The History Of Front Row Motorsports

David Ragan

(WOMR file photo)

After Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, I thought that it would be good to explore the history of this small, semi-underfunded Sprint Cup winning race team.

Front Row Motorsports is a team that competes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The team began running part-time in 2004 as Means-Jenkins Motorsports under a partnership with Jimmy Means and restaurant entrepreneur Bob Jenkins, with Jenkins becoming the full team owner in 2005. For the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Front Row Motorsports fields the #34 Maximum Human Performance/Farm Rich Ford Fusion for David Ragan, the #38 ModSpace/Love’s Travel Stops/A&W Ford for David Gilliland and the #35 MDC Ford for Josh Wise.

Bob Jenkins, the owner of Front Row Motorsports, resides in Dandridge, Tennessee, and is known for his involvement with three restaurant chains (Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s, and A&W) and owns 160 of these franchises. His family is also the owner of Jenkin’s Insurance in Dandridge.

Car History

Josh Wise’s #35

The #35 car began as the #55 Ford Fusion in June 2011. It debuted at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Jeff Green starting and parking. J. J. Yeley and Travis Kvapil split time between the #38 and #55 cars the remainder of the year. The #55 was a start-and-park operation for 2011.

In 2012, Michael Waltrip Racing used the #55 for its new entry for Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip, and in response, Front Row Motorsports changed the #55 to the #26. For Daytona, the car was sponsored by presidential candidate Rick Santorum, and driven by Tony Raines. Raines qualified for the race after being one of the three fastest “go or go home” drivers during the first day of qualifying. He finished 19th, but ran as high as second. Rookie of the Year candidate Josh Wise took over the car starting at Phoenix and ran the majority of the season as a start-and-park operation, finishing only at the Sonoma race. Starting in 2013, the car runs the full schedule with Wise. For 2013, Wise will drive the #35 running 8-15 full races, but still starting and parking in the remainder races.

David Ragan’s #34

The #34 car made its debut on March 14, 2004 at Atlanta Motor Speedway with Todd Bodine driving the car as the #98 Lucas Oil Ford. At that time, the team was owned by Chris Edwards, and was known as Mach 1 Racing. Bodine finished 41st after dropping out within sixteen laps. Bodine drove in eight races with the team that year, along with his brother Geoffrey, Larry Gunselman, Randy LaJoie, Chad Chaffin and Derrike Cope filling out the driving duties that year, driving a total of 26 races. In 2005 the team changed numbers to #34, and planned to run full-time.  However, due to sponsorship limitations, and lackluster performance by LaJoie, the team only ran a limited schedule. Although it attempted many races, two drivers (Ted Christopher and P. J. Jones) each qualified for a race with the team that year. In the fall of 2005, their website announced that the team was up for sale, but that was quickly rescinded. Later that year, Front Row Motorsports moved into their shop to operate the #34, in addition to their current race team.

The combined team began running at the 2006 Daytona 500. Randy LaJoie attempted, but failed to qualify for the first two races. The team ran the #64 at Daytona, but switched back to #34 for the second race at California Speedway. Lajoie and teammate Chad Chaffin swapped rides the next week in Las Vegas and Chaffin would drive for the next eight races. Chaffin would then return to FRM’s other car after Kevin Lepage’s departure for BAM Racing, one week after FRM purchased the owner points from Peak Fitness Racing, thereafter renumbered the #92 to #61.

Chad Blount would then take over the #34 car for two races, however, he was unable to get into the field, and was released. Carl Long, Greg Sacks, and Mike Skinner would attempt the next three races, with Skinner making the 3M Performance 400, and finishing 37th on the lead lap. Johnny Miller returned to FRM to run the road course at Infineon. After Blount’s release, Long, Sacks, Chaffin, Brian Simo, Kertus Davis, Skinner, and Joey McCarthy, attempted races for the team, with Long qualifying at Bristol. Lepage drove the car for the rest of the season, and made the Martinsville race.

The car attempted full-time status in 2007 with Lepage, but after missing the first four races, the team decided to go part-time with Andretti and Chaffin. Lepage swapped places with Andretti and Chaffin at the #37, so that Lepage could continue full-time. Chaffin later left the team in early 2007. FRM tried to make another attempt to run the #34 at Texas Motor Speedway with myAutoloan.com as the sponsor, but  failed to qualify for the race.

The 2008 season began with the #34 planning to run a full season. The team made the Daytona 500, with Andretti behind the wheel, Makoto’s Ginger Dressing brand as the associate sponsor, and manufacturer’s support from Chevrolet. Andretti left the team to race in the Indianapolis 500 with Roth Racing, and eventually decided to continue in the series. Tony Raines qualified for his first race of the season in the #34 Chevrolet Impala SS at Dover, but finished 40th after transmission failure. The #34 Chevy ran part-time after that, with Chad Chaffin attempting the final races for the team in 2008.

