Tuesday, Jun 28

Ford Performance NASCAR: Team Penske and Front Row Motorsports Preseason Outlook

WALTER CZARNECKI, Vice Chairman, Team Penske – SOME THINK PENSKE COULD HAVE A LEG UP ON OTHER TEAMS BECAUSE OF ALL THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF RACING YOU HAVE DONE.  ANY VALIDITY TO THAT?  “I think that our experience in all these other series does help, but I’m not sure that it ‘gives us a leg up’ versus the competition because there are other teams that are in similar situations given their OEM affiliations.  There will be a lot of sharing of information, but I will say we’ve had some experience with a similar car in the Australian Supercar Series.  It did quite well there and I think we’ve been able to learn some things running there.  Now whether that gives us some clear-cut advantage as we go down the road, that remains to be seen, but I would say our experience will help us.”

 

WHAT ABOUT THE INVENTORY GOING INTO THE SEASON?  DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH CARS TO FEEL GOOD?  “I do.  In fact, I’m glad you asked that question because I just had a conversation with Mike Nelson, who is our vice president of operations, and we were talking about that very topic, about inventory going into the season and Mike feels like we’re in reasonably good shape right now as we get into the first phase of the season, as we get to the west coast swing, so I think we’re in pretty good shape.  In fact, I was telling Mike I said, ‘We’ll see after the Coliseum how well these new bodies hold up.’  That might have an impact.”

 

HOW DID YOU DETERMINE YOUR CREW CHIEFS FOR THIS YEAR AND WHAT WAS YOUR PROCESS?  “First of all, I want to congratulate Todd and thank him for the years he spent with us and the great success he had with Team Penske.  And now I see he’s getting into the media business.  I heard that this morning that he’s gonna be on SiriusXM, so he’ll be a great great asset there.  In the case of Austin, Jeremy Bullins will remain on the No. 2 car.  He’s gonna bring all that experience.  Paul Wolfe, of course, will remain with Joey as we go into the season and then Jonathan Hassler, who had been a race engineer on the 22 car and then earlier this year moved over and became crew chief on the 21, will be coming back and be working with Ryan Blaney.  I think it’s indicative, it’s an example again of our promoting from within, working within our organization.  We try to identify people, regardless of the position, where if something were to happen to an individual that there be one or two others ready to step in and take that role.  I think Jonathan is an example of that.  A further example, of course, is Brian Wilson, who again started as a race engineer with us.  He worked on the 2 car with Brad for many many years and then with Austin in the Xfinity Series the last three years, and now has the opportunity to work with Len and Eddie and Jon on the Wood Brothers team.  Again, cultivating the experience, working with people, seeing how they operate in our own organization.  We’ve got people identified who have performed and are ready to step into these roles.”

 

WHAT MADE YOU GO INTO WEC THIS YEAR AND WANT TO COMPETE IN THE 24 HOURS OF LE MANS FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1971?  “That’s right.  Mark Donahue and David Hobbs drove that car.  They used to call that, I think that was the world’s fastest Ferrari that never won a race someone once told me.  But going back to our earliest days with Mark Donahue, the roots of our team is really in sports car racing.  First of all, Roger’s experience as a driver and then the development of the team and then Mark coming on board and running in the Trans Am, Can Am, Le Mans – whatever.  We’ve always wanted to be in sports car racing, but the opportunities never quite presented themselves.  We exited in the mid-seventies.  We came back again in the mid-2000s with Porsche.  That passed, continued with Acura in the last couple of years and then this opportunity presented itself with Porsche.  Porsche has been a great partner of ours in other motorsports over the years.  They’re also a business partner of ours.  We’re one of Porsche’s largest dealers in not only the U.S. but in Europe, so we’ve got that relationship and they wanted to go and they wanted to compete and asked us if we would consider forming this alliance – Penske Porsche Motorsports, which will begin running this year in the WEC.  We’re gonna run in the LMP2 category and this is really gonna be a learning experience for us.  I think there are four or five of the events that are off shore.  The endurance events, as you said, we haven’t been to Le Mans in 50 years.  We’ll be going back to Sebring here in a couple of weeks, of course, so it’s gonna be a learning opportunity for us for the team.  We’ve got I say two new drivers, Dane Cameron will be driving.  Dane drove for us in the last couple of years.  Felip Nasr joins us and then Emmanuel Collard, who drove six races for us with the Porsche’s back here in the 2000s, so forming a new team, putting some new people in place both on the Porsche side and the Penske side, again, it’s something we wanted to do and I think Roger has made it very well known that he wanted to go back to Le Mans and do it one more time at least.  So, that’s the short story.  It was a long time in the assembly, but I’m glad we’re at this point.”

