Proving his point
Anatomy of a points swap
-- If qualifying is rained out during the first five races of a season, NASCAR uses owner points from the previous year to determine the starting lineup. From the sixth race on, owner points from the current season are used to set the field.
-- Janesville’s Travis Kvapil finished the 2008 Sprint Cup season ranked No. 23 in the driver and owner point standings for Yates Racing. That should have locked him into the field for the Daytona 500 regardless of his qualifying time or finish in his Feb. 12 Twin 150 qualifying race.
-- On Jan. 12, Yates Racing announced a partnership with Hall of Fame Racing, which included sponsorship money for 18 of the first 21 races and as many as 29 events from Ask.com. Bobby Labonte, a former Cup champion, is signed as the driver. Although the Hall of Fame logo will be on the No. 96 car, it will essentially be a Yates vehicle, housed and built and overseen day to day by Yates personnel.
-- On Jan. 19, Yates Racing announced that the owner points earned by Gilliland’s team during the 2008 season will be transferred to Labonte. Paul Menard gets the points earned by Kvapil. The move guarantees Labonte and Menard spots in the Daytona 500 and the next four races. It allows Labonte and Stewart to use the first five races to potentially lock down spots in the top 35 in owner points. It also protects Labonte’s sponsor from missing any of the first five races.
-- On Jan. 23, Yates Racing announced that Kvapil would enter the first five races regardless of sponsorship status. Without owner points to fall back on, Kvapil will be at the mercy of Daytona’s complicated qualifying procedure that includes time trials, qualifying races, owner points and provisionals.
JANESVILLE Remember that old stunt where a magician yanks a tablecloth from beneath a beautiful setting of china, silverware, crystal and flowers? The items stay on the table in their same location and the magician waves the fancy piece of linen around while the appreciative audience applauds.
Travis Kvapil probably feels like one of those items left on the table.
Despite finishing 23rd in the Sprint Cup point standings in 2008 for the grossly underfunded Yates Racing team, Kvapil could only sit and watch late last month as team owner Doug Yates took the points accrued by the Janesville driver and gave them to Paul Menard. The Eau Claire driver defected from Dale Earnhardt Inc. and will bring Menard’s sponsorship money to the Yates team.
Menard finished 26th in points last year, but lost his points when he jumped teams.
That means Kvapil will have no points to fall back on during qualifying for the first five races this season. That’s especially crucial for the season-opening Daytona 500 as several low-budget teams have come out of the woodwork to chase the $250,000 up for grabs just for making the 43-car field.
Kvapil figures there will be 15 drivers fighting for about six or seven Daytona 500 starting spots. But he has a reason to be confident.
“Yates engines are strong at Talladega and Daytona,” Kvapil said. “I just wish we had a little more time with our new team and crew chief.”
The only seat time Kvapil has had since the Cup finale in November came during a January tire test at the Texas Motor Speedway.
Kvapil’s situation could be worse. Teammate David Gilliland, who finished 27th in the driver standings, is still technically employed by Yates Racing but is without a ride after the team transferred his points to Bobby Labonte. The 2000 Cup champion brings sponsorship money from Ask.com to the team in a quasi-merger involving the Yates oufit and Hall of Fame Racing.
“This really caught me by surprise,” Kvapil said. “I thought we did a pretty good job last year. We had a reasonable year. We finished in the top half of Sprint Cup, which is pretty incredible. We never had proper funding.
“Sponsorship. That’s the king. You have to have the money behind you. It’s not like me or my family has millions of dollars to bring to the team.
“I’m disappointed how it ended up. But I understand why. Doug Yates ran this team out of his pockets last year and can’t afford to do it this year.
“Those teams (Menard and Labonte) are funded, they have to be guaranteed to be in the races. I kind of lost it all. My whole team (including crew chief Todd Parrott) has gone to the 96 team.”
Former Ford field manager Ben Leslie will serve as Kvapil’s crew chief this season.
“Sometimes, you have to do tough things, and all your drivers and employees are like family,” said team owner Doug Yates at a recent Ford press conference. “You live with them day in and day out, so to have to call Travis in and say, ‘You’ve got to start over and qualify for every race, and I’m sorry,’ that’s tough.”
Meanwhile, Labonte is a former champion who can use the past champions provisional as many as six times in a season to qualify for races. So why wouldn’t Yates let Kvapil keep his points, give Gilliland’s to Menard and let Labonte fend for himself?
Mainly because of Tony Stewart.
The two-time Cup champion ended his relationship with Joe Gibbs to form a new team. That means Stewart also enters the season without any top-35 points to fall back on.
If Stewart and Labonte needed to use the past champion’s spot in the same race, Stewart would get the spot because his last title season came more recently than Labonte’s.
And, because the Yates team switched its points to Menard and Labonte, Kvapil also lost his spot in tonight’s Budweiser Shootout.
“It really bums me out,” Kvapil said. “That was definitely something our whole 28 team took pride in the last half of last year, trying to make sure we qualified for that race. To just give that away is disappointing. I’ve never been part of a shootout or All-Star event.
“It’s fun for the driver. It’s going to tear me up to have to watch that race.”
Meanwhile, Kvapil will have to focus on doing whatever it takes to get his car into the lucrative Daytona 500.
Kvapil got a smidgeon of good news earlier this week. Yates Racing announced that restaurant franchise Golden Corral will sponsor the No. 28 car for the Daytona 500.
But the team, which pieced together multiple sponsorship deals just to stay afloat last year, has been unable to sign a major sponsor for 2009 and will either rely on a series of one-, two- and multi-race deals again or give up the ghost if nothing materializes after the first five races.
The tanking economy has left several NASCAR teams scrambling to find financing.
“I was hoping we’d attract sponsors in December,” Kvapil said. “All winter long throughout the offseason, I was just working really hard with the marketing guys, making calls and doing everything I can to try to get some money and help secure sponsorship.
“I put a lot of effort into that. Right now, I just want to run that 28 car. People are afraid to commit millions of dollars to running a racecar. If we can get things rolling with our team, maybe the economy will loosen up and we can get somebody to sign up. I’ll just have to go like hell the first five races.”
Whether Kvapil runs five races or the full schedule, he will receive his entire 2009 salary.
But drivers aren’t happy unless they’re behind the wheel of a racecar.
Last year, in his third full season of Cup competition, Kvapil failed to finish only two of the 36 races, a stat as good or better than eight of the 12 drivers in the Chase for the Cup.
“If we don’t take the 28 out and we leave it at home and leave Travis at home, nobody is going to know it’s there and we’re never going to be able to put something together,” said Max Jones, Yates Racing’s co-owner.
“It’s not a lot different than what we did last year in taking two white cars (to Daytona) and everybody saw what happened there. We were able to keep working really hard and put things together.
“In this economy, we won’t dilute a program by running it a whole year if we can’t get a sponsor. If I have to have a different sponsor for all 36 races (for the 28 car) that’s what I’ll do.”
Yates seems to think his team is on the way back to its glory days.
“Our car finished second at Infineon (Raceway) and sat on the pole at Talladega, and through all that, we had a lot of sponsors,” Yates said.