and the 37-year-old Phoenix native scored personal bests in average start (17.0) and finish (16.7) positions.

He has moved way beyond the start-and-park days following the Great Recession.

Todd Gilliland’s season was what you’d expect from a rookie

Third-generation driver Todd Gilliland was making a big leap from his father’s team in the truck series to replacing Anthony Alfredo in the No. 38 Ford. The Front Row Racing brass didn’t get radically different results by swapping one rookie for another, but there was enough of a difference to rate the move as a positive.

Gilliland largely stayed out of trouble throughout his first season in the top series, which is all you can ask from a newcomer. His average start/finish split of 27./23.2 bodes well for his future, and Gilliland also added to his past by dropping down to the truck series to win the Clean Harbors 150 at Knoxville Raceway on June 18 while the Cup Series was on a bye.

Front Row Motorsports hasn’t announced its 2023 driver lineup yet, but it would be stunning if Gilliland and Michael McDowell weren’t brought back for 36 more starts.

Overall Front Row Motorsports grade: B

RELATED: Zane Smith Continues the Front Row Motorsports NASCAR Week From Hell

The hot rumor late in the 2021 regular season was that Front Row Motorsports was in talks to sell one or both of its charters to 23XI Racing, which was working separately to bring in Kurt Busch as part of an expanded garage. That didn’t materialize, and it’s a good thing for 60-year-old owner Bob Jenkins.

Charter sale prices have soared in the past two years, and FRM wasn’t all that far behind the performance of the Ford team at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing in the first season of the Next Gen car. However much Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin may have waved in front of Jenkins a year ago wouldn’t and shouldn’t be enough to leave the owner inclined to return anyone’s phone call now.

The one down note came in mid-October when Michael McDowell crew chief Blake Harris announced he would leave at the end of the season to manage Alex Bowman’s No. 48 Chevy at Hendrick Motorsports. Harris made a favorable impression in his first season at FRM after previously serving as the car chief with Martin Truex Jr.’s team.

On the other hand, FRM made a wise call in promising Zane Smith some Cup Series rides in 2023 even before he won the Camping World Truck Series championship.

“I told Michael McDowell a few days after Blake had made his decision, I said, ‘You know, it’s kind of like a bad news-good news situation from what I can see so far,’” organization GM Jerry Freeze told NBC Sports. “’The bad news is we’ve run so good, there’s teams that want to hire our people. The good news is we’ve run so good, we’re getting a lot of decent phone calls from guys that want to come to work for us, and that wasn’t happening in the past.’”

By the numbers

Michael McDowell
2021 / 2022
Todd Gilliland
2022
Wins1 / 00
Top 5s2 / 21
Top 10s5 / 122
Top 20s18 2311
Average Start17.4 / 17.027.5
Average Finish20.5 / 16.723.2
Laps Led26 / 6711

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected]