Front Row Motorsports (FRM) has competed in 511 NASCAR sanctioned events over the last eight years and on Sunday night with the sun setting in the background; they did what many found inconceivable winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) race in an FRM 1-2 finish! It’s an amazing example of David versus Goliath (In this case, two David’s) and NASCAR hasn’t seen an upset like this in quite some time. We all know what happened late Sunday night at Talladega Superspeedway but do you know the rest of the story? Do you know about all the adversity and the failures this team faced and had to persevere through to get to this moment of triumph? Well, you’re about to.
Bob Jenkins is the owner of Front Row Motorsports and funds his cars mostly through the money he makes from his many restaurant franchises that he owns such as Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s and A&W. He teamed up with Jimmy Means to form Means-Jenkins Racing in 2004 before Bob took full ownership the following year. With Stanton Barrett as his driver, Jenkins made his NSCS debut as the sole owner of a team at Bristol in 2005. Stanton started the race 23rd but did not finish bringing home a 41st place result. The team came from very humble beginnings and looked to be one of those little teams that would just fade away over time. Let me tell you this, Bob Jenkins had no intentions of going anywhere except for victory lane. The team battled through some unimaginable odds and kept fighting no matter how bleak the outcome looked.
They pushed through every 40th place finish and kept their heads held high knowing that if they wanted it bad enough and if they worked hard enough, that one day they would succeed. In their first four years of competition, they posted 15 finishes of 40th or worse, 16 DNF’s and a best result of 20th in 34 races. The team also tried out Nationwide in 2008 finding no success. FRM ran their first full-time NSCS season in 2009 with John Andretti behind the wheel. Their best result was a 16th at Loudon in route to a 36th place points finish. In 2010, they expanded their operation running two full-time cars and a 3rd for 21 races. They also made the switch to Ford’s in preparation for the Daytona 500. Kevin Conway, Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland piloted their cars and all three drivers led laps during the year. The cars finished 33rd, 34th and 36th in the owners standing which may not sound great but with the top 35 rule (and a couple cars ahead of them disappearing before 2011), all three cars were automatically locked into the first five races of 2011 which was a huge accomplishment for FRM.
Without having to worry about qualifying, Front Row was able to focus on strengthening the team as a whole instead of searching for a way to go fast for two laps. The 2011 Daytona 500 didn’t start off well for them with 2 of their three cars getting swept up in an early wreck. The No.38 of David Gilliland was the only FRM driver left and he made his small team proud as he came roaring down the backstretch on the final lap running down the leaders at a high rate of speed. Bobby Labonte pushed leader Trevor Bayne into turn three but Gilliland and Edwards closed in fast overtaking Labonte and making it a Ford 1-2-3. David finished 3rd marking the first ever top 5 finish for FRM. Their best result prior to that race was a 14th back in 2010. Later on that same year at Talladega, Gilliland scored another top 10 finish ending up 9th. He capped off the year with a respectable 30th place finish in the standings which was FRM’s best at the time.
2011 was a big year for the team scoring their first top 5 and top 10 finishes and putting two cars out on the track almost every single week. At the July race in Daytona, Gilliland finished a solid 16th while Roush-Fenway Racing’s (RFR) David Ragan won his first ever race at the Cup level. Ragan and Jenkins had no idea at the time that their fates would intertwine just a few months later. Ragan was released from RFR at the end of 2011 and was rideless until the opportunity to drive the No.34 for Jenkins came about. In 2012, they had two cars run every race on the schedule and a 3rd ran all but six. Ragan had two impressive runs of 4th and 7th both coming at Talladega….perhaps an omen of what was to come less than a year later? In the off season, Inc. Magazine named Front Row Motorsports as No.800 on their list of the 5,000 fastest growing companies and this little team that was progressively getting bigger and bigger was starting to turn some heads.
NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car put a strain on all the smaller teams who had to spend a lot of money building new cars but FRM persevered once again and showed up to Daytona with three brand new Ford Fusions. On lap 139, disaster struck for the team as they looked on in horror as all three of their cars piled into a wreck in turn 1. They were all damaged beyond repair posting DNF’s and finishing 35th, 38th and 40th. It was a massive blow to this team that had worked so hard to construct these new cars hoping to build on the momentum gained from 2011 and 2012. If that wasn’t bad enough, they destroyed two more cars in wrecks at Phoenix the very next week.
The team arrived at Talladega Superspeedway with an intense feeling of trepidation knowing that their fleet of cars could be wiped out in an instant just like they were in Daytona. They dodged the massive 16 car crash early on in the race and when rain struck with 60 to go, it looked like the race was over but after a 3 hour rain delay, they went back racing. A second big wreck erupted in front the three drivers with just a handful of laps remaining. Gilliland and Ragan dodged the flipping No.78 of Kurt Busch by taking their cars to the apron as the spinning car of Jeff Gordon threw mud and grass everywhere. Josh Wise on the other hand was surrounded by smoke and spinning racecars but he somehow emerged from the carnage unharmed. The race became a 2 lap scramble to the finish as darkness crept over the light-less track.
Ragan restarted 10th, Gilliland 11th and Wise 14th. Josh went up the track with flat tire in the first corner but was able to limp home to a 19th place finish; the best of his NSCS career. The two David’s took the snarling pack of racecars head-on as they cut their way through the center of it. They passed the likes of Gordon, Kenseth and Johnson as they charged to the front of the field. With the titans of the sport all around them, this little team did not back down and fought their way to 2nd and 3rd with half a lap to go. The No.99 of Carl Edwards was the only driver that stood in their way and in a heart stopping moment, Ragan got sideways at 190mph and just about put it in the fence but thankfully, kept it straight. He dove underneath Edwards with the pedal through the floor and the No.38 followed.
Gilliland shoved with all his might and as Edwards made contact with the right rear of Ragan’s Ford. David Ragan drove across the track blocking a wall of cars hell bent on taking the victory away from him as the field roared through the tri-oval. He drove back down to the yellow line and began to throw sparks as his No.34 scraped the track with left side. With cars slamming into each other behind him with sparks and debris flying, David Ragan stunned the racing community and won the race! David Gilliland brought home 2nd as the crowd screamed in utter shock and amazement at this spectacular showing by Front Row Motorsports. Bob Jenkins’ 8 year struggle to win in NASCAR was over, now it’s time to go do it again. He made it this far by being smart, calculated and not making any imprudent decisions along the way.
Their battle is by no means over though, this is just another step forward in a never ending fight to find success in NASCAR. FRM is a team that refused to give up and refused to walk away even when there seemed to be no hope of prospering in this cut-throat business of auto racing. Quitting is not in this team’s vocabulary and their determination is paying major dividends now. They would not bow to the pressure and they prevailed against the greatest stock car racing has to offer. Finally, their dreams of winning in NASCAR have come to fruition and I’d like to say congrats to David Ragan and Front Row Motorsports on their incredible victory at Talladega!