Kvapil reflects on penalty that put his new team behind
JANESVILLE Travis Kvapil has endured more lowlights than highlights over the first half of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup series season.
A scheduled week off—combined with last week's race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.—came at a good time for the Janesville driver.
He's had a chance to catch up with some of his Wisconsin friends he doesn't see very often, and the opportunity to take his family camping on land he owns up north.
Yet, as one of the competitors in NASCAR's elite series, racing is always on Kvapil's mind.
Kvapil sits 37th in the season points standings. He's part of a three-car team owned by Front Row Motorsports, which also fields cars for David Gilliland (35th) and rookie Kevin Conway (33rd).
"I would say probably we've underperformed a little bit," Kvapil said of the first half. "It's tough to keep all three cars in the top 35."
But Kvapil, who's working under a one-year contract, is thankful to be racing regularly again after competing in just six races in 2009. Two of those races were with his current team, and four were with Yates Racing, which folded due to a lack of funding.
"Personally, I wasn't in the car much last year so it's nice getting back in it and going to all these places again full-time and just being part of building a team," Kvapil said. "That's what I enjoy."
What hasn't been so enjoyable were a couple of setbacks Kvapil and his team were dealt.
NASCAR penalized Kvapil 150 drivers' points, fined Front Row Motorsports $100,000, and suspended crew chief Steven Lane for 12 races after illegal valve stems were discovered on Kvapil's car at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway on June 6.
Three weeks later, Kvapil failed to qualify for the race at Loudon, N.H. The 150-point penalty pushed him outside the top 35, and only those in the top 35 are guaranteed starting spots. Kvapil is 156 points out of 35th.
"Those two situations really hurt our season," Kvapil said. "The points penalty, that hurt just because it was something that was really unintentional by the company. The fact is, we had the parts on our car whatever the intent was. That really was a big setback for us.
"Financially, for a little team like ours, a $100,000 (fine) is a big hit. But the 150 points was probably a bigger hit. … With that penalty, that kind of snowballed to missing the race at Loudon."
The team also has been shuffling car numbers among the three drivers so that Conway is assured of making each race because his is the only team which has a full-time sponsor this season. That, Kvapil said, "kind of holds the team back a little bit."
Kvapil, though, is optimistic that he and his team can continue to make progress despite limited success so far.
"I definitely think we can improve," he said. "The whole team, we're finally getting some newer equipment out on the race track with some new cars being built. I think our engines are going to get a little bit better now that Ford's got a new motor out. We won't be running the new motor, but we'll be running a little bit better than the old motor."
He said returning to some of the tracks for a second time should also be a plus.
"Here we are, halfway through the year, and we go to a race track now and we feel like we have a pretty good idea of what we need to take and what adjustments we have to make if we're a little off."
Kvapil's best finish so far this season was 18th at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in April. But he has finished outside the top 30 in three of the last four races, including 31st at Joliet after starting last on the 43-car grid.
"There's been times where we've ran top 20, top 25," Kvapil said. "And I guess that's kind of where our expectations were. But then there's been weeks, just like last week at Chicago, we really didn't have a very good performance and we ended up three, four laps down.
"We have days like that where we're quite a ways off. And that's just not acceptable. We have to try to figure that out. Build better race cars, and do a better job.
"I would say we definitely didn't expect to go out and run top 10 or be competing for wins. But I expected to be a top-20, top-25 car, and we haven't done that as consistently as I'd hoped."
Earlier in his career, Kvapil said he may have started doubting himself during a difficult stretch. His years in NASCAR—particularly in the Truck series, which included a championship run in 2003—have helped him in this area.
"In the past, I definitely did (lose confidence). In my first year or two in Cup, when I
didn't have the performances and we were really struggling, it was very easy to look in the mirror and question myself.
"But then, I've been able to go back in the Truck series and have success, win races. Now that I'm back in the Cup series, I have the confidence. I know I can do it. There's guys that are successful in the Cup series that I beat on pretty regularly in the Truck series. It's just a matter of getting in the right situation."
Whether that "situation" is with Front Row Motorsports next season, or perhaps with another team, is uncertain. That's something Kvapil isn't going to worry about until later in the season.
"We don't really have anything lined up 100 percent for next year yet," he said. "The team is definitely building and going in the right direction. So, if it all works out where I'm here again next year, we're definitely just trying to progress and get better."