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Long: How a decision on a Friday impacted pit road in Atlanta Cup race

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HAMPTON, Ga. — A strategic decision that didn’t work as planned and steadfastness to protocol created much angst on pit road for the teams of Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Alex Bowman on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Frustrations boiled during the race. Logano lost more than 10 spots in each of his first two pit stops when he was blocked by Bowman in the stall ahead. After being blocked a second time, Logano said on his radio “if I’m blocked in (again), I will push him off the jack.”

Truex, who was pitting behind Logano, also was angry with being blocked by Logano. Truex said on his radio at one point that he’d push Logano off the jack if it happened again.

Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because of the likelihood they will be on the lead lap and pit together under caution throughout the race.

“I still don’t understand why he chose that pit stall because it screwed himself a lot, too,” Cole Pearn said about Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon.

It goes back to a decision Gordon made Friday.

“We didn’t focus on qualifying and paid the penalty for it,” Gordon said after Logano’s up-and-down day ended with a 23rd-place finish in a race won by teammate Brad Keselowski.

Cup teams had one practice Friday before qualifying. Gordon said the team made only one qualifying run, focusing on race setup instead. Logano ran 26 laps in the session, second only to Denny Hamlin, who ran 27 laps. Aric Almirola, who would win the pole, ran eight laps in the session.

“Honestly, we focused a lot on race trim because I wasn’t sure if, one, we would qualify, it looked like rain was coming during qualifying, and two, whether we would get to practice on Saturday,” because of weather, Gordon said. “I wanted to make sure we had a good race balance. We had really good pace Friday in race trim but didn’t make enough changes to go to qualifying, honestly.”

Pit stall picks are based on qualifying. Logano qualified 27th, meaning he had the 27th pick of the 40 pit stalls.

Gordon prefers a stall near pit exit at Atlanta. Since being teamed with Logano in 2013, Gordon has picked between the first and sixth pit stall at Atlanta every year.

When it came time for him to pick his pit stall for Sunday’s race, pit stall No. 5 — in front of Truex and behind Bowman — was the closest stall to pit exit.

“I do like to be down there,” Gordon said of being as close to pit exit as possible. “Honestly, this is a place you green-flag pit, you short pit … we do that separate. As we did today. You work around who is around you. It was definitely a challenge to be up there.”

The next closest pit stall available when Gordon made his pick was stall No. 10 in front of Ryan Newman and behind William Byron. Pit stall No. 14 also was available, but it was in front of Keselowski’s stall, and teammates do not pit next to each other.

“I hate being in the middle of pit road because there’s a lot of crap that happens there,” Gordon said. “Sometimes, you pick yourself into a hole to avoid catastrophe.”

On the first two stops, Truex was ahead of Logano on the track. So Truex entered his stall first and then Logano had to maneuver around him. Bowman was behind both. That meant Bowman had to maneuver around Logano’s car to enter his stall. That led to Logano being boxed in.

It’s just a tough situation when you got (Logano) coming in around (Truex),” said Greg Ives, crew chief for Bowman. “He’s not in an optimal position to come out and we’re not in an optimal position to get in.

“Todd Gordon came over and asked if we could give them a little more room. He understood the situation. When (Logano) is pointing toward the wall, and we’re pointing toward the wall, you’re never really going to get out of that. That comes down to Friday qualifying and pit selection. He knew his pit selection got him into that situation, and it wasn’t going to break until we got our cars better and stayed in front of them.”


No Hendrick Motorsports car finished better than 15th Sunday — the sixth consecutive race the organization has gone without a top-five finish. Hendrick’s last top-five result came with Chase Elliott’s win at Kansas in October.

Alex Bowman led the Hendrick group by placing 15th. William Byron was 17th. Elliott placed 19th, a lap down. Jimmie Johnson finished 24th, two laps down. Johnson has not had a top-10 finish in his last seven races on a 1.5-mile track.

“We’ve just got to get our cars better,” Bowman’s crew chief, Greg Ives, told NBC Sports. “We need to get just more overall speed. I don’t think anybody’s car (in the field) drives good. It’s just that one is faster than the other, and that’s who wins. So we’ve got to do a little bit better job with our cars. We go back home, and you’ve just got to get back to work.”


Front Row Motorsports has a unique setup for its pit crews this season.

It is using crews from three different organizations.