 

WHAT’S THE PHILOSOPHY AT TEAM PENSKE REGARDING DRIVERS COMPETING IN OTHER SERIES?  “You’re right.  We’re seeing that and I think it’s good for the sport.  I love to see a Kyle Larson not only run the Cup Series, but I love to see him in a sprint car and midget car.  Who knows, a sports car maybe at some point.  Our philosophy has always been, and I say always been – it has been for many years – to keep the drivers restricted to their own discipline.  We’ve expanded on that in the last couple of years and this year is a good example.  Austin is gonna be driving in one of the support events for the Daytona 24 Hours in a Ford Mustang GT4 and then he’ll be driving in the Daytona 24 Hour race coming up next week.  I think you’re gonna see a couple of our drivers perhaps participating in other series.  It will help them, I believe, in developing those skills for some of the new venues that we’re going to, going back to dirt.  I know it was interesting to watch Joey Logano last year run in a super modified race, I think it was in New Smyrna.  It was quite a whole new experience for him, but it really benefited him when they went to Bristol, so we’ll pick and choose and work with the drivers.  We want to be flexible.  We want to give them opportunities to expand their skill set.  Is Ryan Blaney gonna be running full-time in the World of Outlaws?  I don’t think so, but there will be opportunities that will present themselves.”

 

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE TEAM’S XFINITY PROGRAM GOING INTO THE SEASON?  “At this point we don’t have any races scheduled in the Xfinity program and any decision that we make to run will be sponsor driven.  We’ll work with our sponsors and if there’s an appetite to do something, we’ll certainly sit down and talk with them about the number of races and the drivers that would participate.”

 

WHAT HAS AUSTIN BROUGHT TO THE CUP PROGRAM THAT MAYBE WE’RE MISSING?  “I don’t know that you being the media in general are missing anything about Austin.  I think his experience has been well-documented.  I think everybody has seen the way he’s performed.  I really don’t think you’re missing anything.  We felt that he was ready to make the move last year.  That’s pretty well known, and then when the opportunity presented itself with Brad moving on it just accelerated that to move Austin, but we never had any doubts that he would be a Cup driver for us.”

 

WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS FOR HIM THIS YEAR?  “Run competitively.  I know there are people who have high expectations for him.  I’ve heard it from some in the media.  I’ve heard some pundits talk about his doing this or doing that.  We want him to run competitively, continue to learn, to develop the relationship with his crew chief – with Jeremy – and just build a solid foundation.  Anything else on top of that.  Do I think he’ll win a race?  I happen to think he’ll win a race, maybe more than one, but that’s not one of the goal posts that’s been set.  It’s to go out there and learn, learn, learn because as successful as he’s been in the Xfinity Series, we all know that we’re stepping up to the big league fastball right now.  It’s gonna be a little bit of a different universe.  He’s acquitted himself well in the several races he ran last year, but I think it’s gonna be a challenge for him as he goes through 36 points events this year.”

 

ARE ALLIANCES AS IMPORTANT AS THEY USED TO BE WITH THE ADVENT OF THIS NEXT GEN CAR?  “We believe that they’re just as important and just as critical as they have been in the past.  We are not dismissing them at all.  First of all, we really appreciate the opportunity to work with Len, Eddie and the Wood family.  That’s number one.  That goes without saying.  It’s an honor to be associated with them.  We continue to learn.  We continue to share information.  There are things Eddie said in his comments a minute ago about learning something and we’re not gonna tell everybody.  Well, no, they tell us.  So I think there’s gonna be a lot of benefit because there’s still so much for us to learn, using that cliche.  I know we made great progress on this Next Gen car.  I’ve seen it since the end of the season.  I’ve been in touch with our people to talk about our test results and the learning curve just continues to escalate, continues to go on.  We’re feeling a lot more comfortable, so if there are any things that Eddie, Len, Harrison Burton and Brian Wilson can share with us, we’re all ears.”

 

RCR ANNOUNCED A HEMP-BASED SPONSOR.  HAVE YOU HAD ANY OF THOSE CONVERSATIONS AND DO YOU CONSIDER IT A DIFFICULT ISSUE TO NAVIGATE?  “First, we’ve not had any of those conversations, so I guess I can’t really respond to your question, but you do bring up a good point about sponsors.  Our team at the Cup level is fully sponsored, all three cars, for every race.  I think that’s quite an accomplishment in this day and age.  Our primary spot, of course our partnership with Ford drives everything else, but Pennzoil, Menards and Discount Tire will still be our three primary sponsors, along with the cadre of sponsors that we’ve worked with and partnered with in the past.  We’re always open to talking to new potential partners, but at this point, since we’re in a sold-out position, it would just be conversation.”

