Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Tuesday, April 26,2005 Phoenix Recap, Talladega TRAVIS KVAPIL (No. 77 Kodak/Jasper Dodge Charger) NOTE: Kvapil, a 29-year-old Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender from Janesville, Wis., will be making his...
Dodge Motorsports Teleconference
Tuesday, April 26,2005
Phoenix Recap, Talladega
TRAVIS KVAPIL (No. 77 Kodak/Jasper Dodge Charger)
NOTE: Kvapil, a 29-year-old Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender from Janesville, Wis., will be making his first Cup start at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday. Kvapil currently ranks second in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year race. He's been the highest finishing rookie three times this season with a career-best finish of seventh at Bristol on April 3. Kvapil trails Kyle Busch 97-86 in the rookie standings heading into the ninth race of the season. Dodge drivers have won the past two rookies titles with Jamie McMurray in 2003 and Kasey Kahne last season.
"Phoenix was definitely a big letdown, as the last couple of weeks have been for us. We've been struggling. We're kinda in a slump. We started the weekend off real good. We were the fastest in the first practice and we were pretty optimistic going into qualifying. For some reason we struggled in qualifying. We didn't get it hooked up. We qualified toward the middle of the field and got caught up in a little bit of a wreck early on when Jason Leffler spun I got into the wall and had some damage. It took us most of the race to recover from that and get the suspension corrected and get our track position back. We finally got back on the lead lap and were making our way up through there and got turned around by the zero car. I know it wasn't anything on purpose. It was just one of them racing deals, but it basically ended our night. It was a big disappointment. We're back there 30th in points and we need to get out of the danger zone. We ran a lot better I feel than where we're standing in the point standings. We need to get out of the slump and get some decent finishes and be at the end of these races Hopefully we can do that at Talladega.
"This will be my first race at Talladega. I've tested there a few times in the truck series in the past, but I never had an opportunity to race. I'm looking forward to it. It looks like it's pretty crazy from what I see on TV. I got a little taste of the superspeedway drafting at Daytona. I know Talladega is a little different, but basically it's the same. I'm optimistic about it and the guys are excited. We're taking another brand new racecar. They think it's going to be a fast car. We're anxious to get there and get going."
WHAT'S BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT THING TO OVERCOME SO FAR?
"Probably just finishing races. We've run pretty decent. I feel like we've been a top 20 car at pretty much every race, maybe not California. We struggled there pretty bad, but Texas and Martinsville we had some decent runs going. We just get caught up in things and most of them aren't our fault. We get caught up in things and have trouble finishing these races. It's a real toll on the crew and myself. We crashed out early at Texas. We were just kind of out there running around the rest of the day. I think we were 10th or 12th at Martinsville with just a few laps to go and we ended up hurting the motor and dropping out. We got in a little wreck at Phoenix toward the end of the race. We have a lot of confidence in our equipment and team and the guys are believing in me. It's hard to think what we're going wrong and what we have to do to finish these races. We've just got to stay confident with each other and not start pointing a finger at each other and believe in each other. The finishes will come. I know they will. We've got fast racecars, and I know I can do the job. We just need to stay pumped up and get through this little dry spell."
CAN YOU PUSH SO HARD TO CATCH UP THAT YOU GET BEHIND?
"I feel like the team is very prepared for this year. We got a lot of racecars built already and more being built all the time. We've been testing like crazy. Actually Sunday was the first day I was home for two weeks straight. I've been testing and going to the races. We've been working really hard, and I feel like the hard work we're doing with all this testing and building these cars is going to pay off. I have torn up a few racecars the past few weeks, but Shane Wilson my crew chief and all the guys back at the shop have a pretty good fleet prepared. We're not going to be struggling to take good equipment to the track. Everything we take to the track is going to be good. Like that car I wrecked at Phoenix. We've got two or three just like it back at the shop. I'm confident we're not going to get behind and struggle to keep up."
HAVE RECENT PENALITIES CHANGED THE WAY YOU TRY TO GET THROUGH INSPECTION?
