Michael McDowell realized a dream in February. In a wild finish, which saw Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski crash from the lead on the final lap of the Daytona 500, McDowell swerved on by to score the first win of his NASCAR Cup Series career. Less than seven months later, as McDowell is embarking on his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs appearance, there are now rumors that his Front Row Motorsports team could be shedding one or both of their Charters.
While the rumor mill is definitely buzzing with teams like 23XI Racing, which just added a second car for 2022 for Kurt Busch, needing a charter to guarantee entry into every race next season, McDowell, 36, is trying to swipe away rumors as his contract talks are going the same way they do every year.
“Obviously, there’s lots of conversations going on around everything. As far as I’m concerned and my conversation with [team owner] Bob [Jenkins] is, I’m going to be here at Front Row next year,” McDowell explained during NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day. “I’m going to be racing full-time. What everything looks like, all of the details with that, is sort of unknown. But, like I told them this weekend, that’s not uncommon for us. To go into October and November not exactly sure what it’s going to look like.
“We’ve had a great year, and I’ve been really thankful to be a part of Front Row. Being a part of building it, and helping it get to this point. Obviously, I don’t want to see that go away for any reason.”
But even if talks are going the same way they always do, the speculated value of team charters are higher now than they’ve ever been. With teams needing to unload their entire fleet of race cars in order to move to the Next Gen car for 2022, there will be a financial hurdle that some teams simply will not be able to clear.
McDowell, who heads into the Playoffs with the 13th seed, has driven for Front Row Motorsports since the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season. Over the time that he’s been with FRM, McDowell has clawed his way to better and better performances each and every season.
In 2018, he scored a single top-10 finish, a ninth-place effort in the Daytona 500. In 2019, McDowell scored a pair of fifth-place finishes, one in the Daytona 500 and one in the fall race at Talladega.
Last season, McDowell really began to emerge, as he scored four top-10 finishes at four totally different race tracks. McDowell was eighth at Pocono, seventh at Indianapolis, 10th at the Daytona road course and 10th at Bristol in the fall.
As big of a step as McDowell and FRM took in 2020, it pales in comparison to the performance they’ve had in 2021. McDowell, as already stated, started the season with a dramatic win in the Daytona 500, but he followed that up with two more top-10s in the next two races at the Daytona Road Course and Homestead.
McDowell also finished third at Talladega in the spring and seventh at Circuit of the Americas.
After taking the long exhausting ride to building FRM into a team that battles for multiple top-10 finishes in a season, even moving into the Playoffs this year, the Arizona-native just doesn’t want to have to restart the entire journey from the bottom.
“I think it’s hard to put together the group that we have. With [crew chief] Drew [Blickensderfer] and myself and our team and it’s taken us a long time,” McDowell said. “I’m heavily invested with our partners too, and building that, and yeah, you don’t want to — I don’t want to change anything. I want to keep moving forward as we are. I feel like we’re accomplishing a lot. It’ been a lot of fun, and so I don’t want to start over.”
On Thursday, Front Row Motorsports General Manager Jerry Freeze joined Sirius XM NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway to talk about the rumors swirling around the team. Freeze says the organization has every intention of racing in 2022.
“We plan on racing next year,” Freeze said. “We’ll be in the Cup Series. We’re evaluating being in some of the other touring series as well. Been in the truck series now for a couple of years, looking at that again. Maybe even Xfinity.”
While Freeze did not state that the team would not sell their charters, the reiteration on them being in the Cup Series would lead you to believe from a financial aspect, they would keep at least one charter to make that happen.
Freeze also addressed the rumor of FRM moving to the Xfinity Series next season.
“We’re looking at the Xfinity Series,” Freeze admitted. “I think we have plenty of inventory to go Xfinity racing. We’ve been working with Todd Gilliland the last couple of years. If there’s a way to create a program to move him up, give him an opportunity to try a higher level of racing outside of the Truck Series, that’s something we’d be interested in doing.”
Finally, Freeze ended by saying that while they have enjoyed a partnership with Ford, that Front Row Motorsports is looking at all avenues that would give them the most competitive chance in NASCAR next season and beyond.
“We’re really happy with the Ford folks. We’ve been talking to them about what the future looks like, so I’m not ruling that out by any stretch,” Freeze said. “It’s just what’s the most competitive platform we can be in for next year, is what we want to do.”
Freeze continued by saying, “We have some big decisions to make with the Next Gen car and we’ll go from there.”
ICYMI: Jerry Freeze joined @DGodfatherMoody on SiriusXM Speedway today and addressed some of the rumors surrounding Front Row Motorsports and their status in the sport in 2022.@Team_FRM | #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/Q9Oa1la6l6
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) September 2, 2021
So, will Front Row Motorsports return to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022? If they do, McDowell has without a doubt earned a ride with the team for at least one more year. But the big question that will loom over the remainder of the season for McDowell is whether or not someone will come along and offer Jenkins a deal that he can’t refuse for the two team charters that FRM currently holds.
*Editor’s Note: The Michael McDowell quotes used above came from questions asked by Bob Pockrass of FOX Sports during NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day. Pockrass also shared video of McDowell’s answers. Here is that video:
Amid chatter of a possible 23XI Racing-Front Row deal is Front Row would continue in 2022 to race trucks and possibly Xfinity. Michael McDowell said he expects to be at Front Row full time next year and “what everything looks like, all the details with that, is sort of unknown.” pic.twitter.com/3tALC3cnQG
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) September 1, 2021