Travis Kvapil to return to NASCAR full-time
For Janesville native Travis Kvapil, the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series turned from a promising opportunity to frustrating disappointment in just five races.
Kvapil, the 33-year-old NASCAR veteran, was not ready to go into a forced retirement last year when the Yates Racing team pulled the plug early in the season. He was convinced he could run up front if he had an opportunity with a solid team backed up by adequate equipment and funding.
“I used that disappointment as motivation to keep my name out there and continue looking for that opportunity to get back behind the wheel,” Kvapil said Wednesday. “That opportunity now exists with Front Row Motorsports.”
Kvapil has signed on with a team owned by restaurant mogul Bob Jenkins. No, he’s not the sportscaster Bob Jenkins. He’s the NASCAR team owner Bob Jenkins, who has numerous franchises, including Long John Silver’s, which will serve as the main sponsor on Kvapil’s number 34 Ford Fusion.
Kvapil, in making the official announcement Tuesday, said there’s the potential to be a consistent top-20 team. Front Row Motorsports will receive factory technical support from Ford and will enjoy Roush-Yates engines.
“This team had zero manufacturer support in the past. It was a truly independent effort,” Kvapil said. “Now, Ford is stepping up with technical support, wind tunnel time and simulation data that will really help.”
Roush-Yates engines will provide the team with plenty of power, Kvapil said.
“Under the hood, we’ll be at the head of the pack,” he said. “Roush-Yates engines always put out great horsepower.”
Kvapil is no stranger to Yates Racing. During the 2008 season, driving an under-funded and unsponsored car, Kvapil recorded four top-10 finishes and a pole at Talladega. The team finished 23rd in points and looked ahead to a successful 2009 season. Those plans fell through, and Kvapil was looking for another ride after the first five races.
It’s critical to be in the top 35 in points to lock up a starting spot for the next race. To end the season in 23rd with an independent team was an accomplishment that the NASCAR community couldn’t help but notice.
Before the 2009 season, Kvapil learned that those valuable points were turned over to Paul Menard, whose father’s stores provided sponsorship on Menard’s Yates team car.
“It’s really disappointing,” Kvapil said. “I felt we had a great year in 2008. Yates Racing, as a startup team, had a handful of top 10 finishes, a pole and finished 23rd in the standings— not too shabby. We were all looking forward to 2009, but the funding ended and we could not find another sponsor.”
That disappointment is behind him now as he prepares for the 2010 Daytona 500 practice sessions. NASCAR has banned pre-race testing, but that may be a plus for Front Row Motorsports.
“We have a new deal with the cars and engines so some testing would have been helpful, but I think we’ll benefit more from having more time to build our cars and get them ready than we would have benefited from testing,” Kvapil said. “Testing is not as critical at Daytona as it is at other tracks, so I think we’ll be in good shape once practice starts next month.”
Kvapil is guaranteed a starting spot at Daytona and the next four races because of owner points earned by Front Row Motorsports last year with John Andretti driving.
Kvapil assured his fans that the 2010 season with Front Row Motorsports is a full-time commitment. There will be no instances of starting a race, completing a lap or two and then pulling into the pits with a mysterious mechanical problem to make sure the car is in one piece for the next race.
“The plan is to enter every race and race every lap,” Kvapil said. “This is a complete effort, and we’ll be running for those points that can elevate us to the top tier.”
Unlike many drivers, Kvapil has welcomed the so-called Car of Tomorrow in Cup racing.
“I feel more comfortable in the new car than the old one,” Kvapil said. “The new car has less downforce, meaning it’s not stuck to the track as much as the old one. It has the feel of the truck, so with my experience in the truck series, I like the way the new car handles.”
Kvapil has seen his share of “down” days in the Cup series, but he had a great deal of success in the NASCAR truck series. He won the 2003 NASCAR truck series championship. The following year, he gave Toyota its first major NASCAR win in Detroit’s backyard at Michigan International Speedway in a race sponsored by the same company that sponsored his truck—Line-X pickup truck bedliners.
Despite his success, Kvapil has remained a hometown kind of guy, eager to maintain ties to his hometown fans and media. His cell phone number is available, and he returns calls.
“I’m very appreciative of my fans in the Janesville and Milton area that have supported me through my racing career,” he said. “It’s hard to keep up with everyone all the time, but I do the best I can.
“I’m a tweeter now, so folks back home can follow what’s going on with that or they can log on to my website.”
Kvapil is back in the game, and you can watch a hometown kind of guy turn left and gas it in car No. 34 on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, in the 2010 Daytona 500.