Saturday, Jun 10

Transcript: Chris Lawson and Jerry Freeze Press Conference - Phoenix Raceway

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the first member of our 2022 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship team, and that is the crew chief, Chris Lawson.

Q. Zane has been the bridesmaid the last two years; what did you see from those last two years compared to this race, and what you guys faced with some of those late-race cautions? Did you feel that that was the right choice to come down pit road for tires?

CHRIS LAWSON: Yeah, I felt strongly about it. I didn't second-guess it for sure, even after we came out behind Ben Rhodes, and I still felt like even if it would have stayed green right there, we still had a really good shot at it. No, I think it was definitely the right call.

Rhodes definitely held on better than I anticipated, too, so I've got to give credit to them because I think they had a better truck than they thought.

It was good. Yeah, I think seeing Zane's demeanor and his -- he just keeps it calm and cool, and I think that led to my decision, too, because I knew he wasn't going to overreact or do anything crazy. I think he was just going to make it happen. Yeah, felt good about it.

Q. Talking about letting it happen, did you just do that, or was it any communication that you gave to him or plans ahead of time if there was an overtime restart, or did you just go: Here's your tires, it's all in your hands now?

CHRIS LAWSON: No, just gave him tires and said: Have at it, man. It's on you.

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the general manager of Front Row Motorsports, Jerry Freeze.

Q. Jerry, your thoughts on how things played out and were you nervous going into the closing laps?

JERRY FREEZE: I'm not a crew chief or I'm not a driver; I asked him when we were in Victory Lane, did you ever think about taking two tires, because I was kind of thinking that was the move there. And then when Zane took the bottom, I kind of questioned that, too.

But I'll stick with my day job. I don't need to second-guess those guys. They know what they're doing.

Yeah, it was pretty exciting in our pit area there, and the caution came out for me at kind of the worst time. We had struggled on pit road all night. The crew had probably their best stop of the night. Some guys took two tires, and Zane had to dig us out of that hole there, and he did a fantastic job.

Q. Bob tweeted out earlier about the team and everything. For you, what does this mean to get the win for the manufacturer's championship for Ford and also for your organization, as well? This is a championship for Front Row, a major deal, obviously.

JERRY FREEZE: It is, without a doubt. I've been with Front Row for 14 years, and to kind of think of what we were 14 years ago and where the team is today with winning three Cup Series races, a Daytona 500 and winning the truck races with the 38 truck the last few years, it's really come an awful long way.

It just helps validate our company. It's not just a race-winning organization now but one that's capable of winning championships. I'm excited for the future, where it might take us business-wise and with people.

We've got a lot of great core people at Front Row Motorsports, and this guy on my right is without a doubt one of them. He's a hardworking individual. I'm so happy for him and his team. He's got a great group around him, and he's a great leader. They've been just working their guts out to bring the best trucks to the racetrack the last several races. They do every race, but the last few races especially.

So proud of them and so proud of Zane and Bob Jenkins, too, because he puts his heart and soul into Front Row Motorsports and has been behind us all the way.

Q. For both of you guys, when that caution comes out and kind of erases that big lead, did the confidence ever waver? Was there any sort of -- when you start to think about the way the strategy could play out, the possibility of two tires, no tires, was there any sort of nervousness at all about how this could play out?

CHRIS LAWSON: I mean, there definitely was for me. I knew what our plan was as soon as the caution did come out, but I guess you'd never really know how it's going to play out, right? Depends how many guys stay out and how crazy they get.

That's just what it comes down to. I've always told Zane that I would put him on offense any chance we get. He doesn't like to be on defense, and neither do I. I'd rather put it in his hands and let him make the right moves. And that's what I told him we were going to do going into the night, and that's what we did.

JERRY FREEZE: Chris said it all. Putting Zane on offense, he was so determined tonight. Like I said, we struggled with our first couple of pit stops, lost a couple spots on pit road, and Zane worked his way back to the lead.

There at the end I thought our whole night had been a little too big, but he got out of it pretty quick, and Chris knew what to do and what was the right call. And pretty quickly it was clear that was the right call, and Zane was just going to make it happen and got it done.

Q. Chris, you said to him, It's on you, have at it. Does he ever require any sort of motivational -- you guys did come out behind all the other championship guys, and Ben took two. Does he need to hear anything to set up that four-wide situation? Then after he gets through and threads the needle, did you tell him anything, like good job, whatever?

