MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 15, 2005) - Travis Kvapil will make his second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Sunday's Ford 500 and hopes to close out his rocky rookie season in NASCAR's upper echelon on a high...
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 15, 2005) - Travis Kvapil will make his second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Sunday's Ford 500 and hopes to close out his rocky rookie season in NASCAR's upper echelon on a high note.
Kvapil, who is coming off his second top-10 finish this season at Phoenix International Raceway last weekend, returns to the 1.5-mile Homestead track with fond memories. In 2003, he clinched the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Championship in the season finale on the last lap. And for that reason, Kvapil can't think of any track where he would rather end his rocky inaugural year in the NEXTEL Cup Series.
"I went into the 2003 Homestead race third in the points and I was OK with that," the 29-year-old Janesville, Wis., said. "As the laps wound down, I don't even think I realized how close I was to winning the championship. I just gave it all I had and as luck would have it, I didn't come up short."
With one race to go in 2003, Kvapil was 34 points behind the series points' leader, Brendan Gaughan. When the checkered flag was displayed, Kvapil was crowned champion by a narrow nine-point lead over second place Dennis Setzer and a mere 18-points over third place Ted Musgrave. It was a controversial win, but Kvapil came out on top and that was all that mattered.
"I moved my family to North Carolina when I got my first truck deal in 2001 and everyday I knew I had to make it work," Kvapil said. "That move was a long shot for me, but I knew I would be successful if I put my mind to it. I can't really say I expected to win the championship in my third full season, but I am sure as heck glad I did."
Kvapil credits that championship run with scoring the ride he is in today.
"If I hadn't won that championship, I am not so sure [Roger Penske] would have even thought twice about talking to me. At 29, or rather 28 when he first talked to me, my opportunities were becoming more and more limited. There are a lot of younger drivers out there, so I know Doug [Bawel, co-owner of Penske-Jasper Racing] and Roger were taking a chance, but I am glad they did."
Kvapil is also appreciative of the support he has from his team owners, despite his less than stellar NNC rookie year.
"The No. 77 team hasn't lit the world on fire or anything this year but everyone is being patient," Kvapil said. "That is not to say there hasn't been pressure from above to perform because trust me, there has. >From Kodak, Jasper Engines and Transmissions and on and on there has been pressure. A driver change was made because of performance and I know the stats aren't much better this year.
"Shane [Wilson, crew chief] and I have beaten our heads against a wall. We know we need a good run at Miami to back-up what we had last weekend in Phoenix. No one wants to do that more than me."
Despite the pressure Kvapil and Wilson are under, both are keeping their cool and plan to go into Homestead with a clear head.
"This weekend is about focus," Wilson said. "Right now, there is nothing we want more than a good finish. This season hasn't been good for us, but we are about to start the 2006 season and nothing starts a season like a great finish to the previous one. Travis can get the job done. [The Kodak Racing team] just needs to give him the tools to do it."
Equipment: PRS - 080
The Kodak Racing team is taking chassis PRS-080 to Homestead-Miami Speedway. Most recently, Kvapil raced PRS-080 at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago (St. 37th/Fin. 24th). He piloted the same car at Lowe's Motor Speedway in October (St. 42nd/Fin. 17th) and at Michigan International Speedway in August (St. 41st/Fin. 38th). Earlier this year, Kvapil raced PRS-080 at Las Vegas (St 6th/Fin 26th), both Lowe's Motor Speedway events in May (NEXTEL Open (St. 4th/Fin. 3rd)) - Coca Cola 600 (St. 18th/Fin. 32nd) and at Chicagoland Speedway (St. 16th/Fin. 43rd).