"I don't think so. I know I'm pretty new to the Cup scene and pretty new to Penske Racing, but one thing I have learned in a very short period of time. Roger Penske has a zero tolerance for cheating. He does not at all want his teams to have a fine or be labeled cheaters. He made that very clear when a couple of Hendrick cars had a problem at Vegas. He definitely doesn't want controversy around our team. Obviously we push everything to the limit. I think every team does, but we're not going to do anything blatant that's going to be questionable of getting caught. He made that very well known, and not just this year. That's kinda been Roger's reputation in the past. He does not want to be labeled as a cheater. He wants to do everything by the book and pretty straight forward, so I don't think our team really is too concerned about going through the tech line anymore."
WHAT'S THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE MOVING FROM TRUCKS TO CUP?
"Just the level of competition is incredible on the Cup side. We could be off a little bit in the truck series and still have a 10th or 15th finish day, not come out of there too bad. If you're off a little bit on the Cup level you're going to run 25th or 30th. There's just such a small margin for error. These guys winning races, their cars are handling perfect. They're making good pit stops. They're not making any mistakes on the track and their pit crews aren't making any mistakes. It's just so incredibly tough how close the competition is. If you're off a little bit on pit stops you're going to lose four or five spots. Track position is so important in Cup racing. Competition is so equal it's hard to pass. Every aspect of Cup racing is that much closer, is that much harder, tougher, more competitive. That's the biggest thing I've noticed. We've had some bad luck, and I hate to call it bad luck. Atlanta we got wrecked on the first lap. We got wrecked this week. We blew a motor at Martinsville running good. I sat down with my crew chief yesterday. He said, 'man, we've had bad luck.' Yeah we did, but the reason we were back there or got spun out is because we were running 20th or 25th. We need to be running in the top 15. I think if we can get our car a little bit better or I can do a better job telling the guys what I need for adjustments, if we can get a top 15 car that will help us that much more staying out of the wrecks or maybe staying out of some trouble if you're toward the front. To do that, I think we just need to get a little better, make our cars go a little bit faster, and that might just come with time as a rookie driver."
COMMENT ON RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSTY WALLACE
"I like Rusty. He's a great guy. He's really welcomed me into the Penske Organization and Cup racing. From day one, I feel very comfortable around the guy. I think we came from very similar backgrounds, racing Late Models around the Midwest, doing it on your own, struggling, working on your cars and all that. I think he knows where I came from. I've got a great amount of respect for what he's done. He's welcomed me, and I'm the type of guy, I respect that. I respect him for what he's done, and he's a great teacher. He's opened up to me, and he's helped me quite a bit and I appreciate it. We get along good. He's a good guy, and our teams get along good. He's a good guy for me to learn from I think."
CAN YOU GIVE EXAMPLES OF HOW HE WELCOMED YOU?
"The very first time I met him personally I think was at the Homestead Speedway when we were testing there last year before the race, a month or so before the Homestead race. I was driving the fourth Penske car, the 06 car, and he was testing down there as well. We were struggling a little bit, and he came right over and besides all the introductions he just went to 'What springs you got under the car? What you running for a swaybar? How much wedge?' He wanted to help me out, and I thought that was really cool. Just the little things. A couple of weeks ago he gave me a ride home on his plane so I could get home a little bit earlier and see my family because I was doing so much testing and things like that. He's treated me really nice, and I appreciate it."
WHAT'S YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH THE 12 TEAM? IS IT AWKWARD BEING BETWEEN THE 2 AND 12?
"It is a little bit, I guess. I get along with everybody on the 2 and 12, the 77, engineering and everybody at Penske Racing. I feel like I've got pretty strong relationships. I don't want anybody to think I'm choosing sides. I do feel like I'm caught in the middle a little bit. I get along with Rusty really good and I get along with Ryan really good. We all talk and hang out. I don't want to be caught up in that. I'm trying to just stay quiet. I don't really have an opinion. What their difference is is kinda between them, and I'm trying to stay out of it. I'm friendly with both cars, obviously, and all the guys on the teams. I wish we could work through it and it would all go away, but for the time being I'm just trying to ride it out and staying neutral and let them guys handle it."
DOES IT REALLY HELP SHARING INFORMATION?