CHRIS LAWSON: No, I just let him work. It's kind of weird, he gets on me sometime because I don't talk to him on the radio and I always run everything through his spotter on channel 2 and let it relay. It's how we've done it all year.

So no, I don't. I honestly let him do his thing and try and keep the radio as quiet as possible. I know that there's nobody any more motivated than he is, so there's no reason to try and -- I don't have to goose him for sure.

No, I just let him go to work and do his thing.

Q. You talked about putting Zane on the offense, but that four-wide move into Turn 3, I'm curious what the reaction was there. Was there any concern that that was almost too much offense trying to make up that much ground in one move?

CHRIS LAWSON: No, I think he was in a box. He had to make it happen. I think he knew it was time to get aggressive and how aggressive to get, and that was all of it.

No, I wasn't -- honestly, as weird it is, I wasn't nervous, and I think it's because we were four-wide bottom and not four-wide top, so felt pretty good about it going into 3.

JERRY FREEZE: I'll add my two cents, too, watching it. I think especially after the Xfinity race at Martinsville and the truck races have been kind of a little ruthless at the end in the past, it was really neat to see those guys race as hard as they did, not just Zane but Ben Rhodes and Chandler, and even when Majeski spun out he could have easily taken Zane out, and I think he was trying hard not to.

So it was really neat to see guys just really racing hard, and it was a heck of a finish, and I think everybody in the Truck Series should be proud of that.

Q. I'm curious, too, Jerry, the development of this Truck Series program, it's been pretty quick. Just in the past couple of years. What has led to you guys being so successful pretty much right off the bat with this program, both with Zane obviously this year and Todd last year?

JERRY FREEZE: That one is easy. It's this guy right here, Chris Lawson. He is the secret sauce that makes it go.

For us, we got into the Truck Series just kind of -- it was an incidental way, I guess you'd say, when Todd Gilliland lost his opportunity with Kyle Busch, and we had known -- David Gilliland had obviously driven for us years ago, and we had known Todd since he was a little kid and followed his racing and tried to help wherever we could.

And we really wanted to help Todd continue his career and talked to David about what we could do. David -- the first year or two of the Front Row truck team was really David Gilliland Racing dressed up as Front Row Motorsports. But as time went on, Front Row, it migrated more into Front Row.

Chris has been a constant with it, though, and his engineer, Dylan Cappello, and his car chief, Kyle Moon, they have been the three constants since we started that truck team.

A few players have changed, but Todd, when he moved out and we moved him to the Cup car and brought Zane in, that was a huge change, and obviously things really got going great this year with Zane, was just ready to go, and the team was ready and clicking on all cylinders.

For us, I don't know if we had just started it from scratch that we would have this kind of success this fast, so it's a lot of credit to DGR and all their support, starting with David Gilliland, and he's been a good supporter of ours.

But this year, this was the first year since Todd was no longer in the picture it really became a complete Front Row operation. And obviously DGR is making some big changes with another manufacturer next year, so it's kind of our buddy-buddy relationship won't be so buddy-buddy going forward, but they were a big catalyst to help us get it off the ground.

Q. Jerry, it appears that Zane is kind of the future of your organization. You guys are putting a lot into him. What did you see in him, and what do you think tonight does for his future?

JERRY FREEZE: Yeah, I think what we saw, let's say, a year ago, we were contemplating what to do with the driver on the 38, and about the same time, Zane was losing his opportunity. Zane was available. We had actually talked to Zane's guys about driving the 38 Cup car, but we also had a guy in our camp that we felt like was deserving of an opportunity in Todd Gilliland.

Bob made the decision that we would go ahead and make that move and put Todd in the 38 car and hire Zane to drive the 38 truck.

The one thing I didn't know when I had that initial conversation with Zane's representation was the chemistry that Zane already had with these guys. He's friends with them outside of racing, grew up racing against our race engineer. So they were all buddies. And when Zane walked in the door, it was like these guys had been working together for years.

It was a perfect fit all the way around.

We obviously saw Zane's talent driving for GMS and winning races and coming so close to winning the championship last year, and just thought that when we've gotten more and more serious about the Truck Series, it's to develop whether it's a driver, whether it's a crew chief or engineer or whatever for our Cup programs. And so we looked at Zane as somebody potentially that could drive our Cup car in the future.

So he was looking for an opportunity. We were looking to continue the truck team and just wanted to get the most capable driver that we could, and it was just an added bonus that he had a great relationship already built with these guys, and it just took off from the start at Daytona this year and has carried on all throughout the year.

