Finally, Kvapil back on track
The last time Janesville’s Travis Kvapil climbed out of a race car in a NASCAR event, he had just finished 18th in the Sprint Cup race in Bristol, Tenn., last March.
Within days, Yates Racing, unable to find a sponsor, shut down Kvapil’s No. 28 team.
For the first time in 132 days, Kvapil will be back on the track Saturday as he takes the wheel of the No. 51 Miccosukee Resort Toyota Tundra in the Camping World Truck series Toyota 200 at the Nashville Superspeedway. The ride in the No. 51, owned by Billy Ballew Motorsports, has been split this season between Kyle Busch and Brian Ickler.
“It’s not where I want to be. I’d like to be (Sprint) Cup racing. But it’s a great opportunity to get into a competitive truck,” Kvapil said.
The 150-lap, 200-mile race is scheduled for 7 p.m. Coverage on Speed (Channel 30 on Janesville cable) begins at 6:30.
Kvapil won the 2007 truck series race in his last start at the 1.33-mile superspeedway just outside Nashville. Kvapil, whose career has been in limbo since Yates Racing shut down the 33-year-old driver’s Cup team, has five previous truck series starts at Nashville.
Meanwhile, Billy Ballew Motorsports has eight prior starts at Nashville, with a best finish of 11th place posted in 2004 and 2005. But the team will be bringing one of its best trucks to the track this weekend. The truck scheduled to run has posted nine of the 12 career victories for the Ballew organization.
Ballew, a Georgia businessman, founded his team in 1996. Edgerton’s Rich Bickle drove in some races for Ballew in 1998, 2003 and 2004. Kvapil will become the 51st driver to take the wheel of a Ballew machine.
A little geography and timing worked in Kvapil’s favor with all three major NASCAR series competing on the same weekend at different tracks. The Sprint Cup teams will be in Pennsylvania for a visit to the 2.5-mile Pocono Speedway. The Nationwide series visits the Iowa Speedway for its first-ever event at the track designed and co-owned by Rusty Wallace. That scheduling left several owners scrambling to fill seats this weekend.
Busch, who has slipped out of the top 12 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings, will be in Iowa driving Joe Gibbs’ Nationwide Pizza Ranch Toyota. Ickler, meanwhile, will drive the Todd Braun-owned Dollar General Stores Toyota at the U.S. Cellular 250 in Iowa, scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The musical chairs and the timing of the two Saturday NASCAR events opened a quality ride for Kvapil.
And it gets him behind the wheel at a place where he has won before. Kvapil, driving for Roush Racing, scored a truck series win at Nashville on Aug. 11, 2007, one of his four victories that season.
“They need somebody to drive it. I happen to be the lucky one,” Kvapil said of his one-race deal in the No. 51. “I’ve proven myself in the truck series. I was an easy pick for them.”
Kvapil’s seat time has been almost nonexistent since he lost his Cup ride. The only time Kvapil, the 2003 truck series champion, has strapped into a race car was in June when he put Robby Gordon’s Cup car through its practice paces while Gordon was competing in an off-road event in Mexico.
Kvapil said the layoff would not be a factor.
“I don’t think it will be a big deal,” he said. “I felt comfortable the very first lap when I jumped in Robby Gordon’s car at Pocono.”
Kvapil said the coolest thing about racing at Nashville is the trophy that goes to the winner—a Gibson guitar hand-painted by artist Sam Bass. Busch caused a stir earlier this season when he smashed the guitar in victory lane after winning a Nationwide race at the track.
“One of the guys at the Ballew shop said if we win, we should set the guitar on fire like Jimi Hendrix. I’m not going to do that,” Kvapil said. “I’m proud of my first Nashville trophy and I want another.
“It’s a really unique track. The corners are tight. It has a little feel like a short track. You need to have a good handling truck to do well at Nashville. Billy Ballew’s trucks are capable of winning every week and I’d like to leave Nashville this week with a second guitar.”
Meanwhile, Kvapil said things are still quiet on the Cup front.
“As it stands now, there’s nothing to really talk about,” he said. “I’m talking to teams. That’s about all I can say.”