Tale of two seasons for Kvapil
Travis Kvapil has endured a Dickensian-type campaign in his first year with the Yates Racing team.
For the Janesville native, 2008 has literally been a tale of two seasons.
“We started off so good,” Kvapil said in a recent phone interview. “Things were definitely looking good. I’m a little disappointed with the second half of the season. It kind of balances out.
“We’re probably going to rank in the points where we deserve. But it was definitely a positive season.”
Kvapil enters Sunday’s season finale—the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—sitting 24th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings. Kvapil stands 26 points ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya.
With a break or two and a good finish Sunday, Kvapil could conceivably finish as high as 22nd in the points. He trails Elliott Sadler by 47 points and David Reutimann by 51.
That’s a far cry better than the team expected before the season started.
Back in January, Kvapil and teammate David Gilliland were just hoping to keep their then-unsponsored Yates cars in the top 35 in owner points and secure guaranteed starting spots in the 43-car field for each race.
“In January, if you said we’d finish top 25 in points, we’d be happy with that,” Kvapil said. “We didn’t even know if we were going to run all year. We didn’t have sponsorship. It was a building year.”
Kvapil’s plain white No. 28 Ford Fusion stuck out like a dandelion on a golf green.
But the team’s expectation level started to change when Kvapil finished eighth at Las Vegas in the season’s third race. Hopes got even higher during an 11-race stretch that saw Kvapil average a 16th-place finish and climb from 28th to 18th in points. That run included two more top-10 finishes—a sixth-place effort at Talladega Superspeedway and a ninth-place run at Darlington Raceway.
With the surge in points came a litany of sponsors for one-, two- or multiple-race deals. Kvapil’s team carried the colors from a diverse list of sponsors that included the likes of the California Highway Patrol, the “Knight Rider” TV series, K&N Filters and Hitachi Power Tools.
Kvapil’s team averaged 100 points per race in the first 18 races. Things started to unravel when a near-certain top-10 finish in the July Daytona race was derailed by last-lap crash. During the last 17 races, Kvapil and the Yates team scored just 84 points per race.
“I don’t think we overachieved in the early part of the season,” Kvapil said. “We just didn’t maintain. Other teams got stronger. But haven’t gone to Milwaukee or Nashville or Kentucky to test our cars. That’s what happens when you’re trying to pinch every penny.”
One of the few highlights of the second half of the season came when Kvapil captured the pole position for the October race at Talladega.
“That was a huge shot in the arm for our team,” Kvapil said.
But the race itself delivered a huge shot to another body part that can’t be specified in print.
Running with the leaders throughout that restrictor-plate race, Kvapil got caught up in a late wreck caused by Carl Edwards.
“There were definitely a couple races where we had a top-10 car and just out of left field we get wiped out,” Kvapil said. “I’ve looked at the replay of the Talladega wreck four or five times. There was nothing I could do.”
But Kvapil’s performance in his third full season of Cup racing earned him an automatic contract renewal in September. As the sixth-best Ford team in the point standings, Kvapil has also qualified for next February’s Budweiser Shootout, a big-money race the week before the Daytona 500.
One area in which the Yates teams need to improve is qualifying. The No. 28 team’s average qualifying spot is 26th. Its average finish is 23rd.
In 22 of the first 35 races, Kvapil finished higher than where he qualified. In 14 of the 35 races Kvapil finished eight positions or more higher than where he started.
It’s one thing to start 35th and pick up 10 or 12 spots as opposed to qualifying in the top 20 and gaining the same number of positions.
“It’s a huge deficit to put yourself in,” Kvapil said of his team’s qualifying woes. “It’s a situation we’re aware of. We’re trying to figure out what I need to do to get the most out of the car for one (qualifying) lap.”
Yates Racing has received assistance in 2008 from Roush-Fenway Racing. There has been speculation that the Yates teams have not been privy to all of Roush-Fenway’s secrets.
“I tell you what, when (crew chief) Todd Parrott or I have a question, we can go across the street and talk to (Carl Edwards’ crew chief) Bob Osborne or (Jamie McMurray’s crew chief) Larry Carter,” Kvapil said. “I know we’re getting similar equipment.
“I definitely feel like the hardware side of it we’re right there with them. On the engineering side, I think we get as much information as the five Roush teams do. We have seven teams working as close together as is realistically possible while working out of two buildings.”
The Yates team will expand by one car next year as Eau Claire’s Paul Menard will leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. and bring his father’s sponsorship dollars to the new team.
“We’re knocking down a wall at the shop to expand and get all three teams into the same area,” Kvapil said. “With a three-car team, I think it’s going to be great. To have Paul come in with a sponsored car fully funded, that’s going to add to the value of Yates Racing.”
But the team is still wheeling and dealing to find sponsors for Kvapil’s and Gilliland’s cars for 2009. Kvapil said those deals are imminent.
“I don’t want to get the cart before the horse,” he said, “but I’m confident we have three or four sponsors we’re close to signing up for next year. Some of those are companies already in the NASCAR garage and some are people we’ve run with this year.
“Some companies are interested in doing more than one or two races. We’ll have a majority of the races sponsored. We’re pretty close to that.
“I’m making phone calls and doing every thing I can to help. This is a tough time in the economy. The sport of NASCAR is taking a hit.
“We feel like we’ve weathered the hardest part of the storm.”
KVAPIL'S 2009 SEASON AT A GLANCE
Top 10s: 3.
Avg. Start: 26th.
Avg. Finish: 23rd.
Laps led: 15.
Winnings: $4,093, 538.
Primary sponsors: 16.