NASCAR America: Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto run well in the pack

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While most eyes are focused at the front of the pack, some incredible performances often go unnoticed outside of the top 10. On Tuesday, NASCAR America showcased three drivers who had outstanding runs in the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

“I’m going to go with Chris Buescher and his 12th-place finish,” Landon Cassill said. “I thought he had a solid day. You know, his teammate is AJ Allmendinger … is an animal at these road courses, but Chris just put together a solid day and he’s a good driver at Sonoma. I worked with Chris when we both drove for Front Row Motorsports and I can tell you that I’m pretty sure he still holds the record in the Ford simulator for the fastest lap at Sonoma. … I used to use his car as a Chase car in the sim to help my laps at Sonoma.”

That was Buescher’s third consecutive top 20 on a road course and it comes on the heels of an 11th last August at Watkins Glen International.

Matt DiBenedetto has never been known as a road racer. In six previous starts on this type of track, he had never cracked the top 20 – until Sunday’s race at Sonoma when he scored a career-best 17th.

“My ‘Running with the Pack’ guy’s also not a road course guy: Matt DiBenedetto finished 17th at Sonoma after starting 30th and that is the ninth time in 16 races that he’s outperformed where he qualified,” Nate Ryan said. “I think that’s significant, I think that tells you how good GoFas Racing is, making the most of what they have.”

Dale Jarrett went a little deeper in the field.

“I’m going with somebody, who his team has only ran their seventh race at Sonoma and that’s our colleague Parker Kligerman. … He’s an outstanding road racer. He has that background, but he’s a good racer everywhere he goes. He ran inside the top 20 most of the day.”

For more, watch the video above.

Podcast: Front Row Motorsports explains how it improves with smaller budget, unique sponsor deals

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Running a Cup Series team is not a cheap endeavor.

One person who knows this is Jerry Freeze, the general manager of Front Row Motorsports.

Owned by Bob Jenkins, the two-car Ford team runs the No. 34 of Michael McDowell and No. 38 of David Ragan and has a technical partnership with Roush Fenway Racing.

Freeze sat down with Nate Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss how FRM works with smaller budgets and its unique business-to-business sponsorship deals through Jenkins’ trucking company, MDS Transport, and restaurant business, Charter Foods.

Freeze calls Love’s Travel Shops, which sponsors half the races on McDowell’s car, a “textbook example” of such a deal. Their partnership began in 2013.

“Bob owns a trucking company with about 300 over the road truck on the road,” Freeze said. “They’ve got to get fuel somewhere. That’s kind of how the Love’s Travel Shop deal started for us.”

Freeze describes it as a “slightly smaller scale” version of the relationship between Team Penske and Shell.

Unlike larger teams, Front Row doesn’t yet have an optical scanning station at its shop to mimic this season’s new system for inspecting cars at the track. There is one available to teams at the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina,

“We went into it thinking, ‘We’ll never need to have one of those, NASCAR’s got one, we can go over there whenever we want,’ ” Freeze said.

The team also relies on the scanner located at Roush Fenway Racing. But it’s a challenge to take cars to Roush, with its shop also in Concord, nearly an hour away from Front Row’s base in Statesville.

Buying its own scanner is beginning to look like a “necessary evil” for Freeze, who said he’s heard it might cost at least $300,000 but would be worth the investment because teams need to check the cars many times through the building process.

“I think if you’re really going to try to optimize the car through each step of what you do, that might be the way to go,” Freeze said.

When it comes to becoming more competitive, Freeze and Jenkins have been encouraged to invest more resources and money into the team by moves NASCAR has made to lower costs, including requiring teams to use engines in multiple races, spec radiators and the controversial common pit guns.

“It put it in a place where, yeah, it’s still pretty tough for Front Row to get to, but it’s not as high as it use to be,” Freeze said of the engine rule. “With spec radiators, we were spending $9,000 for radiator in the past. Now a spec radiator is, I don’t know, a third of that.”

Freeze also addressed the future of one of the team’s three charters, which is leased to TriStar Motorsports this season.

“You can’t do that forever with the way the rules are set up,” Freeze said. “We’ll have to make a decision, either we’ve got to operate (it) ourselves or maybe we sell it to TriStar some day, I don’t know. … Even though we weren’t in a position to run three cars and we’re still not today, it’s kind of nice to have in your pocket just in case something came along that was just phenomenal, and we needed one.”

Click on the embed above to hear the podcast. It also is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Stitcher.

David Ragan to be honored by Georgia ahead of 400th Cup start

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Sunday will be a big day for David Ragan when he fires up the engine of his No. 38 Ford for the Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The Front Row Motorsports driver will be making his 400th start in the series, a little more than 11 years after his first (a 42nd on Sept. 24, 2006 at Dover International Speedway).

Sunday’s race is made more significant with Ragan, 32, being a native of Unadilla, Georgia. The town is located roughly 95 miles south of the track in Hampton.

