It was announced on Wednesday morning that Landon Cassill would take over the helm of the No. 38 Ford full-time for Front Row Motorsports in 2016. The Iowa native will be joining 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chris Buescher to fulfill the driver lineup for the now two-car team.
In mid-December, it was announced that Buescher would take over the No. 34 Ford full-time for the upcoming season. Several weeks later, he was notified that Love’s Travel Stop would serve as the primary sponsor for 18 races.
The newly formed lineup at FRM comes with a technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, something that came with Buescher’s success over the past two seasons in the XFINITY Series. For Buescher, he will look to beat out the likes of Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney to claim the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award, as well as clinching a Chase birth with a victory.
“I think Landon is going to be a great compliment to Front Row Motorsports this season,” Buescher said at the NASCAR Media Tour. “I have not worked with him in the past, but I have raced with him a lot. He’s a great competitor and very fast.”
Buescher is coming off of a season in which he picked up two victories while claiming his championship. In 2015, he recorded 11 top fives and 20 top-10 finishes as he out-did his rookie season in the XFINITY Series, when he won at Mid-Ohio and recorded 14 top 10s after missing the season-opener at Daytona.
His newly acquired teammate, Cassill, stated he has never had a better opportunity then he will in 2016. Coming off of a season where he drove the No. 40 for Hillman Racing, he is excited about the opportunity that presents itself.
“This is an upgrade for my career,” Cassill told Speedway Digest. “This is a team that now has an alliance now with Roush that I’ve never worked with in my Cup career. I’m going to get Donnie Wingo as a crew chief and I’m going to get the team that he had last year. There’s nothing new for him except for the driver, so I feel like it’s up to me to fit in with those guys and be a part of that team.”
As well as running full-time in the Cup Series last season, Cassill also competed in 29 of the 33 XFINITY Series races, but is not sure if he will run in that series this season. He did state that if the opportunity presents itself, he would like to since at some tracks, the crossover between the divisions helps on the racetrack. However, after running a couple of full-time seasons, he is looking forward to having some Saturday’s off.
The new duo of teammates are in a transition period when FRM is looking to upgrade in performance. Last season, the team struggled to run inside of the top 20. Brett Moffitt, Cole Whitt and David Gilliland fulfilled the majority of the races for the then three-car team. Combined, the team did not record a single top-10 finish in the 2015 season. With the addition of Buescher and Cassill, FRM is in the process of creating new team morale.
FRM has now built itself around youth. Buescher, 23, and Cassill, 26, provide a demographic shift for the team after competing for multiple years with Gilliland and David Ragan.
“It looks awesome for this season,” Buescher said of the team morale. “The alliance with Roush Fenway Racing is going to be a big help. The amount of engineer data that we will be able to share back and forth, the amount of teammates that we will have is just strengthening our program so that we can run well each and every week. I think this is an opportunity for Front Row to gather more information than they have ever been able to.”
Said Cassill: “They are just extremely motivated right now. Just like I’m getting chances that I’ve never had in the Cup Series, this is a group of guys that have been working their tails off for years and years and years to build their own racecars the best way they can. Now, they are getting to build their racecars with information from Ford and from Roush that they have never had access to. It was really cool to see smiling faces when I went to the shop.”
Now that FRM has the driver lineup set in stone for the coming year, the technical alliance will look to be a pivotal shift for the future of the organization. If it happens to not work out, and ultimately fail, there is no telling what the future holds for the organization.
Normally, it is not ideal for a team to have its driver lineup announced less than four weeks until Speedweeks. However, if FRM is looking to move to the upper-echelon of teams in NASCAR the alliance will need to work with Roush Fenway Racing, even though that team has struggled in the past couple of seasons, including going winless and failing to have at least one car qualify for the Chase for the first time since the Chase was implemented in 2004.
The amount of technology and data is there for both teams to race well. The new lineup could be the piece that solves the puzzle and allows FRM to be a well-rounded organization.
In 2010, Dave Gilliland said goodbye farewell to start and park teams after bouncing around severely underfunded teams in 2009. Since he has joined Front Row Motorsports, Gilliland has developed into a driver that has led a little team and created enthusiasm for a team owned by fast food entrepreneur, Bob Jenkins.
Last year, the California native finished a career-best 26th in points with the No. 38 team. However, the team has gone in the wrong direction this year. There are multiple variables that have thrown Front Row Motorsports a giant curveball, but none bigger than the aero changes which NASCAR enforced over the off-season.
“We are a little bit behind right now, but we are always looking to improve and hopefully our goal is to get to 25th in points,” Gilliland said in an exclusive interview with Speedway Digest on Saturday morning. “We are running all different springs, different ride heights, different sway bars – just different everything. Without testing, we are learning stuff as we go for what we need. We are just kind of learning on the fly.”
But it is more than just adjusting to the new parts and setups which the team needs to use. The organization is severely underfunded. Jenkins has notably funded the team out of his own pocket over the years, but they have been able to receive additional funding as they continue to have success.
“I think (we) just need funding and sponsorship really. We don’t have the budget that these other teams have, so with new partners and sponsorships comes resources and that would help a little bit,” Gilliland said.
And they have done just that. This year, Front Row Motorsports has had four different companies (not including those owned by Jenkins) aboard the No. 34 and No. 38 Fords. Moreover, besides qualifying well at Bristol, this small organization has struggled to run well during qualifying with the new format. Being that step or two behind has truly hurt the team Gilliland said. But there is hope for the organization as Gilliland says Front Row Motorsports is like family to him now.
“I wish we could put a little bit longer contracts together, but I understand Bob (Jenkins) and the entire team’s side of it. They are doing what they can do. I have a great relationship with our car owner, Bob, and we are like family. It is good to go to work for a company that you have that type of relationship with, and that is something special,” he said.
Though Gilliland has not started to discuss renewing his contract, he wants to stay with the organization. The results might not be what he wants, but with silly season starting to spark, Gilliland is expected to resign with the team. But this is nothing new for him as he has been working on one year deals for Front Row Motorsports since he signed on with the team due to the presence of a lack of funding.
“We haven’t really talked about it (contract negotiations) yet. We usually wait a little longer throughout the year. I like Front Row Motorsports, and I have been there for a long time. I have seen it progress and have been part of helping it get built and was a part of their first win at Talladega. I enjoy being a part of being a part of building the program.”
For Gilliland, a turning point in the team’s day-to-day operation would be completing an alliance with one of the larger teams – similar to what JTG Daugherty Racing and Germain Racing has done with Richard Childress Racing. Even though FRM receives Roush-Yates engines, that is about all they get. While Team Penske and Roush-Fenway Racing are doing their own thing, Ford has stepped up to give a helping hand to this little team.
Now, Gilliland’s son, Todd Gilliland, is starting his racing career. At 13-years-old, he won his first career Late Model event at Ace Speedway in North Carolina at the beginning of May. Not only was it huge victory, but it symbolized so much for the entire Gilliland family.
“It has been tough (to go focus on his career while working with his son), but it has been very enjoyable. He is a great racecar driver, and I think he has a really bright future ahead of him. We are obviously doing everything we can to help him and give him the best opportunities on and off the track. It is something that I love doing.”
Even though Gilliland was not present for his son’s victory, he has been able to guide him on and off the track. For the father-son combination, they are examples as to how great it is to have amazing moments with family. NASCAR’s latest “NASCAR with Dad” initiative does just that as fans can share pictures and stories about going to the track as a father/son combination.