 

THIS NEW CAR HAS PROMPTED SOME NEW OWNERSHIP.  IS IT ENCOURAGING TO SEE THAT AND SOME OF THE NEW IDEAS THEY’RE BRINGING?  “I think like most of us on this call we remember those days when 48 cars would show up at a Cup race and try to qualify.  The more the merrier.  It think it’s really illustrative of the strength of this sport.  I saw this report yesterday that I’m sure you all shared in it, but Daytona being a sell out for this year.  I think a lot of that is driven by the Next Gen car.  More team owners, more participation is only gonna make it better for everybody.  This is a golden opportunity given the economic advantages that teams have now to get into this sport.  The cost of entry is somewhat reduced from what it’s been in the past as a result of the new car and we’ve got some bright, young, progressive, aggressive owners participating, so we welcome it, for sure.  That makes it healthy for everybody.”

 

HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR PAST SUPERSPEEDWAY SUCCESS COULD CARRY OVER TO THE NEXT GEN CAR?  “Confidence is an important word.  You’re right, we’ve had great experience over the last several years and we’ve built a wealth of information on the Gen 6 car.  We’re just starting to build that on the Next Gen car with this new iteration.  Having said that, I think the fact that someone said with this Next Gen car teams that were good will continue to be good, so I think we’ll continue to be good because we’ve been in these situations before.  Whether this car is competitive, not competitive, a lot is gonna be learned in these next 10 months that we don’t know now.  I think we bring this wealth of experience with the same people to Daytona and I think that’s gonna serve us in good stead when we race there in a couple weeks.”

 

EDDIE THINKS THE FIRST PERSON TO FIGURE OUT THE CAR COULD HAVE AN EDGE FOR THE SEASON.  DO YOU AGREE?  “Did he say for the season or Daytona?”

 

I WOULD ASSUME FOR THE SEASON, BUT COULD INCLUDE DAYTONA TOO.  “I agree generally, but I think this is gonna be a moving target with the car because, again, at the risk of being redundant here, we haven’t run it in competition yet.  Daytona is one thing.  Fontana is one thing.  Bristol is one thing, so we have a lot to learn.  The new Atlanta track is gonna be a learning experience, so I think that’s what we’re gonna see throughout the entirety of 2022.  Again, I see building this collection of data and then really putting it to work as we get into ‘23.  Now, you might hit on something in a race that you have some success.  I guess that’s what Eddie was probably talking about.  I agree with that for sure.  I’m not ready to make a blanket recommendation for 2022 quite yet.”

 

HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THE DAYTONA TEST AND BEING AT THE TOP OF THE SPEED CHART?  WHAT DOES THAT MEAN AT THIS POINT?  “I really want to be top three at about 6 p.m. on February 20th.  I’m not dismissing the fact that we ran pretty well.  We had some competitive times, but I really don’t put a lot of stock in it.  The whole intent of this exercise the last 48-72 hours was to continue to generate more data, learning how cars run.  I talked to Joey Logano at length after he ran.  He shared some things with me, things that he feels still need to be worked out.  He said we worked on the low-hanging fruit, but there are some issues that still need resolution once we get there.  I watched some of the drafting practice yesterday – six, seven cars is fun to watch, it was interesting.  Frankly, I was impressed with how well the cars drafted.  That’s the information I got back, but I want to see what it’s gonna look like when there are 40 cars out there, so I’m still being open-minded.”

 

ARE THERE ANY LOGISTICAL CONCERNS AT THIS POINT WITH SO MANY RACES AT THE START OF THE YEAR BEING SO FAR AWAY FROM THE SHOP?  “Not at the moment.  Clearly, this early schedule creates some logistics issues.  You go to Daytona.  We come back to Mooresville.  We leave Mooresville, we go to Phoenix.  You come back from Phoenix, we go to Los Angeles.  You come back from Los Angeles, we go to Daytona.  You come back, you load up and go back out to the west coast.  Those kind of logistics things are part of this sport.  We’re dealing with it, but in terms of our inventory of cars and spare parts right now, as I said a few minutes ago, I’m reassured by our management with the race team that we’re in good shape.”

