It’s full speed ahead for Kvapil
Travis Kvapil is almost giddy as he looks ahead to the 2011 NASCAR season.
So far, it has been a very good year for the Janesville driver—and he has yet to compete in his first race.
On Feb. 6, Kvapil was joined by his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Kelsey, in Arlington, Texas, to watch his favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, win Super Bowl XLV.
A week later, the 34-year-old Kvapil was at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he clinched a spot in Sunday’s Daytona 500 with a 20th-place qualifying effort.
“Daytona’s the biggest race of the year to start the season off. So to get qualifying behind us and get the car locked in the field is a big deal,” Kvapil said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Daytona.
“We were very fortunate to get it done in qualifying,” he said. “We’re able rest easier these last couple days and not have to worry about being one of the two transfer spots on Thursday in the Duel races.”
For Kvapil, 2011 promises to be very busy. Not only will he run nearly a full Cup schedule in his second season with Front Row Motorsports, he also will chase the Camping World Truck Series championship with Randy Moss Motorsports. Kvapil won the 2003 Truck title and has enjoyed success in the series, scoring nine victories in 132 career starts.
“More than anything, I’m just excited for the year,” Kvapil said. “One thing I keep thinking about is 2009, when I only was able to run a handful of races the entire year. And now, in 2011, I have two full schedules.”
Kvapil is confident he can run up front on a regular basis in the Truck series, and he’s hoping FRM’s improved engines, cars and equipment in the Cup series will lead to solid and consistent finishes.
Kvapil and David Gilliland return as drivers for Front Row Motorsports, which is scaling down from three cars to two this season.
Kvapil said the team made some major improvements over the winter.
“We bought 34 race cars from Richard Petty Motorsports,” he said. “We’re using the new Ford engine that came out last year. We didn’t run it last year but we’re using it this year with the Roush/Yates engine package.”
FRM also hired Derrick Finley for the newly created position of competition director, and named Bill Henderson as Kvapil’s new crew chief.
“So there’s a lot of changes, and I feel like they were all for the good,” Kvapil said.
The changes have led to higher, though realistic, expectations.
“Last year we were just kind of in survival mode,” Kvapil said. “We were just kind of there riding around. We raced hard, but we didn’t really have equipment to really give us a chance. And we didn’t have a lot of race cars back at the race shop if we tore anything up.
“We’re in a little bit better situation in all those areas this year. We feel like we can be more aggressive, we can charge and we can push a little harder. Our expectations are higher.”
Still, it’s hard to compare Front Row Motorsports with the top teams in Cup. Kvapil said team owner Bob Jenkins basically funds the team with his own money, and FRM lacks the resources of testing or the best equipment that the big-name teams have.
“But we expect to be a mid-pack car, and run top 20 every week is kind of our goal,” Kvapil said.
Kvapil said his chance to return to the Truck series came up late last year, when his future with FRM was still uncertain. David Dollar, co-owner of the team along with NFL receiver Randy Moss, called Kvapil and asked him if he’d be interested in driving their truck.
“I presented to my Cup team to see if there was a way we could make it work, and we did,” Kvapil said. “So I’m excited to have that opportunity. That’s a top-notch team in the Truck series, and we’re going to contend for the championship. And, obviously, our goal is to win races.
“In doing so, I’ll miss a few Cup races throughout the season—as few as three or four it looks like. So it’s going to be a busy summer for me.”
Kvapil last competed in the Truck series in 2007, when he won four races driving for Jack Roush.
Kvapil said the newly paved surface at Daytona is “super, super smooth,” though it’s forcing drivers to adapt.
“I think we’re all just figuring it out as we go,” he said. “We saw a lot of two-car drafting in the Shootout and in practice. And as we go NASCAR is making some rule changes to try and get away from that.”
No matter what happens in Sunday’s Daytona 500, it may be difficult for Kvapil to top his Super Bowl experience.
“The Super Bowl was awesome. We just had a great time,” he said. “Obviously, cheering the Packers on to victory probably made it the most fun.”