Fontana II: Bell, Kvapil, Darnell - Ford Friday interview

T.J. Bell, driver of the No. 50 Heathcliff's Cat Litter Ford F-150 makes his return to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race this weekend at Gateway International Raceway. Bell talks about his time outside of the truck and hopes to apply his ...

T.J. Bell, driver of the No. 50 Heathcliff's Cat Litter Ford F-150 makes his return to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race this weekend at Gateway International Raceway. Bell talks about his time outside of the truck and hopes to apply his off-track lessons to his racing this weekend.

T.J. BELL -- No. 50 Heathcliff's Cat Litter Ford F-150 --

GATEWAY RACEWAY MARKS YOUR RETURN TO THE CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES. HOW WAS YOUR FIRST PRACTICE? "Well, I had to shake off some cobwebs. We really had to work on the truck because it was loose at the beginning, we couldn't get on the gas off the corner. But we really hit on something right at the end of practice and I think we have a real good direction to head towards in the second practice. We were real good. I'm excited. I can't thank the crew enough for working so hard. They gave me a great truck. This F-150 is unbelievable. Roush Fenway does a great job and everything is top notch and I can't thank them enough."

MANY DRIVERS SAY THIS IS A DIFFICULT TRACK BECAUSE OF THE SHAPE. "It's really easy to overdrive. You've got to tell yourself to not to overdrive it. There are real big bumps in the track and it bottoms out the truck quite a bit. Both ends are completely different. You've got to forget what you did in turns one and two as soon as approach turns three and four. It makes it hard to set-up the truck because you have to get a happy medium on both ends instead of having one side great and the other not. It's difficult but it's fun. It's going to be a great race."

WHAT IS KEY TO WINNING HERE? "The key thing is to finish all the laps. This place is really narrow and it gets pretty rough, but all truck racing is rough. You just got to finish all the laps and get to the end and make sure you have a good last 20 laps to be there and fight for the win."

WHAT IS YOUR SCHEDULE FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON? "I'm in the truck for the rest of the season except for one race right now. I'm real excited and hopefully we'll pick up where we left off and go forward. We've had a top-10; we just need a top-five and a win. The crew works really hard and they deserve it, for sure."

THE PAST FEW WEEKS YOU'VE OBSERVED THE CREW BOTH ON AND OFF THE TRACK, WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED? "I've learned a lot. Mostly what the crew goes through while I'm sitting in the truck having a good time; they're in the garage or in the shop working really hard. But, I've learned more about feedback and how to tell the crew what the truck is doing. When you watch the truck come out of the corner, I knew what it felt like, now I know what it looks like from the outside so now I can explain it a little bit better."

DOES THAT MEAN YOU HAVE A NEW RESPECT FOR THE CREW? "Absolutely. I don't know how these guys do it every weekend. They're unbelievable. These guys are the ones that should be getting the trophies at the end of the race, not me."

***

Roush Fenway Racing drivers Travis Kvapil and Erik Darnell took sometime this afternoon in Gateway to meet with the media and discuss their season to date and the next couple of weeks.

TRAVIS KVAPIL -- No. 6 K&N Filters Ford F-150

TALK ABOUT YOUR RETURN TO THE SERIES. "I think there has been a big change since 2003 when I did win the championship. Driving for Xpress Motorsports in 2003, the Chevrolet and didn't have factory support at the time. When Toyota came to the series in '04, obviously Toyota had a lot of factory involvement and supported a lot the teams and definitely since then the other manufactures have to really kind of stepped-up and get up to the same level of where Toyota was at. That's been a big plus for the sport over the last few years, I think having the manufacturers' support. A lot of championship contenders and past champions are in the series now. The competition is really close you'll hear top guys that are all race winners, basically or past champions, I think half of them are past champions. It's as tough as it's ever been, I think. It's just going to keep getting tougher as younger guys come in and gain experience and manufacturers continue to support the series."

ERIK DARNELL -- No. 99 Northern Tools + Equipment Ford F-150

YOU HAD A CHANCE TO RUN IN THE BUSCH SERIES, BUT TURNED IT DOWN. NOW IN YOUR SECOND SEASON IN THE TRUCK SERIES, TELL US WHAT YOU EXPECT FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE SEASON. "Well, it wasn't really my choice to turn down the Busch ride. I never really had that chance, and it was between me and David Ragan and they picked David. Given the chance, I probably would have stayed in the truck again another year to get some more experience because I don't feel that I accomplished everything last that I wanted to do. I wanted to get more experience on these superspeedways. I think it paid off; our year hasn't been where I think it should be. We don't have the finishes that we should have had. We've had some back luck and I'd like to be higher than 10th in the points right now. We've got trucks as good as Travis' and those guys have done a little bit better than we have week-in and week-out at the track. On the other hand Travis has the experience of the past champion and they've picked up the wins. We got our one win this year. We don't have all the finishes that we should have so far. Hopefully we'll be able to turn this around by the end of the year."

THE NO. 6 LOOKED A LITTLE SCUFFED UP AFTER PRACTICE, WHAT HAPPENED ON THE RACE TRACK AND HOW YOU'RE GOING TO RECOVER THIS WEEKEND?

KVAPIL: "We'll rebound just fine. What happened was that the driver messed-up. It was our second run out there on the track and our truck was probably about where it needed to be. I just overdrove turn one and went up into the hill there in between one and two and got it up where I thought we'd be fine and got on the backstretch coming off of turn two and it just snapped out on me. I think I got loose and there wasn't a lot of rubber laid down. It tore the truck up just enough to require a back-up. It's not like it's killed or anything like that, but we know our back-up truck is as goods as our primary. It's the truck we raced at Milwaukee and we feel confident with it. It's kind of fortunate, a lot of time our practices are this spread out, so actually it works out okay and I guess if there is time to have a problem, we got three hours to get the back-up turned around for this evening's practice. We didn't really want to run a lot of laps in the first practice anyways, so I don't want to say it's not a big deal, because we've got to go out there tonight and tiptoe around. We don't have another back-up truck, so we got to make sure we get this thing qualified for tomorrow and the race."

DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO MAKE-UP GROUND ON SKINNER, HORNADAY AND THE CHAMPIONSHIP TO MAKE IT A THREE-WAY RUN?

KVAPIL: "I think we do, but it's going to require Mike and Ron to have some bad runs. Last week hurt us a little, but I think we can win the rest of the year and I really don't think we can win the championship because Mike and Ron are going to be top-five right there with me. I don't think we can make enough gains sweeping all the races. It's still going to take those guys to have a couple bad days. It would be nice to have a 60 points swing that we lost last week, but that's racing. I'm glad we were at least racing for the lead, not 10th or 15th when that happened. Our team is really motivated right now, we've got a lot of confidence and we're on a roll. We need to continue to run up front, lead laps and contend for wins, but I still think those guys are gonna have to have a couple of bad days."

WHY HAVE YOU BEEN SO GOOD IN THE LAST COUPLE OF RACES?

KVAPIL: "We've hit on something, but it's not anything in particular. It's just taken our team a couple weeks to get everything on track. Races two and three were terrible for us, then Erik won Kansas and that was a turnaround for our whole Roush truck organization. Besides Daytona the first handful of races, our whole truck teams kind of struggled. We had a new front end on them we were working on the aero balance differences. A lot of teams were going to this different coil bind type front screen set up that is new to a lot of these truck teams. And me working with a new team and crew chief for the first time, it took us a couple of weeks to get on the right track and go in the right direction. Kansas was a big turnaround for our whole organization and really since that point we've had top-five trucks week-in and week-out and it's just a matter of putting the whole package together and not make any mistakes."

DARNELL: SO IS KANSAS THE REASON WHY EVERYTHING TURNED AROUND? "No, but I think that's the race where we incorporated some the new stuff from the wind tunnel and aero and the things we found and kind of put those to use on the truck."

KVAPIL: "Early in the season there are weeks off where you can do a lot of development."

DARNELL: "Kansas was where it all came together. Not just for me but everybody. Travis had a really fast truck and something happen where he got a lap down and his truck was just about as good as ours throughout the race. The 50 truck was strong too. And that was the first race where we've all been really strong."

YOU'VE HAD STRONG RACES, BUT NOT FINISHES TO SHOW IT. HOW HARD IS IT FOR YOU TO KEEP YOUR HEAD UP AND STAY POSITIVE WHEN YOU HAVE GOOD RUNS GET SPOILED BY THINGS OUT OF YOUR CONTROL?

DARNELL: "It's both good and bad, just because we don't have the finishes we should this year but we have been running well week-in and week-out. We were top-five in Kentucky and blew a tire; we had a good truck in Texas and blew a motor. Things have happened out of our control. It's frustrating but I look where we were at last year during the races in our rookie season and think about how we ran in those race and how we can improve this year. It's kind of a high part for us."

YOU WANT TO STAY IN THE TOP-10 IN POINTS, HAVE YOU REACHED THAT POINT IN THE SCHEDULE WHERE YOU THINK POINTS DON'T MATTER AND THE WIN DOES?

DARNELL: "That's always a big thing. We want to go out there and win every week, but obviously we can't do that but. For us, I do want to stay in the top-10 in points and I don't want to fall out of it. For now, we are on the edge. We need to go out and have some good runs now at the end of the year to finish the year to solidify a top-10. I want to contend for wins because we are capable of winning. Hopefully, both our Fords will be in the top at the end."

BOTH OF YOU CAME FROM THE MIDWEST THE WISCONSIN AND NORTHERN ILLINOIS AREA; ARE THERE ANY NEW DRIVERS FROM THAT AREA?

KVAPIL: "There's a lot of short track racing in Wisconsin and the Midwest; the work ethic and the talent that is up there. Both me and Erik got our opportunities, we came from very similar backgrounds, as did Matt [Kenseth], [Todd] Kluever and a lot of guys in the Roush organization, [Jamie] McMurray, we all ran together in the Midwest. It's pretty neat that we're able to compete at this level. I haven't stayed in touch with the local scene as much as I should have; I'm kind of removed. I don't know of any names. As far as I know, Jack's [Roush] got enough drivers."

YOU WERE WITH TOYOTA IN 2004 AND WITH A START-UP TEAM, AND THAT WASN'T A HUGE SEASON. NOW TOYOTA IS IN CUP, DOES THIS SEEM FAMILIAR?

KVAPIL: "I think there are pretty big differences. Obviously the competition level in Cup is quite a bit greater than in the Craftsman Truck Series. From my understanding, it's been a different approach from how they did the Truck series to how they're doing the Cup. When I drove for Toyota in 2004, it was 'here's your truck, we made this thing as fast as we could and it's been in the wind tunnel. Put it together and go racing. Here's an engine to stick in it.' I think what they are doing at the Cup level; teams can build their own chassis and do there own bodies. It's kind of the way all the Cup teams are. They've had pretty good success with the way they're doing the truck series. It's pretty hard at the Cup level to get everybody to agree on what level they want their bodies. I guess the other thing is that drivers drive them different, too. We've seen that at the Roush organization, some guys want their bodies different than their teammates. It would be pretty tough to get Toyota to say 'here's a NEXTEL Cup car and put our engine it and go racing' since they did have success in the truck series level doing that."

-credit: ford racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers T.J. Bell , David Ragan , Erik Darnell , Travis Kvapil
Teams Roush Fenway Racing