 

DO YOU SEE A DIFFERENT ROLE FOR JOEY NOW THAT HE IS THE SENIOR NASCAR DRIVER AT TEAM PENSKE?  “First, I want to congratulate Brad and wish him well.  He did so much for our team both on the track and off the track and we’re grateful for what he did for us.  You’re right, he was the leader.  Joey is stepping into that role.  Joey is now in his 10th season with Team Penske beginning with this year.  He’s 31-years-old gonna be 32.  The average age of our team someone said is 27-years-old.  I’ve got running shoes older than that, but Joey is prepared.  We’ve had this conversation with him.  He not only has to help mentor Austin and he’s of course worked with Ryan, but also work with Harrison Burton and he takes that very seriously.  We’ve encouraged him to do that, so if you want to call him the elder statesman, I guess that’s a good way to describe it.  I would say he’s the most experienced Cup driver on the team and we want him to share that experience with his colleagues.”

 

SHR HIRED A RESERVE DRIVER.  DO YOU SEE THAT AS A GOOD WAY TO KEEP DRIVERS PART OF YOUR ORGANIZATION?  “I understand why teams are doing this.  Number one, we do not have a reserve driver per se.  I’d like to think, and I want this to come out the right way, that if there were an opportunity with Team Penske I think there would be folks knocking on our door.  Maybe that came out the wrong way, but at this point we don’t have a locker room full of guys ready to strap on their helmets and come.”

 

YOUR BOSS SHOWS NO SIGNS OF SLOWING DOWN.  IS RACING THE DRIVING FORCE THAT KEEPS HIM STILL INVOLVED AT THIS AGE?  “Our offices are adjacent to each other at our building here in suburban Detroit, so I see him every day.  He’s motivated not only by motorsports, he’s motivated by our entire business.  The passion and the dedication, commitment, leadership that he shows in motorsports he shows in all of our businesses as well.  That is who he is and I see no diminution of that.  Clearly, as we all get a little bit older you’re maybe a half-step slower in some things, but I certainly haven’t seen it in regard to motorsports or any of out other businesses with Roger.”





JERRY FREEZE, General Manager, Front Row Motorsports – HOW HAS THE DAYTONA 500 WIN LAST YEAR BENEFITTED YOUR TEAM THAT MAY NOT BE SO OBVIOUS?  “I think you always think about from the marketing perspective with sponsorships and it certainly got us in the conversation more so on sponsorship opportunities.  Last year it helped us close a couple of deals that we still hadn’t closed at that time, so from a marketing perspective I think it’s helped us somewhat.  It was big early on and then it’s maybe diminished a bit, but still to always have a Daytona 500 champion in your propaganda that you’re sending out is always helpful and so I think it still does have some value for sure.  I think just as important is the guys on the team, both teams, and their attitudes going back to that track or going to other races last year and knowing that we can pull this thing off.  We do build a winning race car out of here and there’s no reason why we can’t do it again, so I think it’s kind of helped from that perspective as well.”

 

WHERE DO THINGS STAND IN TERMS OF PARTNERSHIPS FOR 2022?  “Many of the same partners that we’ve had last year and past years with the 34, starting with the 34 we’ve got Love’s Travel Stops is our anchor partner there and they’ll do half the races this season.  FR8 Auctions has been with us for a long time and it looks like they’re gonna be on the car for up to five or six races this year as well, and we’re still nailing down the last elements of their program.  We’ve got a couple other new partners that we’re working on and hopeful to have some announcements on in particular around the 34 in the coming weeks for some of those other races, so we’re pretty close.  I think we’ve got maybe about five races left on the 34 to have it sold out for the year, so we’re getting closer and closer and probably in better shape than we’ve probably ever been with the car.  I think they Daytona 500 has certainly helped that cause a bit.  With the 38 with Todd’s car it’s building the program out a little bit more and there’s a bit more opportunity around it.  We’ve got a partnership with Speedy Cash that’s evolved and changing a bit.  We’ll have some announcements about that in the coming days, but it looks like they’ll be involved with it, and some of the partnerships that have been with Todd for a long time with Frontline and Crosley brands I think will participate at some kind of level too.  We’ve still got a lot of holes to fill on that one, but got a lot of good opportunities and some partnership one-race deals that we had last year that we’re talking to about multiple race deals for this coming season that I feel like are looking promising, so there’s a lot of good opportunity out there that we’re working on, but still more holes to fill for sure.”

 

ARE YOU RUNNING A THIRD CAR FOR THE DAYTONA 500?  “We are not.  It’s something that we’ve done the last few years and I know we would love to do it again and actually talked to David Ragan about it some early on, but just given the challenges with getting the new car and getting enough inventory established there was no way we could put a fair effort together for David and so I think he decided to look with another opportunity with Rick Ware.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re in a better position to do it next year we might try to do it again, but for this year we won’t.”

