Today marked the first day of a three-day test session for NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teams at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for next month's Daytona 250 season-opener. Travis Kvapil, the 2003 truck series champion, is set to compete in the No. 6 Roush Racing Ford that was driven to victory lane a series-high six times in 2006. Kvapil, driving the defending race-winning Ford F-150, posted the fastest time in the morning session in the truck, while his Roush Racing teammates rounded out the top three. Rookie Peter Shepherd was the second quickest driver, while Erik Darnell, the 2006 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, was the third fastest driver. Kvapil and Darnell took part in an afternoon press conference discussing upcoming season.
ERIK DARNELL-99-Northern Tool + Equipment Ford F-150
TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU LEARNED IN YOUR ROOKIE SEASON AND YOUR GOALS ENTERING THE 2007 SEASON. "Well, I learned a lot coming into the truck series as a rookie and not having any previous starts. It was kind of a new deal for me going to new tracks that I had never been to before working with a rookie crew chief (John Quinn) and with a new bunch of guys. We came together very well over the year and I think it showed there at the end of the year. We were able to put together quite a few good runs there at the end of the season, and I think that if that's any indication of how we're going to run in 2007, I think we're going to be in pretty good shape."
DO YOU CONSIDER TRAVIS YOUR TOUGHEST COMPETITION FROM WITHIN THE BLUE OVAL CAMP THIS YEAR? "You've got guys like Rick Crawford out there, too. You've got David Starr this year switching over to the Ford side. You've got some great drivers in Ford trucks, and any of the guys in the Ford trucks are going to be tough competition. Travis is definitely going to be tough. Roush didn't hire him for no reason. He's a proven winner in the truck series and a champion, and bringing him over here is going to help me out as well. Last year I had the benefit of being able to bounce ideas off of Mark Martin and have a little bit of help from him, but on the other side of that, he had never really been in a truck before last season either, whereas Travis has got quite a few seasons of truck racing under his belt and he's just going to be able to help me out quite a bit, too. I'm not a rookie anymore, but this is only going to be my second year in the truck series, so I still am learning things, and it's going to great to have Travis as a teammate to be able to help me with that."
"It's definitely tough and you talk to some people, and not necessarily young guys, people that don't follow the sport and say: 'They're just driving around in circles,' and, 'It's easy,' and 'Anybody can do that.' But, I think given the situation, you throw somebody into that deal and they wouldn't be able to do it. I don't really know how to explain it to a young person. It is tough and I think for any of the good drivers, it's something that they're born with and they're able to, through practice and through races and trials and tribulations, and just to be able to get the experience to go out there and better yourself. I've been fortunate to be around racing my entire life. It's something that's always been in my family, and I was able to start at a young age and build on that, and that's kind of what got me to where I am today."
TRAVIS KVAPIL-6-Roush Racing Ford F-150
YOU SPENT THE PREVIOUS TWO YEARS IN THE NEXTEL CUP SERIES AND NOW RETURN TO THE TRUCK SERIES AS A FULL-TIME COMPETITOR. HOW HAS THE SERIES CHANGED FROM WHERE IT WAS IN TERMS OF COMPETITION? "Well, I'm a big race fan, so I never left watching the truck series. Definitely in the couple of years that I've been away, the competition level is ever increasing, like in any series does. I know it's going to be tougher this year than any season. We have a bunch of great teams coming back, and guys like Erik are going to be strong right out of the box, and some of the rookies from last year are going to be better. I'm excited about it. In my opinion, Roush Racing is the best team out there in the truck series, for sure. We've got strong trucks and good, veteran crew chiefs now. Me and Erik, we come from similar backgrounds, so we're going to become really good teammates and help each other out. We're both from the Midwest and Late Models, so I think we're going to click and it's going make this team even stronger. It's going to take what it always takes - a lot of consistency. You need to win races, but you need to finish every race in the top 10."
HOW MUCH OF AN ADJUSTMENT IS IT COMING BACK TO THE TRUCKS FROM THE CARS AND JOINING A NEW ORGANIZATION? "I've been with a new team for the last couple of years. I like to be at the shop a lot and spend a lot of time getting to know the guys and the personnel and the inner workings of the race team - the structure and the management - and figure out the chain of command. That's what I've been doing in my off-season - spending a lot of time at the shop hanging out with Mike (Beam, crew chief) and figuring out names and figuring out who's who and what their roles play. We went to Rockingham in December just to kind of get to know each other and feel each other out a little bit. That was a very successful test. Right out of the box here, everything is looking good. We've got a couple of new trucks and everything is looking great. It's going to take a little bit of time for the crew chief-driver relationship to really get to full speed, but I've just got to do my best job in trying to communicate as well as I can, and hopefully my crew chief Mike will understand what I'm saying right away and we can go out and have success right out of the box."
DO YOU VIEW THIS OPPORTUNITY AS A CHANCE TO REGROUP WITH THE HOPE OF RETURNING TO NEXTEL CUP COMPETITION IN THE FUTURE? "I think every race car driver's goal is to be in Nextel Cup one day, and the way I looked at it, the way for me to get an opportunity to get back to the top, I needed to get with a team that was capable of putting out race-winning cars. Especially the way the Cup Series is evolving with new teams coming in and multi-car teams keep building and getting stronger, and the top 35 point system, you need to align yourself with a good organization. When Geoff Smith (president, Roush Racing) came to me with this opportunity to drive the 6 truck, it was kind of a no-brainer for me. I knew I'd be back to contending for wins and contending for a championship over here in the truck series. There will be opportunities, I believe, down the road if I go out and have success. If you go out and win races, that's where sponsors are attracted and that's where your manufacturer supports your team even more. I just need to do my job and the team needs to do their job, and if we do, I think there will be opportunity down the road. There's nothing set in stone. There's no long-term plan or anything like that, but that's what we need to do and our main focus is to win that championship, and I think everything else will kind of fall into place."