"It definitely doesn't hurt. We haven't run that great, but there are situations where it's nice to know if we're struggling a little bit it's nice to look at somebody else's setup and maybe see the one part of it or the link we're missing or the one part of the setup we've got different that might turn it around for us. It's good to have that option. The 77 car is trying to make this journey on our own. We welcome support from our teammates and engineers, but we feel like it'll make us stronger if we learn this on our own, too. We're doing a lot of testing. We're maximizing our tests. I'm going to run an ARCA race at Pocono. I'm going to run a Southwest Tour race at Infineon. I'm going to get in a couple of different types of racecars and get some seat time. We're trying to learn on our own, but at the same time, it's nice to have guys like Rusty who are willing to help you out and share their notes and be there. By no means has it hurt, but it's definitely helped for sure to have that to look to and to have some reassurances if nothing else."
COMMENT ON RAYBESTOS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR BATTLE
"That rookie battle is going to come down to the end I feel between me and Kyle (Busch) obviously. He's got a handful of a point lead. I try not to pay too much attention to it. I just know if we run better that all the points will take care of themselves. I know I can win. I've got everything out there for me to do it. We have all the resources. We just need to run a little bit better. We've had some decent runs going and had some things not go our way to take a good finish away from us. I feel like we can run up front. I think we're kinda stuck in the middle right now. We're not quite a top 15 car, but we're almost fast enough and good enough to get ourselves in trouble. We just need to get over that next little hump or that next little hurdle to make us a top 15 car and to start staying out of trouble and finishing these races and get a little more consistency on our side."
COMMENT ON LEARNING THE DRAFT AT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA
"It's tough. It's a lot different. I raced at Daytona a few years in the truck series. It's totally different from anything I've experienced in the truck series. Really the only way to learn the draft is to get yourself out there and get in the middle of it and feel what the car does and try to make moves but figure out what you can and can't do and make mistakes and learn from it. Fortunately, I've got Buddy Baker on top to help spot this weekend. He knows his way around Talladega pretty good. He's really good at the draft, and he helped spot for me at Daytona and it was a huge plus for me. I've got a lot of confidence in him. When he tells me something it's going to be right. To learn the draft and to get yourself comfortable is the only way to do it. Just get out there and do it. Fortunately I've got good racecars that handle well and good motors and things like that to make it that much easier."
IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIFIC YOU LEARNED ABOUT DRAFTING AT DAYTONA?
"I do remember like in the truck series they don't have a restrictor plate. If you got bunched up in the pack and felt like you were going to run into somebody you could lift out of the throttle and you could get back in the gas and keep up. I've noticed that if you lift off the throttle in a Cup car it's hard to make that ground back up. You lose so much momentum. It's something you learn as you go. It's an honor to drive in the draft, and you've got to figure out how to do it right and how to stay in the gas and yet not run over the guy in front of you, how to use the brake pedal to slow you down a little bit but keep that motor wound up. It's a lot to learn, but you pick it up every lap doing it."
IS IT SCARY STAYING ON THE GAS?
"It's something you get used to. You learn how to drag the brake pedal. You learn how to bump draft but not just smash into the guy. You learn how to bump into, not hit him. You learn how to bump draft and drag the brake pedal. It's things you learn you didn't have to do in the truck series. I had 500 miles at Daytona to get a good lesson, and I'm looking forward to this weekend, too."
ARE YOUR SETUPS SIMILAR TO YOUR TEAMMATES' SETUPS?
"I think somewhere in between probably. I know some of the stuff Ryan runs, I don't think we could run. A lot of times at Bristol and Martinsville, Rusty and I were close but not identical. There are so many variables, whether he's running the same brake pad I'm running or whether he has a different fender on the front. There are so many different variables other than the springs and shocks and swaybars. There's a lot to it. It's good to have that to look at for reassurances sometimes, but I think there is definitely positives to sharing information. I think that's why the Hendrick and Roush cars are the cars to beat every week. They work very well together, sharing information and everybody is putting their heads together and it's paying off for them. I kinda wish we could get a little bit better at the Penske shop because I know we have all the resources to run with the Hendrick cars and Roush cars and race them for the wins other than just those two teams doing it. I hope we could do just a little bit better job. I know as a rookie driver I'm probably not contributing a whole lot to the notebook for these guys to look at, but I hope one day I can. If we shared information and things like that maybe we'd pick up a little sooner. Sharing information is definitely a good thing. You can't use it as a bible, but there are definitely things you can learn from it."
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE TO MANDATE SHARING INFORMATION?