 

ARE ALLIANCES AS IMPORTANT AS THEY ALWAYS HAVE BEEN?  “I think from some perspectives it is and some it’s not.  To give you an example, we’ve been with Roush Fenway in a technical alliance for a number of years and we continue to be so in 2022.  Now, that alliance also gave us access to buy chassis from them, buy suspension parts, buy various parts to basically try to build our own Roush race car and then share information at the racetrack.  Obviously, with the new car we’re all out of the manufacturing business, they more so than us, so that part has definitely changed an awful lot, but as far as sharing information at the racetrack we are still taking the same style car to the track and we’re still racing Fords and they’re racing Fords, so we’ve been working hand in hand with them at the tests just trying to match our data points up with their data points and hopefully we all collectively come out in a better place.  That part, from my perspective and not being somebody that’s been at any tests but just talking to a few guys here today with some post-Daytona discussion that that is certainly just as strong and just as vital to the end goal as ever.”

 

WHERE ARE YOU GUYS IN TERMS OF CARS BUILT AND IS THERE CONCERN ABOUT IF YOU WILL HAVE ENOUGH CARS TO MAKE IT THROUGH THE WEST COAST SWING IF SOMETHING HAPPENED AT DAYTONA AND YOU START LOSING CARS?  “I will say that we are concerned, for sure.  We’re in the same boat.  We’ve got two cars that I would say you could take to the racetrack tomorrow and a third one that’s on its way to being assembled, but that’s about it for us right now.  The chassis parts are becoming more readily available, but some other things are still I feel like behind a little bit.  Hopefully, we will have more inventory, but I’ve got to believe that these cars that you take to the Clash they’re gonna end up being Daytona backup cars or California primary or something.  It’s certainly much different than the days of you’ve got 30 race cars in the shop and just send one down to Daytona if you wreck one.  We’re pretty concerned about it, for sure, on our end.  I know everybody I talk to on other teams everybody seems to be in the same boat, so you can’t cry too much about it.  We’ve all got to make it work and I’m sure everybody will be at these races and we’ll figure it out.”

 

ANY DISCUSSION ABOUT A CONTINGENCY PLAN IF THERE’S A SHORTAGE OF CARS IN A WORST-CASE SCENARIO?  “Not on my end.  I won’t say there hasn’t been discussion about it, but certainly nothing that I’m aware of our privy to, but we’ve all seen it happen.  You can wreck a car in practice.  You can wreck in the 150s and you’re on your third car by the time Sunday rolls around, so, yeah, it’s a cause for concern if the worst happened.  I think you probably will see a little more laid back racing or practicing or a qualifying race than you’ve seen in the past, just to make sure you’ve still got that good bullet for Sunday in the 500, but I don’t know.  Maybe we’ll be in better shape with cars and you can be a little more aggressive.  Where it stands right now in the middle of January is certainly a bit concerning.”

 

WAS THERE ANYTHING SPECIFIC ABOUT NOT RUNNING A THIRD CAR THIS YEAR?  WAS IT LACK OF PARTS AND PIECES OR SPONSORSHIP?  WHAT WAS IT?  “It was the parts and pieces, honestly.  People played a factor.  We’ve had a little bit of change in some personnel here in the offseason, so I won’t say that didn’t play a factor in it.  Another example, Derrick Finley had been with us for 10 years or more and has moved on and he kind of always shepherded that deal whenever we would run that extra car, so not having Derrick here certainly played a factor, but the biggest factor is just not having enough inventory.  Just like we talked about in the last question, it’s kind of foolish to believe that we’d have enough inventory to go do that and I’ll be honest we did it last year and it was also the first year that we kind of had the in-house truck team and a lot of our track equipment was over with the truck team and we had to beg, borrow and steal from everybody to get to Daytona last year.  Derrick and David and everybody did a great job to make the race, so for a few different reasons it was just gonna be extra challenging to get it done this year.”

 

RCR ANNOUNCED A HEMP-BASED COMPANY AS A SPONSOR.  HAVE YOU HAD ANY TALKS WITH COMPANIES IN THAT SPACE?  “I will say we did have an opportunity, it might have been two years ago I think.  Once the category kind of opened and we were learning as we went with what kind of testing needed to be done and it just got a little too overwhelming or wasn’t gonna work out.  We didn’t get very far with it to be honest with you, but that’s really been the only experience that Front Row has had with it and I really didn’t from any involvement.  Our sales guys did more so than me, so I really couldn’t even tell you.  I knew there was a lot of hurdles to jump through at the time.  I saw the video that Richard Childress did at Daytona and talked about the process a bit and it certainly seemed to be that’s the way it was gonna be when we had that one opportunity, but we haven’t had a lot of experience in that, so I don’t know that I’ve got any great comments around it.”

