Who would’ve thought six months after Front Row Motorsports won the 2021 Daytona 500 that we’d have rumors of a possible sale of the team to 23XI Racing? Well, before Chip Ganassi Racing was sold to Trakchouse, it seemed farfetched, but now it makes a lot of sense. With charters being extremely pricey, economically it makes sense to buy the entire team so you get the charter as well as the team assets.
Front Row Motorsports has been around since 2005 and in their 16-year existence, they have made virtually no leap in competition with currently no positive outlook of making a jump to relevancy. Whether it be money, drivers, or management this team has never been able to get their hands on the equipment needed to become a consistent threat for wins outside of restrictor-plate races.
It would make sense for them to look into the idea of closing up shop and getting what they can for the team. With the new car coming out next year and the idea of owners being able to shrink the competition gap from small to big teams, you would think that FRM would hold out for another year or two to see how they shakeup. Perhaps owner Bob Jenkins looks at all these new teams entering the sport and has made the conscious decision that he’s not willing to invest the money and energy into staying relevant.
If 23XI Racing was to buy FRM, it would give them a total of three charters. This would give them the second car that they’ve been trying to field for Kurt Busch and a third charter that they would more than likely lease out to a team like GMS Racing or Kaulig.
If FRM does sell what does this do to Michael McDowell and Anthony Alfredo? Alfredo will more than likely get shipped back down to the lower ranks and scour for the best deal he can get. Alfredo made a huge error in judgment by taking this step up to Cup because now he has shown little to no ability to race at the top level and shown no potential. He will be lucky to land a competitive ride in Trucks or Xfinity at this point unless he brings huge financial backing.
Michael McDowell is the more interesting case because I think he’s a guy that could intrigue a lot of teams. He’s someone who came over to NASCAR from open-wheel and grand am racing, where he honed the road racing skills we see today. While I do not believe he is a massively talented road course racer like A.J. Allmendinger, I think he would contend for wins in good equipment.
I do not believe McDowell is a championship-caliber driver, but I think the potential for him to contend for race wins on road courses and restrictor plates are there. We have never seen him in good equipment at any level, so it’s hard to tell what his potential on regular ovals is, but I think he could be a playoff driver in the right situation.
What’re the options for him in 2022, with the top rides all but picked over? I’ll be rating the options for him as I see them based on the best opportunity for him and the realistic possibility that they happen. One thing to remember in all this is that Michael McDowell has sponsorship backing from Love’s Truck Stops. With this money, he could have his picks of the leftovers in a silly season.
Option #1: 23XI Racing
This doesn’t seem likely when you read it or say it out loud, but if they do acquire FRM and get that third charter they have to find something to do with it. While leasing the charter out is the most likely option, there is a scenario where McDowell and his team come with sponsorship for a fully funded third car.
Hamlin has said that 23XI could expand at a rapid rate and while a third car wasn’t their initial plan, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t change. If McDowell can fund the ride for the whole season, I think 23XI considers allowing him to be a stopgap until they find a long-term driver. As I said above, I think he becomes a consistent road course and restrictor plate threat in this equipment and a consistent top 15 guy on ovals.
Option #2: Spire Motorsports
Spire has had plans to run their second car full-time next season and with Justin Haley going to Kaulig it leaves them looking for another driver. This is a team that currently runs comparable equipment to FRM so this would be somewhat of a lateral move for McDowell.
However, Spire has shown intentions to invest in their race team and grow as an organization moreso than FRM. They are a team that could become a playoff-caliber team by 2022 when the new car comes out, and McDowell gives you a guy who can contend for wins at certain tracks for a playoff spot.
Option #3: Joe Gibbs Racing (Xfinity)
With Harrison Burton moving up to Cup, it leaves the #20 car wide open. Currently, no Toyota driver besides Ty Gibbs is primed to jump up to Xfinity and he will more than likely stay in the #54. We also have no clue if JGR plans to bring back the struggling Brandon Jones, so there could be two seats available.
Like with Daniel Hemric, JGR could give a seat to a fully-funded veteran in McDowell who would probably jump down into Xfinity and run for a championship. I think that this is another great example of a mediocre Cup driver who could take a step down and essentially revigorate their career in their twilight years and go out on top as a winner.
Option #4: Rick Ware Racing
RWR has stated plans to potentially downsize to two cars in 2022 and be more competitive. Even if their equipment is upgraded, it would still be a massive downgrade from FRM. I look at this as being McDowell’s last option, but one he might be willing to take.
McDowell is more talented than any other driver on that team currently – not saying much – and could provide them with a baseline in terms of where their team stands in equipment. I see every reason in the world why RWR would jump at the opportunity to get a fully funded veteran with a Daytona 500 win on their team. I’m still not sure if McDowell would be desperate enough to run out the rest of his prime years with a potential dumpster fire.
Option #5: Dale Coyne Racing W/ Rick Ware Racing (IndyCar)
Bringing RWR back up again, but this time with McDowell making the jump to IndyCar. We’ve seen the intrigue that Formula 1 and NASCAR drivers have had in IndyCar this season and finally this league is starting to get the respect it deserves from the racing world. McDowell comes from an open-wheel background and I think could make a decent name for himself here.
I don’t believe the learning curve would be as steep as it has been for Jimmie Johnson because not only does McDowell have some experience in this form of racing, but he’s superior on road courses. Johnson has always been subpar on road courses even in the Cup series, so jumping into IndyCar to only run road courses was going to be difficult.
With Romain Grosjean leaving the team at year’s end, it leaves an open seat that Rick Ware might look to fill with a familiar face. While this is probably the least likely of the scenarios to come true, I do think it’s one McDowell should consider. He could not only contend on road courses, but he’d have an advantage on ovals. While his oval skills are mediocre in NASCAR, if he jumped over to IndyCar, I could see him becoming one of the best due to that not being many IndyCar drivers forte.