In 2009, John Andretti was the full-time driver for the car, and the team entered into a partnership with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. The #34 team received owner’s points from EGR’s defunct #15 team, becoming locked in for the first 5 races of the season. For the Daytona 500, Window World joined as the primary sponsor, EGR’s Steve Lane would be the crew chief for the team, and some of EGR’s crewmen tended to the car. The team finished 19th in the race. Window World ended up joining the team for the first five races of the season. The team ran EGR engines at the Daytona 500 and at the spring Atlanta race, using Pro Motors Engines in all the rest of the races. Steven Lane served as the full-time crew chief, and some of the EGR crew became permanent employees. Beyond Window World’s involvement, the team ran mostly unsponsored; team owner Bob Jenkins has used the space on the #34 Chevrolet Impala SS to advertise his Taco Bell restaurants, while seeking for a new primary sponsor.

Andretti missed two races while he ran the Indianapolis 500, teammate Tony Raines took his place for those events. Raines quickly earned the team’s best solo effort finish to that point, with a 25th place at Darlington. With John Andretti back at the wheel, the team finished 16th in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, along with numerous other top-30 finishes throughout the year. At Michigan, race sponsor Carfax jumped aboard the #34 Chevrolet as the primary sponsor. The team remained in the top-35 for the entire season which guaranteed the team starts the first five races of 2010.

For 2010, Travis Kvapil was the primary driver of the #34 Long John Silver’s Ford, with the team switching to the Ford Racing banner, with Roush/Yates providing engines and support for the team. Steve Lane returned to the Long John Silver’s team with Kvapil. John Andretti drove the #34 in the Budweiser Shootout and the 2010 Daytona 500, with Window World as the primary sponsor.  With Kvapil driving the #37 Extenze Ford, in place of rookie teammate Kevin Conway. Kvapil, and the Long John Silver’s team’s best finish of 2010 was an 18th at Talladega in the spring in the #34.  Additionally, the no. 34 finished 33rd in owners points after Kvapil, Andretti (both with the LJS crew), Kevin Conway, and Tony Raines (both with the Extenze / A&W Crew) ran races with that number.

In 2011, David Gilliland returned to Front Row Motorsports running the #34 Taco Bell Ford for the full season. He would go on to finish 3rd in the 2011 Daytona 500, 9th in the 2011 Aaron’s 499, and 12th in the 2011 Toyota/Save Mart 350. These three finishes are Front Row Motorsports top 3 finishes in team history, as well as first top 5 finish and first top 10 finishes.

For 2012, former Roush Fenway Racing driver David Ragan drove the car full-time. Ragan helped the team improve slightly, with a best finish of 4th at Talladega.

In 2013, David Ragan got the team’s first win at Talladega Superspeedway in the Aaron’s 499 on a last lap pass with David Gilliland’s help to get a 1-2 finish.

David Gilliland’s #38

Front Row Motorsports added a third team in 2010, with David Gilliland as the primary driver, and Robert Richardson, Jr. sharing the ride for at least 3 races throughout the year. Randy Seals comes from Richard Petty Motorsports as crew chief. Richardson ran the 2010 Daytona 500 with sponsorship from Mahindra Tractors, with Gilliland displaying Taco Bell for the other races. The team formed an alliance with Doug Yates in February 2010, and earned Top 35 exemptions for the first five races of 2010 from a former Yates Racing entry. Gilliland and his Randy Seals lead Taco Bell crew swapped between the #38 and #37 throughout the season.

Kevin Conway and Dave Blaney ran races under #38 with the ExtenZe/A&W crew, and Kvapil ran races with the #38 and his LJS’s crew. At Pocono in August, with Kvapil and his then crew chief Steven Lane in the #38, it was determined the car had an illegal valve stem in one of the tires, resulting in a 150 point deduction for the #38 car, the suspension and monetary fine of crew chief Steven Lane, suspension of car chief Richard Bourgeois, as well as tire specialist Michael Harrold. Steven Lane was released from the team soon thereafter and was replaced by Brian Burns on the LJS’s team. The #38 never regained top-35 status finishing 36th in points. Nevertheless, Gilliland and his Taco Bell crew had a best finish of 19th twice, at Martinsville and at Sonoma.

For 2011, Travis Kvapil returned to FRM to drive the #38 Long John Silver’s Ford, however, Kvapil opted to run for the Camping World Truck Series championship. The #38 was locked into the field following Daytona, as Penske Racing’s/Rusty Wallace Racing’s #77 did not run past Daytona, and in turn gave up its locked in spot to the #38. Bill Henderson joined FRM as crew chief of the #38 following a stint at PrismMotorsports in 2010, however he parted ways with the team following the race at Las Vegas. New guy, Jay Guy, joined as crew chief at California.

Kvapil missed two races due to truck series obligations, and after the debut of the #55 car, and the signing of J. J. Yeley, the two drivers split time in both the #38 and #55 cars for the duration of the season.

For 2012, David Gilliland will move to the #38, after driving the team’s #34 in 2011. The team has also signed ModSpace / United Rentals to a multi-race primary sponsorship of the #38 beginning at Texas in April. Pat Tryson will be the #38’s crew chief. The team has also signed Maximum Human Performance to a multi-race sponsorship beginning with the Daytona 500.

In the 2013 Aarons 499, Gilliland pushed teammate Ragan to the checked flag, producing a 1-2 finish for Front Row.

So as Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know the rest of the story!”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

(Reference material: wikipedia, FRM pr, nascar.com)

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