 

AS A SMALLER TEAM IS THERE ANY ADVANTAGE OF HAVING LESS IN TERMS OF KNOWING HOW TO DEAL WITH THE PARTS AND PIECES ISSUE YOU TALKED ABOUT COMPARED TO BIGGER TEAMS THAT MAY NOT HAVE HAD TO WORRY ABOUT STUFF LIKE THAT?  “I don’t know.  Maybe we’ve been a little more nimble in the past than some might be, but I think the fact that you just can’t go out there and make whatever you need changes the dynamic quite a bit.  If we have to run this widget and we have to buy it from this vendor rather than find the guy to go and make it, I think that just poses the big challenge there.  It certainly is a different situation.  I don’t really think that Front Row is in a better position as you state because we are maybe a little more nimble and can adapt a little bit easier maybe, but I don’t know if that really helps us in this regard.  Just because we’ve had in the past a smaller fleet, we’ve got a really small fleet now, but we’re all having to purchase from the same vendor and it’s what we signed up for.  I think ultimately it will be good for a team like Front Row to have a more competitive race car on the racetrack and we’re just having to go through a bit of these growing pains to get there.”

 

IS THIS THE LEVEL OF CONCERN YOU EXPECTED A YEAR AGO KNOWING THIS NEXT GEN CAR WAS GOING TO BE SUCH A BIG CHANGE?  “I don’t know that anybody ever thought we’d be sitting here in the middle of January and have three cars in the shop, but I think you knew that there were gonna be some significant growing pains to get here.  You still worry about what’s all the changes that might be coming along down the pike.  I mean, hopefully we’ve got a very raceable car and everything that we’re purchasing right now we can get the full use of, but in the back of your mind you know that things can change.  We are definitely spending a lot of money right now.  For a guy that really worries about the money being spent it’s a tough time to get through right now, but I do think, to answer your question, we all thought there would be growing pains.  I don’t know if any of us ever would have imagined that we’d have this few complete race cars at this point, but, again, it’s the same for everybody.  I don’t feel like we’re at any disadvantage by any shape.”

 

WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE GUESSED YOU WOULD HAVE HAD BY NOW IN TERMS OF COMPLETED CARS?  MAYBE 6 CARS AS OPPOSED TO 3?  “Yeah.  I would have thought if you are gonna have a seven-car inventory and a back-up car that you would be pretty close to at least whatever your number of chassis were gonna be and, who knows, we might get there sooner than later.  That’s been very surprising, for sure.”

 

THERE WAS A LOT OF TALK AT THE END OF 2021 AND WHERE BOB JENKINS WAS IN TERMS OF NASCAR FUTURE.  GIVE US THE PERSPECTIVE OF WHERE IS BOB THESE DAYS AS HE LOOKS AT THE CUP SERIES AS A TWO-CAR TEAM AGAIN IN 2022?  “I think clearly there was an opportunity to do something different beginning with 2022 for Bob and at the end of the day it just didn’t work out and we continued down the lot with Front Row Motorsports as we’ve known it for a long time.  We had talked about it for a few years that if you’re ever gonna do something different before the Next Gen car comes would probably be the best time to do it.  It wasn’t anything that he ever was looking to get out of the sport.  It was more, ‘is there a way that we can just position ourselves to be in a better position long-term and have a stronger relationship with an OEM or whatever?’  Again, just to be in a more competitive place long-term, so obviously there were some opportunities last year and one that we worked on pretty hard for a while and at the end of the day it just didn’t work out.  I feel like we really haven’t talked about doing anything different ever since.  Once he decided that he just wanted to keep Front Row going and let’s just grow this and take advantage of whatever opportunities we can to make it better and hope that the direction the sport is going with the Next Gen cars and we’re in a position to have Front Row be more competitive and I think putting Todd in the seat in the 38, we’ve been around with Todd for a while and we feel like he’s got a bright, bright future and, honestly, I didn’t anticipate keeping the truck team going with moving Todd up, but Bob certainly wanted to do it.  He loves the truck team and the Truck Series and the opportunity to work with Zane Smith too.  I think he’s looking at stuff down the road and we feel like Michael is gonna be in a more competitive position with this car and being more of a road racing style car fits his background.  I think we’re making more commitments long-term into how does Front Row get better, so maybe it’s more organic of how Front Row gets better more so than just lining up with another organization.”

