Editor’s note: NASCAR.com continues its countdown of team previews for the Monster Energy Series season, ranked in order of best finish in last year’s owner standings. Today’s feature: Front Row Motorsports and drivers Michael McDowell, David Ragan and Matt Tifft.
FRONT ROW MOTORSPORTS
Engine: Roush Yates Engines (technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing)
Drivers: Michael McDowell, No. 34; Matt Tifft, No. 36; David Ragan, No. 38
Crew chiefs: Drew Blickensderfer (McDowell), Mike Kelley (Tifft), Seth Barbour (Ragan)
2018 standings: Ragan finished 25th in the final standings, while McDowell placed 26th. Tifft competed full time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2018, finishing sixth in the year-end rankings.
What’s new: Front Row Motorsports has expended its investment by adding a third team to the fray as Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Matt Tifft will join the organization for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Tifft moved up after two full-time seasons in the Xfinity Series, competing with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017 and Richard Childress Racing last year. The move to the sport’s highest level will see Tifft drive for his third different manufacturer, hopping in a new Ford Mustang after competing in Toyotas with JGR and Chevrolets with RCR.
A crew chief shakeup highlights another big change. The No. 34 squad of McDowell will be led by Drew Blickensderfer, making the jump from Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 effort. A new team for Tifft means a new crew chief in Mike Kelley to lead the new No. 36 team. Kelley moves to FRM after spending 10 years at Roush Fenway Racing. Ragan will keep crew chief Seth Barbour for the upcoming season.
Aside from the personnel aspect, Front Row Motorsports has also relocated its race shop to Mooresville, North Carolina, in time for the 2019 season. The organization moved 18 miles south from Statesville, upgrading to a bigger facility after expanding to a three-car effort. An elevated partnership with Ford Performance will also see an enhanced technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.
“To expand our operation and to be three cars now is really big for Front Row Motorsports,” McDowell said in NASCAR’s Studio 3 when it was announced Tifft would be joining the team. “Not just having Matt, but it allows us to go and hire more people and to have more resources. That’s going to strengthen all three programs.”
Outlook: Team owner Bob Jenkins is hoping to reap the benefits of having a three-car operation with the addition of a young, talented driver in Tifft. Although McDowell and Ragan scored only one top-10 finish apiece in 2018, Ragan had 14 finishes of 20th or better, while McDowell earned 10 of the same results. The organization has been able to capitalize on restrictor-plate and short tracks in past seasons, so look for more of the same this year. The 2019 rules package could also play a little more into their hands, as well.
“Not only are we here to stay, we’re here to grow,” Jenkins said. “We already have two proven veterans in our lineup, and now we’ll get to add an impressive young talent and championship contender who will inject some new energy into the group. With the introduction of the Ford Mustang into the Cup Series, 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting season for us.”
Michael McDowell, No. 34 Ford: The 34-year-old driver heads into his second full-time season with Front Row Motorsports extremely hungry to earn his first career Monster Energy Series victory. In 2018, the closest McDowell came to potential victory was the Daytona 500, finishing a season-best ninth place. McDowell will look to improve upon last year’s 24th-place average finish.
“The biggest thing for us is to get a win,” McDowell said. “It’s really exciting what NASCAR has coming with the new rules package. A lot of unknowns but I do think it’s going to create opportunities where a team likes ours, like Front Row Motorsports, may put themselves in position to capitalize on a late-race restart and steal a win.”
Matt Tifft, No. 36 Ford: Tifft will be making his official first career Monster Energy Series start in NASCAR’s biggest race — the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. That’s a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old up-and-coming driver, but Tifft has proven he can handle adversity before — both on and off the race track. For Tifft, the step up to the big leagues with Front Row Motorsports was a perfect fit.
“So pumped to be able to take the next step in my career,” Tifft said. “Last year in the Xfinity Series, I really felt like I started to take some big steps and move forward, but the opportunity just made so much sense to make the jump into Front Row Motorsports. But the opportunity to learn from these guys — David Ragan and Michael McDowell — was just so appealing to me to not only to achieve my dream of going to the Cup Series, but also to learn from some great drivers here.”
David Ragan, No. 38 Ford: The two-time Monster Energy Series race winner heads into 2019 looking to create another spark in his 14th year of competition at the top level. With only one top-10 result and a 25th-place ranking in the final standings last season, Ragan has room for improvement. The last time he visited Victory Lane was in the spring of 2013 at Talladega, 206 races ago. Ragan is positive the offseason changes are a step in the right direction for him and the entire team.
“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said in a team release. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”
– Jan. 22: Assorted teams
– Jan. 23: Richard Petty Motorsports
– Jan. 24: Germain Racing
– Jan. 25: Leavine Family Racing
– Jan 28: Front Row Motorsports
– Jan. 29: JTG Daugherty Racing
– Jan. 30: Wood Brothers Racing
– Jan. 31: Roush Fenway Racing
– Feb. 1: Richard Childress Racing
– Feb. 4: Chip Ganasssi Racing
– Feb. 5: Hendrick Motorsports
– Feb. 6: Joe Gibbs Racing
– Feb. 7: Stewart-Haas Racing
– Feb. 8: Team Penske