Michael McDowell’s pit crew is from Chip Ganassi Racing. Rookie Matt Tifft’s pit crew is from Stewart-Haas Racing. David Ragan’s pit crew is from Roush Fenway Racing.

The team used a pit crew from SHR and Roush last year but needed to find a third unit when it added the team for Tifft. Ganassi had a crew available because it no longer was pitting Leavine Family Racing’s car with that team moving to Toyota and getting its pit crew from Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Using pit crews developed by other teams allows Front Row Motorsports to use the savings for its cars and organization. If Front Row had its own pit crew program, it would need at least 20 people (three teams of five and then at least some backups), training facilities and more.

Because these larger teams have programs in place, it makes sense for Front Row to use those team members. The benefit for the bigger teams is it helps develop those who are not on their own teams.

“We’d rather have the best group out of those organizations,” Jerry Freeze, general manager for Front Row Motorsports, told NBC Sports. “We felt that would be a better pit crew for us than going out and recruiting our own and coaching our own.”


Are changes coming to the rules package for Daytona and Talladega?

Daniel Hemric, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman took part in a Goodyear tire test the two days after the Daytona 500.

“They had to slow us down,” Bowman said. “It will be interesting what gets brought back.”

Larson said one of the changes made to slow them down was a larger spoiler.

What that could mean, if anything, remains to be seen.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said of any adjustments: “It’s probably premature to talk about that. We’re just downloading that data.”


The Toyota Racing Development pipeline of talent is deep, and that puts the pressure on young drivers to perform and work their way up.

After winning Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, Kyle Busch was asked about 18-year-old Todd Gilliland, who is running the full season for Kyle Busch Motorsports after competing in 19 of 23 races last year. Gilliland was winless last year and finished with nine top 10s.

“I don’t know how many times last year we were in meetings and I was just yelling at him about ‘Let’s go,’ ” Busch said. “Our (stuff) is not that slow. You got to get up on top of the wheel and make it happen. Obviously, we kind of proved that here (at Atlanta).”

Gilliland finished ninth in Saturday’s Truck race. Harrison Burton placed eighth but was second on the final restart before falling back.

“I was happy to see Harrison (run) as good as he did, and Todd, we certainly have to work with him and continue to bring him up and get him filled in on what it takes to be fast at these places,” Busch said.

“We’ll hopefully be able to get (Gilliland) places because you know his career is on the line. You don’t get very many chances at this, and I’m sure that we’ll hopefully be able to get him going better. He should have won two races last year, no question about it, but obviously it just didn’t happen. He’s got to show up this year and make it happen.”

Busch was asked if it was just of matter of Gilliland slowing down, taking a step back to take a step forward.

Absolutely,” Busch said. “We’ve had that discussion as well, too. There were times last year where Todd wrecked every week, and we were like, ‘Dude, you got to just slow down, you’ve got to figure out how to finish.’ To finish first, first you must finish, right?

“Obviously there was that discussion that happened. He went on to almost win the road course and then almost win Texas, and he struggled at Phoenix for some reason and struggled at Homestead. So obviously we continue to work on not only Todd, Harrison, but anybody that is behind the wheel, Christian Eckes, Chandler Smith who is going to get the chance later this year, Raphael Lessard. All these guys. If they want to make it, if they want to be a star in this sport, they better perform in KBM stuff because if you don’t, sorry, man, there’s not much left for you.”

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Bankruptcy judge approves sale of BK Racing to Front Row Motorsports

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A day after he put his team in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, BK Racing owner Ron Devine alternated between being combative and conciliatory as he spoke to reporters outside his hauler in the Daytona International Speedway garage.

Losses in the millions, a pile of debt and a bank eager to get more than $8 million back in loans and accrued interest led Devine to go to court to protect his team and its charter — the one item that gave his underfunded team its greatest value.

The paperwork was filed, according to court documents, about 30 minutes before a Feb. 15 hearing in Mecklenburg County Superior Court. That hearing was in regards to Union Bank & Trust’s request of a receiver to operate BK Racing and a preliminary injunction to prevent the team from selling or leasing its charter.

“We’ll get it resolved,” Devine said 48 hours before the Daytona 500. “I promise you, we will get it resolved. The bank wants it resolved, and I want it resolved. We will get it resolved. And I’ll see you in Homestead (for the season finale).

“We will be in Homestead.”

Devine was right six months ago. It got resolved.

But left him without a team.

