NASCAR Transcripts: Travis Peterson and Jerry Freeze at IMS

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

THE MODERATOR: We’re going to get started with our post-race media availability here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We’ve now been joined by our race-winning crew chief Travis Peterson and joined by Jerry Freeze, the GM of Front Row Motorsports. Congratulations to both of you on the win today but also a win at Indianapolis, which is always special.

To add to that, it’s been a big week for Front Row or a couple weeks with also signing McDowell to an extension in his contract.

Jerry, if you would address both of those things and talk a little bit about what today means after all that great news earlier, as well.

JERRY FREEZE: Yeah, it’s been an exciting time at Front Row. Touching on the drivers first, getting our driver announcement out of the way, we’ve been pretty historical, Bob Pockrass will tell you in a second, we’ll wait until December usually to announce (audio interruption) 

Travis here, we rolled off the truck, we were the fastest car here in practice, fastest in first-round qualifying, qualified fourth, and then Michael just dominated the race today. Michael did a stellar job, but he needed a stellar race car, and Travis gave it to him. 

To be here at Indy and kiss the bricks is something I never would have thought we could have ever accomplished at Front Row Motorsports 15 years ago when I started working for Bob Jenkins. So it’s really neat to be here today and celebrate that win.

I’ll let Travis take it over on the car because it was awesome today. 

THE MODERATOR: Travis, for you, obviously your first win as a Cup Series crew chief. You made the jump to Front Row Motorsports earlier this year, but also just the journey to get to this point, what does it mean to you to be sitting here as a winning crew chief? 

TRAVIS PETERSON: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s going to be tough to even put this into words or understand it for a couple days probably.

The journey, it’s been the goal the whole time, so to get here, just to become a crew chief was my goal and then to be able to compete for wins and Playoffs with Michael, Michael has been awesome. I want to give a shout-out, you talk about the journey, the RFK guys and my team, they all waited around and just congratulated me. They let me come over here to do this job because they knew that was my dream, and I appreciate them as well as anybody else.

Q. What have these last few weeks as you guys have been in and out of the Playoffs and on the bubble been like for you guys?

TRAVIS PETERSON: I mean, we talked a while back, to you and Bob or whoever else all interviewed me, and I said just getting through that stretch, the goal is just to be close, and we were able to be close, and I think we were even disappointed with that because we had some better race cars than the finishes we had the last few weeks.

It culminated in a lot of stress leading up to this point, but now that’s all relieved, and we can focus on trying to continue to build and have fast race cars the rest of the year.

JERRY FREEZE: I’ll just concur with what Travis said. I think we started looking at this with six races to go thinking that we had a shot at pointing our way in, and it was just get through the last three races to get to these three races.

To get to these three races and be relatively neutral on that cut line and get to this point, we really thought that we could make some hay and get some stage points and some good finishes and point our way in.

But to be able to win and get a ton of points, too, is just really cool. 

Again, kudos to Travis for that. 

Q. The narrative may be that this is a Cinderella win, mid-sized team and going out there and doing what you guys are doing. Is this an upset? Is this a Cinderella story in any respect?

JERRY FREEZE: I’ll take that one. I don’t think so. Like I said to basically dominate the weekend is hardly a Cinderella story. We’ve been fortunate, this is the fourth Cup win that Front Row Motorsports has had, and I think you could say that the first three, circumstances kind of played their way into being in the position to get the checkered flag at the end, but this one was just a real butt kicking, and so I’m especially proud of this win.

Q. Jerry, you said that the first three wins were kind of circumstantial and this is kind of a statement win. How have the last couple years — I know the Next-Gen car and all the changes and improvements you guys have made structurally changed the expectation within the team and the goals going into a season.

JERRY FREEZE: Yeah, I think to me, it all kind of started in 2020 when we were kind of winding up the Gen-6 car and NASCAR had kind of put a moratorium on advancement of the chassis and suspension components. Once we were able to start getting them on a more level playing field with the product that we were bringing to the racetrack, our performance started to pick up. I think you started to see that a guy like Michael McDowell had a lot of talent.

Now if you give him the same car that these other guys have, he’s going to really show that he can get it done.

Then you advance into the Next-Gen era the way they’ve consolidated the practice time, I just think it gives a chance with that middle-tier budget, let’s say, that’s going to do the right things, have the right engine program, hire the good people, have a good pit crew, to have days like this on the racetrack. 

It’s hard to sustain it across a 36-race season, and that’s what we’re just trying to get better at, to be this way week in and week out, to be a top-10 team, to be a top-15 team. I don’t know that we’re quite there as a top-10 team. I do feel like every weekend we’re a solid top-15 team if we just execute our race. 

I think the way the rules have changed and with the Next-Gen car coming in, it’s really kind of played in that mid-sized’s team’s favor that if you’re doing the right things you can be competitive. We’ve just got to keep on investing in those areas to try and improve our team and become a more constant top 10 threat, and when making the Playoffs isn’t such a big story, it’s maybe expected.

Q. What are the expectations for the Playoffs now, because you’re in, and it seems like you guys are going to come in with a healthy number of playoff points, too. Is there a set expectation?

JERRY FREEZE: Well, we just got in there about an hour ago, so I don’t know.

I will say we’ve been in there a couple times before just from winning a race, and really not being as complete a race team as we are right now, and we got drummed out pretty quick in the first round.

I think for me, it’s getting past the first round. I think if we do that, I would feel really good about it.

I’d like to hear what Michael and Travis think and Bob, of course, but I just think getting through the first round I think would be a pretty good achievement for us.

