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Matt Tifft, Front Row Motorsports part ways so Tifft can ‘focus on my health’

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Front Row Motorsports and driver Matt Tifft announced Wednesday they have decided to end their agreement so that Tifft can focus on his health.

Tifft, a rookie in the Cup Series, said he can’t commit to racing in 2020 following his seizure at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 26.

Tifft has been replaced by John Hunter Nemechek in the No. 36 Ford for the last two races and this weekend’s season finale in Miami.

Tifft, 23, had surgery to remove a tumor in his brain on July 21, 2016. Tifft said on Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway that scans of the area where the tumor was located looked good. Tifft has shared his process since the seizure on social media.

Jeff Dennison, senior director of sales and marketing for Front Row Motorsports, said then Tifft had a two-year agreement with the team and it planned to honor that.

Statement from Matt Tifft:

“I’ve made the decision to focus on my health and there is no rush or timetable to get back behind the wheel. Because of that, I can’t commit to racing full-time in 2020. I can’t say when I’ll be ready to race again, but I believe I will come back. I love this sport, the people, and I would like to be a part of it next year in some capacity.

“I want to thank Bob Jenkins, Jerry Freeze and the entire Front Row Motorsports organization for allowing me to live my dream of racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. They are great people and it’s been awesome to race there. I look forward to what’s next in racing when the time is right.”

Statement from Bob Jenkins, Owner, Front Row Motorsports:

“Matt has always shown us a lot of determination and courage. He’s a fighter and I believe, like him, that he’ll return to driving. For now, we support Matt and his need to focus on his health and his family. Racing will be there when it’s time. We want to thank Matt and his family for being a part of Front Row Motorsports and helping us continue to grow.”

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Michael McDowell to honor Jimmy Means with Darlington scheme

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Front Row Motorsports is changing things up on its No. 34 Ford for the Throwback Weekend at Darlington Raceway next week (6 p.m. Sept 1 on NBCSN).

After three years of using the same retro Love’s Travel Stops paint scheme, the team will show up in Darlington next weekend with Dockside Logistics as Michael McDowell‘s primary sponsor. With that sponsor comes a tribute to long-time NASCAR owner and former driver Jimmy Means.

McDowell’s car will be made to look like the No. 52 Alka-Seltzer Pontiac Means owned and drove part-time from 1989-91 in the Cup Series.

One of Means’ cars, which was driven by Mike Wallace, is located in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car graveyard.

More: Retro Rundown of Southern 500 paint schemes

Front Row Motorsports was originally known as Means-Jenkins Motorsports, based on a partnership between Means and current FRM team owner Bob Jenkins. Their relationship began with Jenkins sponsoring Means at Bristol with his local Taco Bell franchise, which led Jenkins to a partial ownership of Means’ race team. The team was active for one year before Jenkins separated and founded Front Row Motorsports.

“Throwback weekend at Darlington is one of my favorites of the whole year,” McDowell said in a press release. “It’s fun to recreate some of the most well-known paint schemes throughout the history of our sport. Our owner, Bob Jenkins, has always admired Jimmy Means, and the Alka-Seltzer car is definitely a favorite of his. I’m really excited that we can honor their friendship with our No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford.”

Meet the ‘Gen 7 for NASCAR’ that could include shorter races and capped costs

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Are shorter races better? That’s a discussion taking place in NASCAR, along with the length of the season and other key topics.

“We have to keep (fans) engaged,” car owner Jack Roush said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “We have to think about their attention spans. The races may need to get shorter.  That could be cost savings all the way around. Probably need to get shorter. 

“People say we need to race fewer times. I’m not sure that’s true. I used to tell (NASCAR Vice Chairman) Mike Helton, if he had three or four races a week, I’d be there for him. I don’t know if I’d say that today.”

Already this week, Kevin Harvick has advocated eliminating the Clash, and Denny Hamlin has noted one of the most popular events in the Olympics is the 100-meter dash instead of the marathon, a hint to shorter races

These comments have been made as the sport looks to cut costs for teams and energize fans who can become weary over a 38-race season that goes from February to November. NASCAR President Steve Phelps said last year that various ideas would be considered for the 2020 schedule and beyond. 

Car owner Roger Penske, whose organization is coming off Joey Logano’s Cup championship season, likens the sport’s look at race lengths to its focus on the next car, which is targeted to debut in 2021.

“I think we’re really talking about Gen 7 for NASCAR,” Penske said, using the term for the next car. “It’s not just the car or the engine. I think it’s the show, it’s the length of the races, it’s where we’re going to run, are we going to run more at night, short tracks. Let’s call it Gen 7 for NASCAR, not just the car.”

A shorter season could limit how many weekends NASCAR goes head-to-head against the NFL in the fall. Shorter races could provide the opportunity for midweek races. The belief from those advocating shorter races is that it would create a better show for fans.

“I think it’s an exciting time for us really in the sport,” car owner Joe Gibbs said. “You know, there’s times that you struggle, and I think we have struggled some, but I honestly think (NASCAR Chairman) Jim France is on board and after it.  I think we, having constant meetings with everybody has kind of put everything on the table. 

“We’ve got a great fan base, but I think everything is really out there, scheduling, everything that you’re talking about, cost savings, everything is on the table. And so sometimes when you go through a tough time, those wind up being the best times because it causes you to really think your way through things.”

Just as important to teams are the costs, which NASCAR continues to look to cut. There’s also been talk of some type of spending limitation for teams.

