Preseason Thunder Day 5: Reigning champ Kvapil likes new 'home'

NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 5: Reigning champ Kvapil likes new 'home' DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 11, 2004) -- Defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil (No. 24 LINE-X Toyota) is entering the 2004 campaign with his third...

NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 5: Reigning champ Kvapil likes new 'home'

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 11, 2004) -- Defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil (No. 24 LINE-X Toyota) is entering the 2004 campaign with his third team in as many seasons.

Kvapil isn't complaining about the continuing change of scenery but, predictably, he'd like the merry-go-round to stop.

"I'd like to stick with a team and build on it for a couple of years," said the Wisconsin native, who entered the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2001 with Addington Motorsports and -- when that team closed two years later -- moved to Xpress Motorsports, where he won the team's second consecutive championship.

"The team I'm with now, I believe we can do this. Hopefully, we can all move up together."

Kvapil signed with Bang! Racing, owned by Alex Meshkin, shortly after wrapping up the series title last November. Meshkin's team, operated with veteran crew chief and broadcaster Larry McReynolds, is one of four organizations that comprise Toyota's inaugural season competing on a NASCAR national touring series.

Kvapil, 27, obviously believes the career road has forked to his advantage -- even though the Tundra trucks trail rivals Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet through the initial stages of NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway. The test wraps up Monday, Jan. 12.

"I'm a little skeptical about qualifying," for the Feb. 13 Florida Dodge Dealers 250 (SPEED Channel, 8 p.m. ET), he said. "We'll come back and we'll pick up speed but so will everyone else." His best lap speed Sunday, 176.883 mph, ranked 25th.

Kvapil, however, is not overly concerned about how he'll perform in the 250-mile race, being run for the first time under the lights.

"The biggest thing I've learned is that Daytona definitely is a handling track," he said. "(In 2003) I was able to come from the back to lead a couple of times. We need to get as much drafting time as we can."

Kvapil was at the wheel of the middle truck in last year's three-wide Daytona finish, just .027-second -- a bumper length -- behind Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Motel Ford) after bypassing Robert Pressley's No. 59 Dodge entering the 2.5-mile superspeedway's tri-oval.

Yes, Kvapil still replays that finish -- although he concludes that he should be satisfied with the runnerup spot.

"You're upset to be three feet from a win at Daytona. I think about it a lot," Kvapil said. "I hope we have something like that this year."

Kvapil, like many of his fellow competitors, approves shifting Daytona's season-opener to the night-time hours. More than half of the 2004 schedule of 25 events will be run after-dark.

"It takes you back to the days of Friday and Saturday night racing at weekly tracks," he said.

NEWS OF NOTE

* McReynolds satisfied with Toyota's progress ... Toyota's teams failed to crack the top 20 list of single truck practice times on Sunday but McReynolds prefers to see the glass half-full. "It all depends on how you look at it," he said, noting that the manufacturer has tested for less than two months with its own engine package.

"We've come a long way in a short time," said McReynolds. "We're all new teams. Three and a half months ago, we (Bang! Racing) didn't even have a screwdriver."

Every fulltime team enters the season with championship aspirations -- McReynolds' outfit being no exception -- but the veteran crew chief tempers expectations. Finishing races without mechanical failures is a more realistic goal, he said.

"Our goal is to get through the first four events (for which provisionals are based upon 2003 owner points) and into May making and finishing all the races," he said.

* Inaugural champion Skinner happy to be back ... In 2004, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is going back to the future, so to speak. Three former champions -- the most ever -- will be in the lineup, including inaugural titlist Mike Skinner (No. 42 Toyota), who still holds many series records.

Skinner, winner of the inaugural series race in 1995, competed in four events a year ago and decided to make the switch from the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series for 2004. He was 22nd fast on Sunday, at 177.497.

"I think we finally evolved back around where you're going to see (a large amount) of talent back in the series again without the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers having to come over and make it competitive," said Skinner, whose eight victories in 1995-96 represent the series standard in back-to-back seasons. "I'm excited; I think it's going to be awesome."

Skinner's competition this season includes teammate Kvapil and three-time champion Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet).

* Cook testing but not yet announcing plans ... Terry Cook (No. 10 Ford) isn't "officially" employed for the 2004 season but that hasn't kept him from NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing. Cook and veteran crew chief Fred Wanke brought a "downforce" truck to the test, posting a Sunday best of 177.658 (21st overall) in preparation for the Florida Dodge Dealers 250.

Cook was impressed by the initial reaction in the garage area to the 2004 body styles in which all four manufacturers' trucks share the same dimensions from the windshield post back. Previously, the width of the greenhouse and length of the truck bed varied among Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford, among a variety of differing measurements.

"It's the first time I've been down here to test that the teams haven't been screaming about bodies," said Cook, whose performances at Daytona International Speedway are among the best on the series. In four races, the Sylvania, Ohio driver has finished as high as fourth and never worse than ninth with an average of 6.25.

Cook, however, wasn't surprised that -- regardless of changes -- that many of the same teams that were fast at Daytona in 2003 remain so this season.

"The cream always rises to the top," said Cook, who hopes to announce his 2004 plans before returning to Daytona on Feb. 10. "This is a championship team that's won championships in other series. Hopefully, we'll be part of that cream."

* ETC. ... Bobby Hamilton (No. 4 Square D Dodge) didn't participate in Sunday's morning drills but wound up the day's fastest competitor with a lap of 181.218 in the afternoon. That ranks second fastest to Carl Edwards' (No. 99 Superchips Ford) 181.218, recorded Saturday. Edwards was second quickest on Sunday at 180.647. ... Ted Musgrave and Andy Houston shared the No. 1 Mopar Performance Dodge with Houston's 178.678 morning speed eclipsing that of his Ultra Motorsports teammate's 177.999. ... Thirty-six different drivers had posted a lap speed through the first two days of NASCAR Craftsman Truck Preseason Thunder. ... Chad Chaffin (No. 18 Dickies Dodge) was involved in the test's first incident, damaging his truck in a tri-oval accident during the afternoon's one-hour drafting session. Chaffin was uninjured. "The truck was looser than I wanted it to be. The 42 truck (Skinner) was alongside and took the air off me," said Chaffin, whose 180.350 top lap ranked fourth best. "The truck's not really hurt; it just knocked in the front sheet metal...Monday's session wraps up the three-day test. Teams may elect to perform one-truck or drafting practice throughout the day.

* The NASCAR Preseason Thunder Media Site is online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/media. Speeds, quotes, daily test reports and hi-res photos from all NASCAR Preseason Thunder test sessions are available for download.

FAST FACTS

What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder.
Where: Daytona International Speedway.
When: Jan. 6-22.
Track layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval.

Test schedule: Jan. 10-12 -- NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series; Jan. 13-15 -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup (Even car owner 2003 point standings finishing positions); Jan. 17-18 -- NASCAR Busch Series (odd); Jan. 20-21 -- NASCAR Busch Series (even).

Media credentials: Send fax on company letterhead to the Speedway Credential Office at (386) 947-6798. Include dates of attendance, names of those requesting credentials and their positions.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Mike Skinner , Andy Houston , Robert Pressley , Ted Musgrave , Jack Sprague , Terry Cook , Rick Crawford , Chad Chaffin , Carl Edwards , Travis Kvapil