TRAVIS KVAPIL (No. 77 Kodak/Jasper Dodge Charger) NOTE: Dodge drivers have won Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors the past two seasons on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit. Jamie McMurray won it in 2003, and Kasey Kahne captured the 2004 rookie ...
TRAVIS KVAPIL (No. 77 Kodak/Jasper Dodge Charger)
NOTE: Dodge drivers have won Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors the past two seasons on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit. Jamie McMurray won it in 2003, and Kasey Kahne captured the 2004 rookie crown. Travis Kvapil will try to make it three in a row in 2005 behind the wheel of the new Dodge Charger.
IS WINNING THE RAYBESTOS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AWARD THE TOP GOAL FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM THIS SEASON?
"We haven't really sat down and talked about the goals we want to accomplish, but I'd say that's our primary goal. Rookie of the Year is definitely the title we're shooting for. I know we can do it. We've got everything in place to do it, so it's just a matter of us executing. I think Kyle Busch is going to be tough. It's two powerful teams for sure -- Penske/Jasper Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. That's probably two of the best teams out there. He's got great teammates. I've got great teammates. We're both going to be in great equipment. He's run some Busch Series races and I think that might give him a little advantage in restrictor-plate stuff and things like that. I got a taste of a few Cup races last fall, and I feel pretty confident we can overcome and win the title."
WHAT'S YOUR BUSCH SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE THIS YEAR?
"It's a little bit still up in the air. I think we're looking at a maximum of 20 races, but I'm not really sure. We haven't sat down and defined where we're going. I know we're going to Daytona and planning on California. That'll make it a little busier, too, but I'll get some good seat time. That will be with Bang Racing. It's the team I ran the truck series with last year. We're going to run Joey Arrington engines. It's kind of like Kasey Kahne did it last year with two separate teams working together with one driver. I'm looking forward to it. I've just got to keep in mind that the 77 car is the No. 1 priority. I think there's pros and cons to it. It's going to be a busier schedule and I'll have to figure out where I need to be and stuff like that, but I think the seat time is valuable. I don't think you can replace that. The best way to get experience is to get out there and race. To get in a car on Saturday to prepare me for Sunday is a great way to do it."
YOU MADE YOUR CUP DEBUT LAST YEAR IN THE SECOND MARTINSVILLE RACE AND QUALIFIED FIFTH. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING AFTER THAT?
"I thought it was pretty neat. We had tested a few weeks before that, so I was confident we were going to be pretty good. I didn't really know where we'd end up. I figured we'd be a top 20 car. I didn't know we'd be a top five car. Then the race came and reality hit. Qualifying is one thing. Racing is another. All these guys have so much experience and it's such a long race. Everybody's got to be on their game from the pit crew to driver. We struggled a little bit. We had a fast racecar and were making good adjustments, but we struggled on pit road and struggled making the right adjustments at the right time. It took us a little bit too long to get the car where we needed it to be. It was the first time working with all those guys, and I definitely learned a lot running Martinsville and a few races after that. It gave me a taste of what I'm in for for 2005. It was definitely a good taste and before I went into those two or three races last year, I was a little bit apprehensive about whether I could cut it at this level. Probably more than anything it gave me confidence that I can. It showed me how tough the competition is at this level. In the truck series you can be off a little bit and still have a 10th place finish. If you're off a little bit at the Cup level you're going to finish 25th or 30th."
ARE YOU INTIMIDATED AT ALL ABOUT BEING A CUP ROOKIE RACING AGAINST SOME OF THE BEST DRIVERS IN THE WORLD?
"I don't have that feeling yet. For the most part, I've raced with a lot of these guys in the past, guys like Scott Wimmer and Matt Kenseth. We've all run laps together in the Midwest, and I see the success they're having. I know I can run door-to-door with those guys, so I don't feel any intimidation at all. To me the Penske team is one of the elite two or three teams in really all of motorsports if you look at open wheel and everything. To be associated with such a great team and a great name, it's more than a dream come true. I can't describe it. To get my first opportunity to run in Nextel Cup with Penske Racing and a great sponsor like Kodak that's been around the sport for about 20 years, it's really amazing. We're getting a lot of support from Dodge to make this effort a success."
YOU SIGNED IN MID-DECEMBER, SO WAS THAT LIKE AN EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT?
"Yeah, it was pretty neat to go home to Wisconsin and see my mom and all my friends and family and all the people who had worked hard side by side with me working on the racecars with me back home. It was nice to see all the satisfaction in their eyes knowing all the hard work and dedication they put in paid off. I honestly feel like I've succeeded in paying all those people back. A lot of people spent money on my racing career, time and energy. I feel like the best way to pay them back was to get in the Cup series and now go out there and make it happen and do good."
HAVE YOU GOTTEN ANY ADVICE FROM THE VETERANS YET?
"Not yet. We're just going one day at a time, one test at a time. I'm not going to be afraid to ask That's one thing I learned in the truck series. If you've got questions, don't be afraid to ask. At first I was little intimidated to go talk to the veteran drivers. I didn't know them. I didn't know if they respected me. I was a little nervous to go ask questions, but the more I felt comfortable doing that the easier it was. I found out these guys don't necessarily want to help you, but they know we're going to be running side by side and they don't want to give you bad information and take the chance of you messing up and wrecking them. I'm not going to be afraid to ask questions, plus I've got teammates like Ryan and Rusty who can win every week. I've got two in the best I can lean on."
ARE YOU CONCERNED THE VETERANS MIGHT NOT WORK WITH YOU ON THE TRACK, ESPECIALLY AT A PLACE LIKE DAYTONA?
"One thing I found, and I'm sure Nextel Cup is a lot different than the Craftsman Truck Series, but I see it when I watch Dale Jr. and Michael Waltrip. If you've got a fast car and you're going to the front, people are going to go with you whether you're a rookie or not. That's what I'm hoping. We'll have a fast car and they'll know the 77 is fast and they'll work with me."
WHAT'S YOUR IMPRESSION OF THE CHARGER AFTER THE DAYTONA TEST?
"I think it's fine. I really couldn't say if it's better or worse than the car we had last year, but it drives good. So far, so good. I know the guys are trying a lot of things to find speed, and drafting practice was fun. I really needed to get out there and figure out what to do and what not to do. I wanted to screw up in practice. I wanted to get hung out and go to the back of the pack. Drafting with the truck is the same concept as drafting in the racecars. The draft in the truck series, I call it easy because the trucks punch such a big hole in the air. You can get out of the gas and pull out of line and you won't necessarily lose the draft. We don't have the horsepower in the Cup series to do that. The bodies are so sleek and they don't put a big hole in the air. You have to be that much more aggressive to make sure you don't get out of the draft. There's a lot to learn. I think I've got the basics of it. Now I just need to fine tune it for Cup."
DO YOU THINK YOU'LL WANT TO GO BACK AND DO SOME TRUCK RACING?
"I'd love to. I don't really have any plans for it, but I'd love to get that chance. My truck series career was pretty good. We won some races and the championship, but Dodges were always the trucks to beat. Now that I'm in the Dodge camp I'd love to get in a Dodge truck and see what I could do."
IS THERE MORE RACING IN THE TRUCK SERIES?
"The races are shorter. They do some of the smaller tracks, and it's great racing and it's a lot of fun -- especially the mile and a half tracks and places like Daytona where the aerodynamics play such a big role. You can draft, make three or four-wide passes and really use the air. It looks a lot racier because of that, and they put on a good show. To me, Nextel Cup racing is the cream of the crop. Obviously we put more fans in the grandstands for Cup races, so that's where the racing's at."