“Atlanta Motor Speedway is special to me because I grew up at that track,” Ragan said in a release. “I raced my Legends car there as a kid in the 90s and early 2000s. My dad still works there and has an office there. It’s just always has been a second home to me. So, we couldn’t have scripted it better to have my 400th start be in Atlanta.”

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Ragan will start his race weekend festivities Thursday at the state capitol building in Atlanta. Ragan and track president Ed Clark will attend a ceremony in the General Assembly where the legislature will issue a proclamation honoring Ragan’s achievement.

Once Sunday arrives, Ragan won’t just have friends and family in attendance to celebrate his milestone.

Ragan recently reread fan letters he received during his 2006 season when he made two starts in the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing leading into his rookie 2007 season.

He then reached out to some of those fans to invite them to the race. As a result, two fans from the Atlanta area and two fans from Missouri will be Ragan’s VIP guests for the race. Ragan is paying for their travel to track.

“Pulling out those old fan letters and contacting those people to invite them to come was cool,” Ragan said. “They were pretty surprised but jumped at the opportunity.”

Ragan’s car will be sponsored by Atlanta-based auction company Fr8Auctions.

In his Cup career, Ragan has two wins, 15 top fives, 39 top 10s and two poles.

His wins came in the July 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona and the May 2013 race at Talladega.

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Love’s Travel Stops returns as Front Row Motorsports sponsor

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Front Row Motorsports and Love’s Travel Stops have extended their relationship into a sixth year, the team announced Monday.

The company will sponsor the No. 34 Ford of Michael McDowell in 18 races, including the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

It will also be on the No. 34 for both races at Texas Motor Speedway, the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

“We look forward to kicking off another great season in Daytona with Front Row Motorsports and welcoming our new driver of the No. 34 Love’s Ford, Michael McDowell,” said Dave Frankenfield, vice president of marketing for Love’s Travel Stops, in a press release. “(Team owner) Bob Jenkins and (General Manager) Jerry Freeze continue to provide great value and flexibility in our partnership while working tirelessly to put a competitive car on the track each week. They also help create a unique race-day experience that allows our customers and employees to be a part of the Love’s race team.”

The team also announced McDowell, entering his first year with FRM, will be paired with crew chief Derrick Finley. The veteran crew chief has been with the team since 2011 and worked with David Ragan last season.

UPDATE: FRM announced Tuesday that McDowell’s long-time sponsor, K-Love, will be on the No. 34 in five races: Phoenix (March), Richmond International Raceway (April), Daytona International Speedway (July), Watkins Glen International (August) and Charlotte Motor Speedway (September).

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Here’s what is new in 2018 for Cup teams

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A new year brings many changes. Such is the case for NASCAR teams. Here’s a look at some of the key changes heading into the 2018 season for Cup teams that have announced drivers for this season.

(Drivers are listed in order of their car number with where they finished in the points last year)

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (12th in points in 2017)

What’s new: Chip Ganassi Racing announced Wednesday that Doug Duchardt has been hired to be the organization’s chief operating officer.

What’s the same: McMurray is back for a ninth season with the team in his second stint there. Matt McCall begins his fourth season with McMurray.

 

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (4th)

What’s new: Discount Tire moves over to be a primary sponsor of Keselowski’s car for 10 races.

What’s the same: Keselowski is back with crew chief Paul Wolfe for an eighth consecutive season.

 

No. 3 Austin Dillon (11th)

What’s new: He has only one teammate, Ryan Newman, at Richard Childress Racing, with the team cutting back to two cars for 2018.

What’s the same: Crew chief Justin Alexander is back after being paired with Dillon in May 2017.

 

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (3rd)

What’s new: Wife DeLana delivered the couple’s second child, a daughter in late December.

What’s the same: Crew chief Rodney Childers is back for a fifth season with Harvick. Since they’ve been together, they’ve won one championship, scored 14 victories and captured 13 poles.

 

No. 6 Trevor Bayne (22nd)

What’s new: AdvoCare is back but with a new paint scheme for this season. 

What’s the same: Matt Puccia is back as Bayne’s crew chief. They’ve been together since the 2016 season.

 

No. 9 Chase Elliott (5th)

What’s new: A new number for the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

What’s the same: Crew chief Alan Gustafson is back and Elliott, who enters his third Cup season, seeks his first career series win.

 

No. 10 Aric Almirola (29th)

What’s new: A new ride for Almirola, as he moves from Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s just among the many changes. Almirola also will have a new crew chief. John Klausmeier, who has been an engineer with the organization since 2009 and filled in as in interim crew chief previously, moves into that position for Almirola’s team. And a new look. Smithfield joins Almirola in the move, but its car will be black and white.

What’s the same: Even with the move, Almirola is driving a Ford again. 

 

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (6th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Wheeler is back for his third season with Hamlin. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles the previous two seasons.

 

No. 12 Ryan Blaney (9th)

What’s new: A new team. Blaney moves from the Wood Brothers to a third entry for Team Penske. He’ll be teammates to Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Team Penske purchased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing for Blaney’s car.

