In 2019 Front Row Motorsports fielded three cars with veterans David Ragan, Michael McDowell, and the rookie Matt Tifft behind the wheel. After Ragan announced his retirement, a decision needed to be made about whether they would replace him or scale back to a two-car operation.
A veteran behind the wheel with McDowell and a second-year driver in Tifft would have been a good balance. Both showed a lot of promise last year.
In his rookie campaign, Tifft was a much better value than anticipated. His pair of top-15s on aero-restricted superspeedways came as little surprise given the strength of this organization on plate tracks, but he also had three other top-20s at Richmond, Charlotte, and Phoenix. Those results were enough to justify his cap value and make him fantasy relevant.
In total, Tifft finished in the top 25 in nearly half of his starts. But then he suffered the health crises that forced him out of the car. The decision to drop to two cars was put to the test.
John Hunter Nemechek climbed behind the wheel of the No. 36 for the final three races. He picked up exactly where Tifft left off and scored results in the 20s in each race with a worst of 27th at Phoenix. Despite his strong runs, Nemechek failed to finish on the lead lap.
He was strong enough, however, that he answered the question of exactly how well-balanced the two-car operation would be. Scaling back has allowed Front Row Motorsports to better manage their resources.
The 2020 season has been even better for the rookie contender. Nemechek has been one of the most pleasant surprises this year. He has swept the top 25 and almost cracked the top 10 in the Daytona 500 with an 11th-place result.
It is not only his raw results that recommend him, however; Nemechek has completed all but one lap in the first four weeks of the season, which means that he is keeping himself in contention to move up if there is late-race attrition. That is an intangible that simply cannot be ignored.
Michael McDowell has been equally impressive.
He joined Nemechek in the top 15 at Daytona. After finishing 14th on the plate track, he went to Las Vegas with confidence and ran better than his 36th-place finish indicates.
McDowell shocked the field at Auto Club in Week 3 with his eighth-place qualification effort. At the time, we predicted he would lose significant place-differential points. And he did, but not as badly as expected. A 22nd-place finish in that race ranks among the top 40% of his efforts with his current team.
The best is still to come for McDowell.
He is a stellar road course racer with his three of his four greatest average finishes coming at the Charlotte Roval, Sonoma, and Watkins Glen. The 2.5-mile flat track of Pocono and Indy are the next two courses on McDowell’s list. Those tracks have a lot of the same characteristics as the road courses. The long flat tracks require drivers to back the corner up and accelerate at the apex. Consistency makes McDowell easy to handicap.
Front Row Motorsports has not been flashy. But that makes them even more valuable for fantasy players because it means they are operating under the radar. Take note of them for when the series returns to action, (hopefully at Martinsville, another flat track that ranks seventh on McDowell’s chart), and they may allow you to differentiate your lineup from the competition.