"Yes, I think that's probably about the only way to do it really. Say the Hendrick cars didn't share information or the Roush cars didn't share information. That's four or five competitors out there they're racing against. If I was Kyle Busch I wouldn't want to tell Jeff Gordon that I found a shock that picked me up two tenths or something like that because you know Jeff Gordon is going to be one of those guys to beat every week, but it all comes full circle. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are going to help Kyle Busch and vice versa, so I think there are a lot of gains to be made. We're racers. We're competitors. We don't want to tell everybody our little speed secrets or what we found to go faster, but in the long run if it helps all the teams get better that's a positive, and that's a good thing."
IS IT JUST NOT IN A CREW CHIEF'S NATURE TO SHARE INFORMATION?
"I believe that 100 percent, and as a driver if I find something on the track I'm doing or how I'm using a brake pedal or something, I don't want to tell everybody. If the crew chiefs and drivers work together and it can benefit all of the teams and make Hendrick Motorsports or Penske Racing better as a group, that's definitely a positive."
WHAT DO YOU THINK IT WOULD BE LIKE RUNNING AROUND DAYTONA OR TALLADEGA WITHOUT A RESTRICTOR PLATE?
"Probably scary. I think Rusty did something at Talladega last summer with Nextel, and I think he ran over 220 or 225 or something like that. They had to make the car handle. You never hear hardly about making the car handle at Daytona or Talladega anymore. They had to start putting downforce in the car to get it comfortable to drive, so I'd love to give it a whirl. I'm sure all the drivers would, but it would be crazy to be out there with 40 cars in a pack over 220 mph. There's no way we could all be that disciplined and not screw up or blow a tire or something like that. I think NASCAR is doing the right thing keeping the speeds down. Everybody complains about restrictor plate racing. They don't like it, but I don't know any way around it right now. Even the truck series with all the drag that the trucks have in their bodies, they're almost going too fast and they got a couple of trucks upside down at Daytona. They're looking at why that happened. Maybe they've got to slow them down, too. We've got to keep it safe, not only for the drivers but for the fans, too."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE NASCAR MODERNIZE?
"Yes and no. I think there are a lot of components on the racecar that could be updated pretty easily and maybe make some of the costs cheaper, maybe some of the suspensions or even the floor pans in the cars. NASCAR is doing a good job keeping a finger on it. I kinda like keeping some of the electronics out of it right now. I'm sure they'll come where that will be the next thing, computerized, electronic engines or something like that. Fuel injected, who knows, but right now I like where we're at, and I think the race fans like where we're at. I think race fans can understand it. I think if we start getting too high tech, not only will I not understand it, but I think a lot of race fans wouldn't, either. I like it where it's at with the same type of technology we've been running for a number of years. I don't really know why we would need to change. I think everything is going pretty well."
CAN YOU SEE THE GAUGES OK?
"You put them in the cars in different spots, and you just barely need to glance down and take a look at it. I don't have a problem with that at all. If you do have problems you need to be at the shop and get that addressed or have the crew chief move them around. It's pretty easy to do that, but I don't have any problems at all."
COMMENT ON GREEN BAY PACKERS DRAFT PICKS
"I don't know to be honest with you. I am a big Packers fan, and I think I heard something about they got a new quarterback (Aaron Rodgers). I'm sure Brett (Favre) is going to be on his last year or two, but hopefully they got some good guys in there and they can give Brett one more ring before his career is over."
DID YOU LEARN SOME THINGS QUICKLY IN CUP?
"I guess from the first time I tested the Cup car and raced it, I guess from the first handful of times I drove one, I was pretty surprised how comfortable I felt in the car. I thought the transition from the truck series to the Cup car, I didn't know what to expect. I was surprised I felt as comfortable as I did, and they drove very similar. There are differences in the aerodynamics and horsepower, but I thought the similarities were pretty close. That was one thing that kinda surprised me, how much they drove the same. I thought that was pretty neat. The struggles, just longer races. You're not riding around for one lap out there. You're driving the heck out of that thing and constantly trying to help the crew chief make decisions. The mental part of it, staying focused for 500 miles, staying in tune with your racecar and trying to constantly make adjustments. The truck series races are much shorter and you only get one or two pit stops to work on it whereas in the Cup level you could pit 10 or 12 times during a race. That's just a lot different. It's a little bit to get used to."