WERE THERE CUP OPPORTUNITIES OUT THERE FOR YOU? "I talked to several teams during the last half of the year and met with some Toyota teams, but at the end of the day, this is where it ended up. I was disappointed at times when some rides didn't turn out like I thought they were going to, or they went a different direction, but when this opportunity presented itself, I knew it was something I needed to do for my career. Not just for this year or next year, but also for the next 10 years is kind of what I'm looking at. I need to be with a team that's going to give me a strong backbone for the long haul, and I know Roush Racing can do that. There were opportunities to get in a car that was outside the top 35 in Cup points, but I feel like I'm young enough now that I can still come over to the truck series and have success, and hopefully another opportunity will come on the Cup side. I didn't feel like running 30th to 40th every week in a Cup car was going to do my career justice. You never know, you kind of get put by the wayside when you're not up front winning races. Come ever here and have some success and have fun, and hopefully some opportunities will come down the road."
YOU SUCCEEDED MIKE BLISS IN THE NO. 16 TRUCK AFTER HIS CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON AND FOLLOWED IT UP WITH YOUR OWN CHAMPIONSHIP. DO YOU FEEL THE SAME TYPE OF PRESSURE GETTING IN THE NO. 6 AFTER MARK MARTIN DROVE IT LAST YEAR TO A SERIES-HIGH SIX VICTORIES? "That's Roush Racing's goal, and we want to do that for Ford. We want to win a championship for the Blue Oval. There's good and bad. I felt the same way in 2003 when I got in the 16 truck. There's pressure to perform. That truck won a bunch of races last year and ran in the top 10 a bunch, but at the same time, you know it's a truck that is capable of doing it. All of the team is still intact and they just plugged me in there. I know the team is capable of winning races, and I've had success in this series before, so hopefully we can just all click together and find that success again and live up to the reputation that Mark Martin and Mike Beam and the team built last year with that 6 truck."
THERE HAVE BEEN SOME AERODYNAMIC CHANGES TO THE TRUCKS SINCE YOU LAST COMPETED IN THE SERIES. HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO FEEL A SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE? "Well, I guess the first time that I got back in a truck was a month ago at Rockingham. With the tires and the rules and the things as they are these days, I was surprised at how similar the truck was to a Cup car. The biggest thing that I noticed was a little less horsepower, but the handling and even a lot of the setups that we had under the truck were very similar. Here at Daytona - I don't want to say that anybody can drive them - but it's not real hard to get a truck around here by itself. The trucks move around on Daytona more than the cars do, for sure, but at the same time, they're so much fun to race that I can't wait to come back here next month and look forward to good show."
IS THERE ANY PARTICULAR REASON WHY ROUSH TRUCKS ARE ONE-TWO-THREE AFTER THE FIRST PRACTICE THIS MORNING? "That just shows a lot of credit to the guys back at the shop. You come to these speedway races and it's all about your time back at the shop and your preparation. Our truck that is on top of the board, I believe is the truck that Mark won both speedway races with last year, so that's obviously a proven truck. I think the 99 is a new truck, and the 50 is a newly re-bodied truck, and 6B is a brand new truck that made its first laps right there and has never been to the wind tunnel. We've got great guys back at the fab shop that obviously put some great bodies on the truck and are well prepared. They spend their time on the chassis dyno and squat rig and the tools that we have to optimize all of the rules, and obviously the Roush-Yates engines are performing well. It's definitely a whole package here. Really, when you come to these speedways, it's the teams and how well prepared you are when you come in."
AFTER YOUR LAST TWO SEASONS OF CUP RACING, WAS IT MORE IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO RE-ESTABLISH YOUR CAREER AT THIS TIME THAN COLLECT A CUP PAYCHECK? "Everybody knows that Cup pays a lot of money, and in all honesty, it's pretty ridiculous. That's not what racing, to me, is all about. You can go collect paycheck, and I don't want to say that I was miserable, but I was not having a lot of fun just going to the race every week last year hoping that we would qualify. That was our main goal, and if we'd finish 25th or better in the race, we thought we had a good day. Bringing home trophies and winning races and having fun, that's what it's all about. I had fun last year and I learned a lot - I loved Cup racing - but in the long haul of my career, 10 years, this is what I needed to do to strengthen it and kind of have a comeback and hope for opportunities down the road."
"I'm looking forward to having Erik as a teammate. I started really paying attention to the last half of the year when I saw these opportunities coming. I've seen what he has done on the track, and he's a great driver in his young experience. I'm hoping the 6 can help the 99, but I'm looking forward to the days when I know the 99 is going to help us. There are going to be days where they're performing well, and we're going to be looking for that little something to get us going. It's definitely going to be mutual, and I look forward to it. We have similar backgrounds as far as racing Late Models in the Midwest, and I can't wait for our relationship to grow to help the whole team."
WITH SIX PREVIOUS TRUCK SERIES CHAMPIONS COMPETING FULL TIME IN THE SERIES THIS SEASON, HOW DIFFICULT WILL IT BE TO CAPTURE YOUR SECOND CHAMPIONSHIP? "This is going to be an ultra-competitive year with all of the champions returning. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be fun racing with Todd (Bodine) and Ted (Musgrave) again, and Hornaday and Sprague. It's great racing, and when I was in Cup I couldn't wait for the truck races to come on; it has a special place in my heart. I can't wait to get going and get out there and race with these guys and have fun."
-credit: ford racing