Judge J. Craig Whitley approved the sale of BK Racing — a team Devine helped bring to Cup in 2012 — to Front Row Motorsports for $2.08 million on Thursday.

In announcing his decision, Whitley called the matter “just a bad situation and we’re doing the best we can with it. I don’t expect anybody to be delighted by it, but it is what it is.”

Devine and the team’s engine supplier objected to the sale Thursday. During an early recess, Devine spoke with the attorney for Union Bank & Trust. After the brief discussion, Devine shook his head, walked away and said: “Then that will do it. Jesus Christ.”

Devine and the team’s engine builder urged the judge to let the team continue through the rest of the season and be sold then. Devine stated that he would be an interested buyer then. Devine, it was noted in court, had made an unqualified bid to get the team back.

On the stand, Devine made a last-minute appeal to the judge not to sell the team: “This is wrong to occur during the season. There is the ability to run the team through the end of the season.”

Devine called it a “misconception that this team is on the brink of collapse.”

Trustee Matt Smith, appointed by the court to take over the team from Devine in late March, said Thursday morning on the stand that “cash continues to be very, very tight.”

Smith also said on the stand that “without sponsorship, I run about $30,000 to $50,000 in the hole” per race. Smith expressed concerns that he would be able to run the team through the end of the season.

The charter requires teams to compete each weekend. If the team missed races, it would allow NASCAR to take the charter back and leave BK Racing with little value. While Smith and many others expressed disappointment that the bidding didn’t generate any more money, Smith recommended the sale take place.

When Devine questioned Smith on cross examination about how long it took for him to provide info on the team’s financial status, Smith said: “The business records you had were atrocious.”

After the hearing, Devine said: “That trustee at the very least ought to be embarrassed. He should have stopped it with one bidder. I just think he was in over his head.”

The judge didn’t see it that way and awarded the charter and assets to Front Row Motorsports. The judge also approved the sale of equipment and 19 chassis (primarily in storage and in various stages of readiness) for $265,000 to Obaika Racing and a hauler to Rick Ware Racing for $35,000.

Front Row Motorsports gets BK Racing’s charter, which guarantees a starting spot in every race and a set amount of money per event, and some of its assets, including the cars it is running. Front Row Motorsports was expected to close on the sale as early as Thursday afternoon. All of BK Racing’s employees will be retained as part of the agreement.

Front Row Motorsports now owns both charters that went to BK Racing when the charter system was created before the 2016 season. BK Racing sold a charter to Front Row Motorsports in December 2016 for $2 million, a sale that did not include any other assets.

Front Row Motorsports, a Ford team will run the former BK Racing team, a Toyota team, as a separate entity through the end of the season.

Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports who attended court Thursday, said the team will not change manufacturers after this season. He also said he did not know who the driver of the BK team will be for next weekend’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Or if the car number will change from No. 23 to No. 35, a number Front Row Motorsports has used for a third entry at times.

Freeze said the team wants to expand to three full-time cars but admits it will be challenging to find the sponsorship at this point to do so for next year. An option for the team would be to lease two of its charters to other teams — it already leases a charter to TriStar Motorsports and could continue that relationship. Charters can be leased once every five years.

“You’ve got to imagine we’ve been assessing the market for who would need to lease a charter next year and who might be interested in buying one of the other charters that we have,” Freeze said after the hearing. “So we think there’s a market out there for sure. It was worth taking the chance and opportunity to see if we could get this one.”

Front Row Motorsports’ bid topped a bid from Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing.

That a Cup team’s fate was settled in a U.S. Bankruptcy courtroom showed how far BK Racing had fallen. Six weeks after Devine filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, he lost control of the team when Smith was assigned as trustee. Devine called the judge’s action then “a sad day for BK.’’

It wouldn’t have to come to that had the team been more fiscally responsible. Court documents show that team lost $29.5 million from 2014-16. Court documents show that the team “budgeted” for a loss of $1.358 million in 2017 in what was described as a “skeletal budget.”

Then, there was the millions owed Union Bank & Trust for the numerous loans (now up to more than $9 million). The IRS filed court documents on March 12 that stated it had a secured claim of $2.5 million and a priority claim of $328,792.47 owed. A former employee and current employee at the time testified in March about having paychecks bounce last year. A former employee said he had a paycheck bounce in September 2017, November 2017 and December 2017 before leaving the team.