Q. Travis, Michael beats one of the best road course racers in the business. You guys beat straight up maybe arguably the best team in the business in Hendrick. What does that say about you?

TRAVIS PETERSON: I mean, it’s definitely a huge accomplishment, and it’s going to take a while for that part of it to sink in. I don’t know that we even think about it like that. We just think, what can we do to become the best we can be, and this week it worked. 

Obviously Chase is great, and I think Michael could be considered one of the best road racers in the business. He just hasn’t always had the best opportunities.

But if you look at the moment the playing field got leveled, he’s probably got the most points and best finishes of anybody stacked up side by side.

Q. Jerry, you’ve been in the Playoffs before. Michael won the Daytona 500 to put you guys in in 2021, but does this victory feel maybe a little more impressive or satisfying of the way that you’ve qualified for the Playoffs?

JERRY FREEZE: It definitely does. The first time, 2016, we won a race because the fog rolled in at the right time at Pocono, and we barely made it in on top 30 in points that year, so we probably didn’t deserve to be in there that time, we were just very fortunate. 

Winning the Daytona 500, I thought Michael earned that one, but I don’t think our team was as strong as it is right now. We weren’t very consistent. We were kind of in a lull, I guess, rolling into the Playoffs that year.

I feel a whole lot better about the chemistry that we have between Travis and Michael and the car chief Griffin and the engineers and everybody on the team. It’s just a really, really good bunch that we have, and really I give Travis all the credit. It’s his leadership and his work. He’s got a tireless work ethic, and he’s bringing really good cars to the racetrack for Michael, and their chemistry is super strong.

I just feel like our team is so much stronger this year than what it was in 2021.

Q. The accomplishment of being able to win both a Daytona 500 and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, how valuable is that for not only a driver’s record but also a team’s?

JERRY FREEZE: Yeah, I mean, you put it in that perspective, it is. It’s something that I think we’ve got to start working on some of our marketing propaganda and promote that a little bit.

You usually think of those top-tier organizations that have those accomplishments, so for our little team, as I might call it, to have a Cup Series win at Daytona and at the Brickyard is really huge.

We’ve been able to — Front Row, I’ve been at Front Row for 15 years, and we started off with a team that it was just an accomplishment to make the field for a race, and it’s just kind of grown from there, just incrementally.

That’s what Bob Jenkins, he kind of challenged us with that from the start, let’s just get a little bit better from year to year to year, and I feel like we’ve accomplished that.

So the partnerships around the team have gotten incrementally better over the years. I still think our sponsorship base is a fraction of what some of those big organizations are, and so having this as one of our list of accomplishments as we’re talking to those marketing executives about joining us with Front Row Motorsports I think has got to have some impact, so it’s going to be curious how that plays out in the months and years to come.

Q. To elaborate further, it was fairly obvious that the best car and the best driver today won the race. We don’t always see that in NASCAR. A lot of times circumstances will determine who wins the race. Is that as flawless a performance as we’ve seen this season, and also the fact that there weren’t any stage breaks really kept the flow of the race going and how important was that?

TRAVIS PETERSON: Yeah, I mean, I love what they’ve done with the road course format. I think this is how it should stay, selfishly, because Michael does good.

But I think it’s a disservice to guys who run good on these tracks to have to pit before a stage, give up all those points the way the format was before.

I think it’s great. I think we saw Martin Truex do something real similar in Sonoma. Just on a given day, if a good road course racer gets a car that he has a good feel for, you can just see days like this, and this is what’s going to probably happen at road course races without the stages. 

Q. Travis, I think I heard you say earlier, you talked about feeling stress or just the feeling of what you were going through. Can you just kind of explain, when you talk about stress, what were you feeling? What was the sensation, and why were you feeling stressed at certain points?

TRAVIS PETERSON: Yeah, I think it’s been stress and kind of frustration the last couple weeks. We gave up a lot of points that we didn’t feel like we needed to give up, and whether it was I took the blame in Richmond for a bad call or the damage we had on the car at Michigan, it kind of just kept us from being able to show the potential we had those weekends, and that was really frustrating. So just kept kind of building as we fell to the cut line.

Obviously there’s a lot of stress and effort that goes around it, but just ramping up coming to a track where you know you’re good, we wanted to stay in the hunt, so we felt good about that, but it was a little bit of frustration that we gave up the points that we did leading into this day. 

Q. Obviously you wanted to be a crew chief and you’re in that engineering role, so what was it about Michael when you met with him, why was that the right situation, and how did he convince you or how did you convince him that you were his guy?

TRAVIS PETERSON: Yeah, I can’t speak to how I convinced him, but I do remember making one comment to him about why do guys keep hiring experienced crew chiefs instead of taking a risk on a guy who knows what his potential could be. I do feel like that might have resonated with him because he liked that comment, and he felt that about himself at times throughout his career.

I’ve gotten to see Michael even when I was at RFK with the technical alliance and that, and I’ve always respected what I saw out of him and the fact that it was a Cup-level crew chief opportunity where I didn’t have to say go to Xfinity and then come back up, and that all played a factor into it, but as I’ve gotten to know Michael it was perfect because he works so hard at it and he pairs with how much effort I put in evenly.

Q. Along those lines (indiscernible)?

TRAVIS PETERSON: He was just talking about doing his due diligence and interviewing other people, and I don’t remember if I asked him who else, and he actually told me because we’re both really honest people, like just overly honest about most things, and he — I don’t remember what he said, if there was some other older crew chief, and I was just like hey, man, let me ask you an honest question, right, and it kind of has led into the relationship we have, just, hey, this is what I think, here’s my thoughts, and no sugar coating it. 

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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