What’s the same: Crew chief Jeremy Bullins joins Blaney in the move from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske.

 

No. 13 Ty Dillon (24th)

What’s new: Crew chief Matt Borland joins the team from Richard Childress Racing.

What’s the same: Germain Racing remains aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

 

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (18th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz is paired with Bowyer for a second season in a row.

 

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (13th)

What’s new: Stenhouse is no longer dating Danica Patrick

What’s the same: Crew chief Brian Pattie and Stenhouse are set to begin their second season together after winning two races and making the playoffs last season.

 

No. 18 Kyle Busch (2nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: This will be the fourth Cup season for crew chief Adam Stevens and Busch. They’ve won 14 races and 11 poles the past three seasons together.

 

No. 19 Daniel Suarez (20th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Suarez is back with Arris and Stanley as sponsors in 2018.

 

No. 20 Erik Jones (19th)

What’s new: A new driver in this car that Matt Kenseth had run the past five seasons. Also, crew chief Chris Gayle moves with Jones, the 2017 Cup rookie of the year, from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2018 campaign.

What’s the same: The car has the same number as last year.

 

No. 21 Paul Menard (23rd)

What’s new: A new home for Menard, who goes from Richard Childress Racing to the Wood Brothers. Greg Erwin will be the new crew chief, taking over for Jeremy Bullins, who moves from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske with Ryan Blaney.

What’s the same: The Wood Brothers.

 

No. 22 Joey Logano (17th)

What’s new: Logano’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child in January.

What’s the same: Crew chief Todd Gordon is back for his sixth season with Logano. They’ve combined to win 16 races and 14 poles working together.

 

No. 24 William Byron (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: A new driver and new number for what had been the No. 5 team at Hendrick Motorsports. The Xfinity Series champion moves up from JR Motorsports. He’ll have Darian Grubb as his crew chief.

What’s the same: Liberty University, a longtime backer of Byron, is back as a sponsor.

 

No. 31 Ryan Newman (16th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Caterpillar, which has been a partner with Richard Childress Racing since 2009, will sponsor Newman’s car in select races in 2018.

 

No. 32 Matt DiBenedetto (32nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: DiBenedetto is back with the team for a second consecutive year.

 

No. 34 Michael McDowell (26th)

What’s new: New ride for McDowell, who moves from Leavine Family Racing to Front Row Motorsports and joins David Ragan at that organization. Front Row Motorsports also has expanded its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

What’s the same: Team remains in the Ford camp.

 

No. 37 Chris Buescher (25th)

What’s new: The team purchased a charter after leasing one last season.

What’s the same: Buescher is back for his second year with the team.

 

No. 38 David Ragan (30th)

What’s new: He has a new teammate with Michael McDowell joining the team and replacing Landon Cassill.

What’s the same: Ragan is back for his fifth season (in two stints) with Front Row Motorsports.

 

No. 41 Kurt Busch (14th)

What’s new: Is what’s old. Busch is back with Stewart-Haas Racing as is sponsor Monster Energy after his contract option was not picked up last season amid questions about sponsorship. Busch also has a new crew chief. Billy Scott moves from the No. 10 team to be Busch’s crew chief this season. Scott replaces Tony Gibson, who moves into a position at the shop.

What’s the same: The car number for Busch, who will enter his fifth season at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

 

No. 42 Kyle Larson (8th)

What’s new: A new sponsor for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Credit One will replace Target on the No. 42 Chevrolet in 2018. Also Larson got engaged to girlfriend Katelyn Sweet in December.

What’s the same: Larson will be teamed with crew chief Chad Johnston for a third consecutive year. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles together. 

 

No. 43 Darrell Wallace Jr. (50th)

What’s new: Wallace joins the team after running four races for Richard Petty Motorsports when Aric Almirola was injured last season. RPM also has switched from Ford to Chevrolet and formed an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and will get its engines from ECR Engines this season. Team also is adding sponsorship with Smithfield putting most of its resources with Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

What’s the same: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer returns to be Wallace’s crew chief.

 

No. 47 AJ Allmendinger (27th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: This will be Allmendinger’s fifth season with JTG Daugherty Racing.

 

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (10th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: He’s back with crew chief Chad Knaus for a 17th consecutive year.

 

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (1st)

What’s new: A new moniker for Truex – reigning Cup champion. Also, the team is back to a one-car operation with the shuttering of the No. 77 team.

What’s the same: Champion crew chief Cole Pearn is back to lead this team.

 

No. 88 Alex Bowman (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: Bowman takes over the former ride of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports.

What’s the same: Greg Ives is back as the team’s crew chief.

 

No. 95 Kasey Kahne (15th)

What’s new: Kahne joins Leavine Family Racing, replacing Michael McDowell. Travis Mack, who had been the car chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team at Hendrick Motorsports, makes the move to be Kahne’s crew chief.

What’s the same: The car number for the team.

 

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