MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 18, 2005) - For a former short-track champion like Travis Kvapil, driver of the No. 77 Kodak/Jasper Dodge Charger, there is no better competition than that which is yielded at Martinsville Speedway. This weekend's Subway...
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 18, 2005) - For a former short-track champion like Travis Kvapil, driver of the No. 77 Kodak/Jasper Dodge Charger, there is no better competition than that which is yielded at Martinsville Speedway.
This weekend's Subway 500, however, is more than a chance to get back to his grassroots; it is the one-year anniversary of Kvapil's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut.
Kvapil, a 2005 NNCS Rookie-of-the-Year competitor, said his introduction to the Cup Series was about as fast-paced as they come. The 29-year-old Janesville, Wis., native was a regular contender in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2004 so he spent his time at Martinsville Speedway back-and-forth between his truck and Cup garage areas.
"My first Cup race was kind of, well... I guess it was kind of surreal," the rookie said. "I was back-and-forth between the No. 77 Mobil1/Jasper Engines Dodge and the truck last year, which left little room for error on timing. It all happened so quickly that I was sure I would miss something."
Roy McCauley, Penske Racing South's director of engineering, supervised Kvapil's debut late in the 2004 season. According to McCauley, Kvapil did not miss a beat.
"Travis really stepped up his game last year at Martinsville," McCauley said. "He was patient in the car. He kept his head about him all week and he made the transition from trucks to the Cup car look relatively easy.
"I think the thing that impressed me most about Travis was his ability to give strong feed-back. He understood what he was feeling in the car, which made it easy for us to make the adjustments count. We had some struggles in the pits and it cost us. I think TK could have put up a top-10 finish if the stops were faster."
Kvapil's pit crew had little-to-no experience last year. The crew last year was comprised of back-up crew members for the two Penske Racing South teams as well as the Penske-Jasper Racing sister team; thus, their actual race performances were limited.
Kvapil, who started his first Cup race from the fifth position and posted a 21st-place finish, said his introduction to Cup action last year gave him a small inkling of what was to come in the 2005 season.
"If there is one thing I can say that I learned during the [Subway 500] last year, it's that there is more to Cup racing than outgrowing the series I was racing in," Kvapil stated. "Competition in the Cup series is so far above and beyond anything I have ever done. I mean, not only on the track but in the pits.
"These days you hear about teams hiring athletes to perform over-the-wall duties. There is a reason for that. A crew member has to be conditioned. They have to be as much on top of their game as I have to be on top of the wheel. A second lost in the pits last year cost me more than 10 or so spaces on the grid. Track position is everything and a race can be lost in the pits."
Last year's back-up crew obviously learned from its experiences as well.
Three of Kvapil's original Penske Racing South pit crew are still under McCauley's guidance, performing over-the-wall duties for Ryan Newman's No. 39 Alltel Dodge Charger in the NASCAR Busch Series. They have contributed to Newman winning five-out-of-seven events in which he has competed this year. Two others are now performing over-the-wall duties for Kvapil's Penske-Jasper Racing team.
As Kvapil heads back to what he calls "the place where it all started", he can't help but hope for some of the magic he found on the 0.526-mile oval.
"Last year, I felt the pressure," Kvapil said. "There is pressure this year, only in a different capacity. I want to go back to Martinsville, run well in practice, qualify in the top 10 and finish in the top 15 on the lead lap. If anyone asks, those are my goals."
NEWS OF NOTE
Equipment: Primary - PRS-092
The Kodak Racing team is taking PRS-092 to Martinsville Speedway. Kvapil drove PRS-092 at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 10 (St. 3rd/Fin. 11th) and Phoenix International Raceway on Apr. 23rd (St. 24th/Fin. 40th).
Preparation for the Subway 500: Kvapil and his Shane Wilson-led team tested at Martinsville Speedway on Tuesday, Oct. 11.