 

HOW MOTIVATED IS THE TRUCK PROGRAM THIS YEAR?  “It’s super motivated.  The only thing that has changed with the truck team is Zane.  Zane in for Todd and the same crew chief in Chris Lawson, the same engineer, same car chief, same road crew.  We were really happy with that team’s performance last year.  We had moved that team in-house, assembled the trucks here at Front Row.  We still have an alliance relationship with DGR.  The bodies get hung at their place, but otherwise it’s an in-house Front Row truck, so, again, it was something we started more for Todd because we thought Todd was kind of getting a bum rap where he was at and we wanted to try to help get his career back on course a bit.  I feel like we did and I think he’ll benefit us long-term now and he already has been benefitting Front Row for sure with his performance in the truck.  I think we all enjoyed the truck being as competitive as it was.  It was fun to watch on those Friday nights and to Bob’s credit he wanted to keep it going and bring Zane in.  That was his thing.  ‘Hey, if we can get a guy like Zane Smith, I want to keep doing it.  Let’s just don’t go hire somebody just because they’ve got a little bit of sponsorship but they’re a mediocre driver, so let’s see if we can get him.’  So we got on the horn real quick and Zane was still available and we were able to put it together.  We certainly have championship aspirations with that team and, first off, you’ve got to get off to a good start and win a race and get in that first round of the playoffs and Zane has certainly shown that once he gets in the playoffs he knows how to get it to the final four and maybe we can help him get one spot better this year.  We’re excited about the Truck Series and think it’s gonna be a really good program this year.”

 

DOES IT HELP TO HAVE TODD ON A MULTI-YEAR DEAL COMPARED TO A ROOKIE EVERY YEAR?  “I think so.  I kind of think of Todd similar to John Hunter, where both of those guys were rookies but they had a lot of racing experience and a lot of experience winning races at various levels.  With John Hunter, just the circumstances, the whole thing with COVID and sponsorship issues and everything kind of left us at the end of the year – both of us at a bit of a crossroads of where it goes from here – and I think he decided to do what he did to go back to the Truck Series with KBM and that looks like a really good move for him, for sure, but I think with Todd just because we’ve had a relationship with Todd since he was 10-years-old in some way, shape or form and he’s been driving our truck for the last couple of years and I think there’s a much better opportunity to grow something that does have some staying power.  That’s the one thing that we just need to do with the 38.  I think we’ve done a good job with the 34 of having some constant there and building relationships around Michael and having a pretty good sponsorship base, but we’ve just kind of had a little bit too much turnover through the 38 for the last three years and so having Todd under our roof moving into the Next Gen series where it’s maybe a good place for a rookie to start to move up to the Cup Series with the Next Gen platform, I think it does give us a good opportunity to now build a program around a constant in Todd and I’m confident he’ll get the job done this year.  With performance you get some attention from those partners that want to be a part of it, but the first step is we have to perform on the track a bit.”

 

WHY SKIP THE XFINITY SERIES WITH TODD AND GO STRAIGHT TO CUP, AND ANY CONSIDERATION TO GET AN NXS PROGRAM FOR HIM?  “I think once we decided to stay with our two-car effort with Ford and race the Cup Series this year, then it became what are we gonna do with the 38 car.  There were a few options.  There were guys out there that were looking for opportunities, but, for us, it just kept circling back to ‘man, we’ve got the guy under our own roof that we feel like has got as much potential as anybody,’ and he was killing it every week in the Truck Series no matter where we went.  Whether it was a short track, big track, road course, dirt track, whatever, he’s very competitive, so I don’t know that any driver has to run the Xfinity Series to be ready to be a Cup driver.  I think there are some examples in the past that have made that leap from Trucks to Cup cars, but without racing Xfinity.  I think the biggest thing was the car is changing, so it’s gonna be new for everybody.  Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and those guys don’t have 15 or 18 years of experience over a rookie this year.  They’re rookies with this car just the same way that Todd is and Harrison Burton are.  I don’t know if there is ever a really good time to bring a rookie in, but if there ever was it would probably be this year before everybody does start to figure this car out a bit.  I think you look at the downforce packages from truck to what a Next Gen car is versus what an Xfinity car is, the Xfinity car is the outlier.  Trucks have a lot more downforce, but Todd is kind of used to this style of racing, this momentum style of racing and has done really well with it, so I don’t know if spending a year or two in Xfinity and trying to figure those cars out and then move on to the Cup Series, at the end of the day does he get more seat time in a slower progression through the competitiveness of the different series?  Yeah, he does, but I don’t know that it makes him that much more better prepared to take it on, so, for us, we had a need and we had the guy under our roof and we just chose to go in that direction.”