“You’re going to see other things happen with the cars, engine packages, that’s going to reduce the cost,” car owner Rick Hendrick said. “So NASCAR is really on it. When you look at it, we talk about a spending cap. I don’t know how you regulate that with all we have going on. I mean, everything is on the table.”

Bob Jenkins, car owner for Front Row Motorsports, said cost containment can make an impact for his three-car organization.

“The ultimate goal has always got to be how can we do more with less with any team,” he said. “I think some of the larger teams have felt the financial pinch maybe more so than we have. When you’re in a constant evolution mode, it’s hard for us to keep up. We can make suspension changes a few times a year. Like Roger said, we can’t change cars every week.

“In previous years, we were always a generation or two behind and it shows on our performance. I think now when they come with these common parts that are produced by a third-party manufacturer that can’t be tweaked or re-engineered it only helps a team like us.”

Bump & Run: Who should give command to start engines?

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Who is one person you’d like to see give the command for a race?

Nate Ryan: Cale Yarborough

Dustin Long: Dave Marcis. Ranks fourth in all-time Cup starts with 883 and won five times. He embodies the spirit of a racer. Let him get those engines fired one time. #BringBackDave 

Jerry Bonkowski: Tony Stewart in his own inimitable way.

Daniel McFadin: Since 2007, I’ve firmly believed actor Kevin James should be NASCAR’s designated command to start engines person. 

Who is someone not in the NASCAR Hall of Fame that should be in it?

Nate Ryan: Smokey Yunick. Mechanics and crew chiefs were underrepresented in the first few years of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. That mostly has been addressed since then (notably with Ray Evernham’s recent induction), but Yunick’s name has yet to appear on the ballot. He certainly is worthy of candidacy and should be enshrined some day

Dustin Long: Harold Brasington, founder of Darlington Raceway. He was a visionary who created NASCAR’s first big paved track nearly a decade before Daytona emerged and helped change the sport. That’s worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Jerry Bonkowski: Ricky Rudd. He was the longtime iron man of NASCAR, not to mention a winner of 23 races. He’s long overdue to be inducted.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going with two men that deserve to go into the Hall of Fame together: Bob Jenkins and Dr. Jerry Punch. The election of Ken Squier has set the precedent for media members being selected. While Squier was the voice and narrator for a certain generation of NASCAR fans, Jenkins and Punch were more active and omnipresent with their ESPN and ABC coverage from the early ’80s to 2000. Outside the Daytona 500, Coke 600 and races on TNN, if you’re watching a highlight of a NASCAR race from that period, it’s likely being announced and reported on by Jenkins and Punch. Jenkins was even present in NASCAR video games in the late ’90s. For my generation, he was the voice of NASCAR in our formative years.

Who are you most worried about three races into the season?

Nate Ryan: Driving on a one-year deal and needing to produce results quickly, two crashes in three races is a tough start for Kurt Busch. Even though his teammate finished 15th at Las Vegas, AJ Allmendinger’s JTG Daugherty Racing ride has seemed well off the pace since a 10th in the Daytona 500.

Dustin Long: Clint Bowyer. Although it’s early and he’s 11th in points, he’s talked about he and the team needing to be consistent. Haven’t seen it yet. For him to match the success of teammate Kevin Harvick and be a contender to win races, that consistency needs to start happening.

Jerry Bonkowski: How can you not be worried about Jimmie Johnson, who is sitting in 29th place? Sure, he finished 12th at Las Vegas, but he needs a win — or at least a top-five — in the worst way.

Daniel McFadin: Any Chevrolet driver not named Kyle Larson. He was the only Chevy driver to finish in the top 10 in Las Vegas and one of three to finish in the top 15 at Atlanta. Like Toyota teams early last year, Chevy teams seem to be struggling to figure out the new Camaro body so far. Unless you’re the No. 42 team, which is keeping the same pace it had in Homestead in November.

Kyle Larson finished no worse than second in each race of last year’s West Coast swing and he started this tour with a third-place finish. How likely is he to score another top-five finish on West Coast swing.

Nate Ryan: The odds are good. He qualifies so well at Phoenix, and Fontana suits his style superbly.

Dustin Long: Count on it.

Jerry Bonkowski: He loves Phoenix and Fontana. Not only do I see him getting top fives at both places, he’s a good candidate to win both races, as well.

Daniel McFadin: Larson has won the last four races at 2-mile speedways and should be the favorite to win next week at Auto Club Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports adds Michael McDowell, expands technical alliance with Roush Fenway

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Front Row Motorsports will field entries for David Ragan and Michael McDowell in 2018 while expanding its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, the team announced Thursday.

McDowell joins the Bob Jenkins-owned team after four years of driving the No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing before being replaced by Kasey Kahne.

The native of Phoenix, Arizona, McDowell replaces Landon Cassill as Ragan’s teammate.

McDowell, 32, has 249 Cup starts since 2008, but only two full-time seasons under his belt. He made one start for Front Row at Watkins Glen in 2013.

“Since I first drove for Bob at Watkins Glen, we’ve kept in touch and have felt like there might be an opportunity to work together again, and the timing worked out perfectly,” McDowell said in a press release. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a teammate, so I’m really looking forward to working with David, whom I’ve become pretty good friends with over the years. As a team now, we go into the season knowing we have five or six races that put us in position to get a win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”

Ragan returns to Front Row for his fifth season. Ragan earned the organization its first Cup victory in 2013 at Talladega. Ragan has two wins, 15 top fives and 39 top-10 finishes in his Cup career.

“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said in a press release. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”

Crew chief assignments have not been finalized. FRM will announce sponsor partners and driver car numbers at a later date.

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