Q. Zane has been very vocal about when he moved over to Front Row that he wanted to keep the team intact. Just how important was that to you guys when he moved over, and how do you think it helped with the success that you guys have attained this season?

JERRY FREEZE: Yeah, I'll take that one because I know I had the dialogue with Zane and with his guys. That was important to him just because of that chemistry he had with these guys outside of, let's say, the work environment. It was important to him.

I think he had a couple other opportunities maybe at the time, so I think that kind of maybe tripped the trigger to go to Front Row and give us a shot. I'm grateful that he did for sure.

Q. Jerry, you alluded to, with your years there, that years ago when you guys got that first win, that was a significant thing because of the rarity of it. In the last year and a half, two years, you guys have won a Daytona 500, you won a truck championship. How can this help further -- I don't want to say change the culture but further move it along to where people even more so inside have that greater confidence in people on the outside can see that Front Row Motorsports can be a viable option to go to or look at as opposed to maybe how they might have viewed it five years ago or something like that?

JERRY FREEZE: Yeah, I think the wins and now the championship I believe will just further cement Front Row as a competitive organization capable of winning races for sure, now winning a championship in one of NASCAR's higher series.

I'll tell you guys that the one thing that's been kind of interesting, we lost -- our crew chief with the 34 is moving on in Blake Harris, and that's a blow to us that I thought was really going to cripple us. Blake has brought a lot to our Cup operation this year.

I told Michael McDowell a few days after Blake had made his decision, I said, you know, it's kind of like a bad news-good news situation from what I can see so far. The bad news is we've run so good, there's teams that want to hire our people. The good news is we've run so good, we're getting a lot of decent phone calls from guys that want to come to work for us, and that wasn't happening in the past.

So I think just industry-wide and especially in the situation with Blake moving on from the 34, I've really noticed it that I've had conversations that we didn't have before. We're embarking on our own pit crew program next year, and you're talking to guys that you know are really talented guys that really like what they hear about what we have going on.

It's been different for sure, and I think winning the championship here tonight, winning another truck race will just help in people's perspective of Front Row Motorsports of maybe what they thought of it a couple years ago versus what they think about it now.

Q. Are you considering moving Chris up to the Cup level at all after he's delivered you guys a championship?

JERRY FREEZE: I think eventually we would. We'd like to. I've talked to him about it. It's kind of interesting, I'll say this since he's gone, but a year -- Chris is a very hands-on crew chief, very hands-on. Probably Cup racing he needs to be a little less hands-on and a little more computer oriented.

But he's a hands-on guy, he loves working with the cars. When we got the first Next-Gen car in the shop last winter and I remember I walked in the shop and he's kind of eyeballing everything and looking it over, and I said, What do you think? And he said, You will never catch me working on one of these things. He said, I've got to be able to do something to this, not just take this part and bolt it on to the car.

Now, he had an opportunity to go to the track with us a few times when our 38 crew chief got suspended earlier this year and helped us get through some races, and I think he saw a different side of it; that there are things you can adjust and still take your ideas and concepts and put it into this car, even though the parts are all specced out for you, and he got more excited about it.

When we talked about running a few races with Zane next year in the Cup Series -- and that's our plan is to take the truck team and race it in the Cup Series next year on the off-truck weekends, Chris was really excited about it.

I think ultimately he will be in the Cup Series, and I hope with Front Row Motorsports. That's our plan. I don't see it full-time next year, but who knows, maybe year after that.

Q. What's been more fun so far, the Daytona 500 or truck championship?

JERRY FREEZE: I don't know. I might answer that in a little -- maybe let it soak in a little bit.

Winning the Daytona 500 really meant a lot to me personally, so it's going to be hard to beat that. But it's two different things. Michael got us in a great situation there. He was in the catbird seat and the Penske cars crashed, and boom, there he was.

This one, it was a season-long effort and watching these guys, and I feel like they're very, very deserving champions and have brought really fast trucks to the track.

They kind of lost their mojo a little bit kind of right around when the playoffs started. I was a little worried about it. But they just dug in, worked harder and built some really fast trucks. And I really felt like we could have won the race at Homestead if Zane had pushed it. And we were just in a pretty comfortable spot points-wise, and he didn't push it, but we still finished second. And then obviously had the dominant truck tonight.

This one feels pretty good just from a different perspective that it was a season-long effort from the guys, and they really are deserving champions for sure.

THE MODERATOR: Jerry, congratulations on the championship, and thank you for all the time tonight.



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