 

ANY LOGISTICAL CONCERNS AT THE START OF THE YEAR WITH SO MANY RACES SO FAR AWAY FROM THE SHOP?  “Yeah, it does for sure.  It’s certainly the busiest January we’ve ever had, but a lot of stuff you normally do in January – wrapping the hauler and getting the pit boxes ready and all that stuff, you just had to get done so much quicker because these things are gonna be on the road in some cases for the bulk of January.  There’s the additional wear and tear on the people.   We all know the schedule this year is really tight with one off week the whole season and now you’re adding in a few trips in January, so it’s made it tough from that perspective, too.  I’ll even say, because I get involved on the hiring side of it, sometimes it’s hard to sell a guy on this Cup schedule versus what the Truck Series runs and if he’s got an opportunity to go there, too.  Logistically, I guess you can look at when we tested at Charlotte and the RCR car wrecked and they could take it back to the shop and fix it.  That’s not what you’re gonna do if you wreck at Phoenix, so I don’t know.  That was just kind of a different scenario there because we were testing at Charlotte, but you certainly wouldn’t be able to repair it unless we had some spare body parts at Daytona and I’m sure we will at Phoenix, then we could do a minor repair but nothing too major.  The biggest thing is just the wear and tear on the people and then some of that operational stuff that you do in the offseason just had to be done pretty quick once you got back from Phoenix.  Everything had to go to the power coater right away and get sandblasted and repainted and reassembled because we were gonna be on the road so much in January.”

 

HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF MORE TESTS WERE ASSIGNED TO NEW TRACKS THIS YEAR?  “I hadn’t heard about anything at like St. Louis being an obvious one, but I haven’t heard about a St. Louis test.  I think there’s some talk about some other tests later on this year, nothing in the first part of the year, but I think at some of the more established tracks, more organizational type tracks, but we’ll have the extended practice days at those places, at Gateway, so I think it will be more than the warm-up that we’re gonna get week in and week out, so, again, as long as it’s the same for everybody it doesn’t bother me.  We’ll just take advantage of that extra practice time and line them up and race.”

 

HAS THE WORKING ENVIRONMENT CHANGED IN THE SHOP WITH THIS NEW CAR?  HAVE JOBS SORT OF FLIPPED OVER INTO SOME OTHER CATEGORY?  “It has in some regard.  Some guys that were with us for a long time just moved on to do something different.  We had, for instance, it’s kind of a cool story I think is we had a guy that was one of our better body hangers, he was a real craftsman and the new car just wasn’t quite his cup of tea.  He’s such a good guy and somebody we would want to keep around and figure something out for, but he found a job with a restoration company restoring Volkswagen Beetles, like 1960s generation Beetles, so I respect a guy who knows what he’s happy doing and knows that this just isn’t quite for him going forward.  He’s doing something that he loves to do, so we had a case like that and we’ve had some attrition, especially from the fabrication side of things over the last year-and-a-half with this change being inevitable and I think other guys finding opportunities outside of racing because they knew teams would be downsizing, so we, honestly, haven’t downsized a bit.  We did exactly what you said.  There are a few guys whose roles have changed and they’re doing something different than what they used to do, but they’re good diversified guys.  I think it’s something that we’re just gonna learn as we go.  I was just talking to a crew chief a minute ago about one guy and we don’t really know what all the skill sets are we need week in and week out with getting this car completely ready to go every week, so it’s just something that we’ll adapt to through the course of the year.  At Front Row Motorsports between two Cup teams and a truck team we’ve got right around 75 people, so we’re not one of the mega-sized teams anyway and so we’ve got a few less people than we had last year at this time, but it’s not anything extraordinarily different.  I think a year from now we’ll all have a better feel for how many assembly mechanics do you need?  How many guys do you need to assemble the body and things like that.”

 

NASCAR SAYS THIS NEW CAR WILL REDUCE COSTS.  WILL YOU SEE ANY OF THAT IN THE FIRST YEAR OR HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO REALIZE THAT?  “We definitely won’t see it the first year.  I can assure you of that.  I don’t know how long it’s gonna take.  It feels like an avalanche right now, but we kind of knew it would be this way.  Time will tell.  I think that’s another one that a year from now we can probably answer that a little bit better.  We’re not a team that had 30 assembled cars anyway.  I’ve never really thought that the Next Gen program is gonna save us a whole lot of money because we’re not over-staffed.  We don’t have 30 race cars and we’re not trying to build trick of the week, so I feel like teams are probably scaling down more towards the size of Front Row Motorsports a bit.  I mean, we don’t have the engineering depth that some of those other teams have and that’s why we have the Roush alliance, but I think to get back to answering your question, I think time will tell on that.  I think it’s gonna take at least three years if there is a significant cost savings.  I think it’s just gonna be so incremental for Front Row Motorsports compared to how we’ve raced in the past to get there, but time will tell on that one.”

 

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