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February 28, 2024

Front Row Motorsports continues upward trajectory after record day at Atlanta

Eighth and 26th-place finishes on paper don’t have the ring to them that racing organizations look for after any given race.

These were the results for Front Row Motorsports Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway following a 400-mile firecracker that saw intense, edge-of-your-seat racing from Lap 1 to the three-wide finish that saw Daniel Suárez grab his second career checkered flag in the third-closest finish in Cup Series history.

While the finishing order doesn’t show either FRM car as a race-contending competitor, the on-track performances from both Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland earned a historic day for the Ford camp.

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FRM led 85 laps in the 260-lap thriller Sunday evening, the most the organization has ever led in a Cup race.

McDowell was the polesitter for the event, but it was Gilliland who diced his way to the lead after starting fourth. Gilliland held serve more than every other driver at Atlanta, leading six different times for a grand total of 58 laps.

A string of late-race incidents eventually caught Gilliland as the 23-year-old settled for the 26th-place result four laps down, but he proved he can put the speed and talent on display when given the opportunity.

“It felt really good. In my heart, I definitely believe that I can do it with those guys week in and week out,” Gilliland said. “Our car was really fast. I was making really aggressive moves but really in control the whole time. That’s what it takes is my confidence gets more and more, and hopefully, those guys’ confidence around me gets better with every lap also. We’ve just got to keep doing that, and hopefully, the better runs will come more consistently and race up front with those guys more and more.”

Gilliland was willing to put his No. 38 Ford in precarious moments in the pack. Whether side-by-side, three-wide or even four-wide on the narrow straights, Gilliland was ready for the ferocity.

During the race, Gilliland threw out the simile of the racing as a haunted house, calling it “fun, but I’m scared for my life.”

“It’s 100% intensity every single lap,” Gilliland added. “When I was up front, we were just throwing massive slide jobs, and it’s full commitment every single lap. I don’t think anyone’s car’s driving 100% perfect, so it’s very on edge. You’re expected to be in the gas almost wide open around the whole place. Air’s moving so much around in the pack and can really put you in some tricky spots, so you’re white-knuckled pretty much the whole time.”

Through two races, Gilliland has led the most laps in the Cup Series (74). It’s already throttled what he led in his career before the Daytona 500 (11). After not piloting the No. 38 on six different occasions last season, the young driver is hungry to prove he belongs at NASCAR’s highest level.

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“I’m trying to prove it to myself, my team, sponsors, everyone, right? The whole industry,” Gilliland said. “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life, so I better start running good and just keep sticking around, keep having good runs and hopefully just better finishes along the way.”

The opening races of the season for FRM attest to the team’s overall prowess on drafting-style race tracks.

McDowell, winner of the 2021 edition of the “Great American Race,” has sat on the front row adjacent to Joey Logano in both races to start 2024. McDowell nabbed his first career pole during the weekend in his 467th Cup Series start. However, a mechanical failure early at Daytona and a pit-road mistake in Stage 2 have kept the 39-year-old from backing the strong qualifying efforts.

McDowell’s crew chief Travis Peterson said he’s proud of how the No. 34 team has started the year and what the technical alliance with Team Penske and increased backing from Ford has done for FRM.

“The start of the year has been strong,” Peterson told “It sucks we didn’t get to race for it in Daytona. It kinda sucks we didn’t get to race for it again (Sunday), but I think we had two of the best cars in the field back-to-back weeks. Obviously, it gets a little more real going to non-superspeedway racing here soon, but I really felt like we were probably the car to beat. It was super strong. He could go a whole lane by himself and get to the front. Awesome that the 38 got up there and led like he did. Hate the way it ended for them.

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“Happy we ended up salvaging an eighth with a completely busted up car, but hopefully, this just leads to good things. Hopefully, we can keep doing this every week, and we won’t have to worry about stressing about points.”

McDowell has reached the playoffs two of the last three years and has proven to be one of the top road-course aces in the Cup Series after he dominated on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last year to punch his 2023 postseason ticket.

Up next on the checklist for the organization is to continue racing up front every Sunday. From qualifying to the checkered flag, there’s hope in the FRM camp that they are capable of racing with the big-time organizations on any type of track, and the chemistry between the No. 34 and No. 38 teams adds to the optimism.

“The better we both do, the more we push each other, the better we all get as a group,” Peterson said. “That’s the type of thing we need to do every week is both run up front and have speed and see what the year brings us.”

“It’s incredible. I’m super excited and super happy to be a part of it,” Gilliland said. “Michael’s been here for a long time, and he’s been on a steady grind of getting better and better. I’m super excited to hopefully start contributing more and more every single week. Last year, a lot of races he was head and shoulders better than us so we still have a long ways to go compared to everybody and our teammates especially, but to see the growth of this organization is incredible.”