In May, court documents listed secured claims against the team at $31.6 million. That included $15 million to the Virginia Racers Group, which included Devine and started the team. Court documents also listed unsecured claims at $773,569.17 and non-priority unsecured claims at more than $5 million.

Smith decided this summer that it was in the best interest to sell the team.

“One of the reasons, and I know that Mr. Devine is in the room and probably doesn’t want to hear this, but I think one of the reasons this team is in trouble is it had the wrong owner,” Smith said in court on July 26. “So I believe the right owner, transition of ownership, would be the best thing for this team.”

Smith stated that day that “the cash flow (for the team) is exceptionally tight” and questioned then about going beyond the end of the season.

With all the money spent, BK Racing rarely ran anywhere close to the front. The organization, which fielded up to four cars at times, had three top-10 finishes in its history.

Sunday, in its last race as BK Racing, Blake Jones finished 27th, 15 laps behind the leaders. Only three other cars that made it to the finish ran fewer laps than Jones.

“It’s a tough business,” Devine said in February at Daytona when asked why he didn’t align with another team to help defray costs. “I think it’s an expensive learning curve. I also think … you’ve got to decide where you are taking the company and I took it down a very independent route, which probably wasn’t the smartest (thing).”

But Devine was not deterred Thursday. As he stood outside the federal courthouse awaiting an Uber ride to the airport, he said he still wanted to be in NASCAR as an owner.

“I’ve got other options,” he said.

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Front Row Motorsports bids highest for BK Racing but judge yet to approve sale

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Front Row Motorsports was the winning bidder for BK Racing at $2 million it was revealed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Tuesday, but the judge did not approve the sale.

Instead, Judge J. Craig Whitley continued the hearing to Thursday after objections from Glenn Thompson, attorney for Race Engines Plus (BK Racing’s engine supplier) and BK Racing car owner Ron Devine.

Thompson told the court that “I think everyone is upset with the outcome except the buyer.” He asked for the extension to see if there was a better solution.

Devine said in court: “The outcome is exactly what I predicted. We ought to slow the train.”

Judge Whitley responded: “You’re the one who started the show.”

Said Devine: “I started the show because of creditors. I started this to stop Union Bank.”

Devine put the team in Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb. 15 — three days before the Daytona 500 — to keep Union Bank & Trust from trying to take control of the team. Trustee Matt Smith was put in charge of the team March 28, relieving Devine of decision-making control.

With the extension, Judge Whitley stated in the court Tuesday: “Don’t read … that I’m opening bidding. This is a continuance and nothing more.”

David Schilli, attorney for Union Bank & Trust, which has stated in court documents that BK Racing owes the bank $9 million in loans and accrued interest, objected to the extension.

“The bank is not willing to let the bird in the hand go,” Schilli said in court. “We were hoping for a spirited competition at the auction and it didn’t happen. It’s time for the process to come to an end.”

The bid from Front Row Motorsports topped the $1.8 million bid from Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing. That was set as the minimum for Monday’s auction.

Although Trustee Matt Smith had said earlier this summer in court that there had been 29 interested parties that contacted him about the team or some of its assets, his attorney, Michael Martinez, said: “Frankly your honor, we’re disappointed in the outcome of the sale.” But Martinez asked the judge to approve the sale of the team.

Monday’s auction was said to have lasted about three minutes.

Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports, said after the hearing that the team had plans for taking in BK Racing but was not ready to announce them. Front Row Motorsports already owns three charters, fielding the teams for David Ragan and Michael McDowell. The team leased its third charter to TriStar Motorsports. Front Row Motorsports bought a charter from BK Racing for $2 million in December 2016.

Devine said the court hearing ended: “I think we have a better offer than that. You can’t have the whole courtroom disappointed with the outcome of sale and then say somehow it worked. I like Bob Jenkins (owner for Front Row). If I don’t have it, I hope he gets it.

“Hopefully, the bank comes to its senses. I felt like the courtroom is finally coming around to realize that this is not the right thing to do.”

In court, Martinez, the attorney for Smith, stated that all that had been sold: Front Row Motorsports bid $2 million for BK Racing and $80,000 assets claimed by Champion Tire and Wheel.

Also, Martinez affirmed the previous sale of equipment to Obaika Racing for $265,000, which included a transporter and 19 chassis in various form from bare chassis to partial body and full body. It also was announced a sale of assets for $35,000 to Rick Ware Racing.

 

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.