Kvapil stays patient while waiting for ride
Janesville's Travis Kvapil knows things could be worse.
The NASCAR driver with 100-plus career Sprint Cup starts hasn't raced since March 22 when he finished 18th in the Food City 500—a respectable showing in an unsponsored car. But that effort left Kvapil out of the top 35 in owner points and out of ride when Yates Racing owner Doug Yates pulled the plug on the No. 28 team.
"It's a bummer when you're not at the track," Kvapil said.
But unlike millions of unemployed Americans looking for work during the economic crisis, Kvapil is still getting a paycheck from Yates. His 2009 contract called for him to be paid whether he raced in five events or the entire 36-race schedule.
That's allowed Kvapil to be patient as he waits for Yates to find elusive sponsorship for the No. 28 team or for a quality seat to open up in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Truck series.
"It's a critical time," said Kvapil, the 2003 truck series champion. "There are more drivers than cars, and a lot of guys are sitting on the sidelines.
"I'm fortunate since I'm under contract that I don't have to jump at anything just to get a paycheck. I'm well aware I have to get in something that's going to do my career good.
"It's a double-edge sword. As a racer you want to get out there and go."
Kvapil knows he has to be picky. The 33-year-old driver can't put himself into a bad situation with an underfunded team without damaging his reputation.
"I feel like an opportunity will come to race something," Kvapil said. "I've had a few phone calls already. I've turned a few opportunities down. The Sprint Cup series is where I want to be. I'm not just going to jump in a truck ride or Nationwide ride just to race.
"Six months from now it might be different how selective I can be."
Despite losing his ride, Kvapil still has confidence in his talent.
"I feel like I'm the first guy on the bench who is going to get called up if something happens," said Kvapil, who posted nine victories in 130 truck series starts and never finished out of the top 10 in points in five full seasons on that circuit.
Earlier this month, Kvapil got a call from Penske Racing to be on call for an ailing Sam Hornish at Talladega. Kvapil was at the track and ready to slide into the seat. But Hornish was able to gut out the 500-mile race. Ironically, it was the Penske team that gave Kvapil his Sprint Cup start in 2004 and then released him at the end of the 2005 season.
"I've learned to never burn bridges in this sport," Kvapil said. "It's still pretty early in the season. There won't be driver changes for another month. There is a high demand to perform. Quality sponsors are hard to come by. A few teams have high-dollar sponsors and they're not performing.
"I'm just kind of waiting in the wings."
Kvapil's 2009 season took a downward plunge at Vegas Motor Speedway when he failed to qualify for the race by just .008 seconds.
"We took the wrong approach to that weekend," Kvapil said. "We spent too much time in race trim and not enough practice time on our qualifying setup. That only gave us only a small window to get the car dialed in (for qualifying).
"That was a big letdown. As soon as that happened, I knew that might have been the nail in the coffin for my season. We just couldn't get it done for one lap. We just didn't get it right."
For now, Kvapil is trying to adjust to life without racing.
"I hadn't mowed the lawn in four years," he said. "I did that the other day. I'm doing a lot of different things. There's not a lot going on (in racing). I get the rare opportunity to be with the kids and go to the kids' soccer games. It is neat to be home with the kids.
"I'm not going to sit at home and watch soap operas. I take kids to school. I go to the race shop now and then. I hit the gym to stay in shape."
Kvapil also refuses to walk around the garage area at races wearing a sign saying, "Will drive for food."
"I went to the races at Richmond (Va.), Charlotte (N.C.) and Darlington (S.C.). You just want to be seen," Kvapil said. "But it's never been me to go out and beg for work. I hang out, shake hands."
Kvapil's predicament started when Yates Racing took the points he accumulated last year and gave them to Bobby Labonte's team prior to the season.
"We had 16 or so sponsors on that (28) car last year," Kvapil said. "The thing is, there were two or three of those sponsors we thought we'd have deals with for 2009. But everything dried up.
"We're working hard on sponsors. We're making calls every week and trying to put stuff together. It wouldn't take nothing to pull the trigger and get a team up and going again. But I'm not the one paying the bills. That's Doug's call.
"It's sad that we outperformed so many of those guys last year and we couldn't put something together. All those people we had last year (as sponsors) enjoyed the program. They like what I did for them on the track and off the track."
The points swap with Labonte's team not only put a nail in Kvapil's season, it kept him from racing in last weekend's all-star event at Lowe's Motor Speedway, a race he had qualified for based on his 2008 points finish.
"That was a disappointing situation when your shop is five miles from the track and you don't race," Kvapil said. "I'd have like to have a shot at it. I was a spectator. I'm disappointed."
So, what are the chances we'll see Kvapil on the track in 2009?
"My gut tells me it's about 50-50 that I'll be back in the 28," Kvapil said. "That's a pretty vanilla answer.
"For me to be back on the track in another car, I'd give that a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1 to 10."