The Frontstretch: Beyond the Cockpit: Travis Kvapil on Bad Luck, No Luck, and Making His Own Luck by Bryan Davis Keith -- Wednesday May 18, 2011

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Beyond the Cockpit: Travis Kvapil on Bad Luck, No Luck, and Making His Own Luck

NASCAR Driver Q & A · Bryan Davis Keith · Wednesday May 18, 2011

 

For the first time since 2007, Travis Kvapil is back to running full-time in the Camping World Truck Series, competing for a championship. But this return has a little extra “double-dipping” element attached; he’s doing it while keeping his ride over in Sprint Cup. With improved equipment and strong teams, all the pieces seemed in place for success on both Saturday and Sunday this season; instead, wrecks and mechanical failures have left things a disaster on not one, but both sides of the fence. Clearly, the year hasn’t gone as expected although the 35-year-old driver has kept his head up, continuing to make the best of a situation that’s seen him fight to stay both competitive and confident each week. Frontstretch caught up with Kvapil at Dover to discuss his tough start to the 2011 season in both series, working to get back into the top 35 in owner points and being bitten by Lady Luck.

Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch.com: You’ve kind of surprised a lot of folks qualifying the way you did at Darlington this month (21st). It’s been a tough start for this team in 2011. Was Darlington more a representation of where you stand?

When Travis Kvapil’s tire blew in the Daytona season-opener for Trucks, little did he know it would be a precursor to an ugly slump; the driver wrecked out of four Cup and Truck races combined to start 2011.

Travis Kvapil: It’s a work in progress. We started the year off with a different crew chief in place, and more than anything the first couple of races we had bad luck. So we decided to make a crew chief change, and it seems that it’s taken us awhile to hit our stride, for us to figure each other out, myself and Jay Guy. He’s trying to learn what to give me in the cars, I’m trying to learn what he wants to give me, and we’re trying to sort through that stuff. It’s just hard to do when you’re in the middle of race season and you don’t have time to go testing or that kind of thing. As a result of all those things, we’re outside the top 35 and kind of behind a little bit. Talladega, we had to qualify on speed, had to do some things to the car to get it in on speed. But we had a fast, fast race car. Richmond, we had a pretty decent car, we just didn’t have the breaks go our way with cautions and Lucky Dogs, that kind of stuff. Same thing at Darlington. The last three weeks, I feel like we’ve had decent race cars, had speed, been competitive. We just haven’t had the results to show for it. The team is making progress and headed in the right direction. We just need to have a few breaks go our way with cautions and wavearounds.

Keith: Looking at where your season is, you’ve had bad luck on both the Cup and Truck side… it’s been about as rough a start to 2011 as is possible. How have you kept perspective?

Kvapil: I don’t think it could be any worse. On the Truck side, we blew tires the first couple weeks and wrecked. Nothing has gone our way. And honestly, the handling hasn’t been there on the Truck side. We’re trying to sort through that a little bit with a crew chief change on that side, Dan Stillman is now my crew chief there. We showed some good speed in qualifying, and I feel like we’re gaining on it. It just takes time. We dug ourselves into some holes, and we’ve got to dig our way out, qualify for some races and get decent finishes.

Keith: How much of an adjustment has it been going to double duty?

Kvapil: So far, it hasn’t been that big of a deal. There’s only been a few weekends that we’ve been companion racing. Daytona’s kind of spread out, Phoenix and Martinsville are really the only places we’ve done it. A lot of the Truck Series stuff is in and out Friday, and the Cup stuff is Saturday/Sunday, so after Friday night the Truck deal is done. There’s been a lot of off weekends so far, so there haven’t been a lot of conflicts. The driving part of it is good. Running well in the Truck this morning gave me a lot of confidence coming back over to the Cup side, even though we’re struggling on the Cup side today. It’s really not that hard. I’m here at the race track, and I’d much rather be turning laps and being involved in the race than sitting around watching it.

Keith: You’ve had some tire issues on both the Truck and Cup sides this year; your teammate David Gilliland has had some tire failures this year. Is there anything you’ve been able to put a finger on setup wise that’s led to that?

Travis Kvapil survived the 2008 demise of Yates Racing, rejoining the Cup Series in 2010 with Front Row Motorsports and competing full-time ever since.

Kvapil: On the Cup side, I really haven’t had too much trouble; it’s been more with the Truck. I feel like a lot of it’s been bad luck. At Daytona, we were running sixth and we blew a left rear, we had to have run over something. Phoenix, we had a bad-handling truck and we did blow a right front. For us, we’ve just got to get the cars driving well. If you’re tight, you’re abusing the tires, you’re going to pay the price. We’ve had a few of those happen on my side. It all comes down to good-handling race cars and a little bit of luck.

Keith: Speaking of tires, we’ve seen both sides of the spectrum in 2011. There was trouble at Bristol and Martinsville struggling to take any kind of rubber at all; here at Dover, we’re seeing the track rubber in very, very quickly. Comparing the two, is there an advantage or disadvantage to either? Is either a problem?

Kvapil: No; with the track taking rubber, it’s going to promote better racing for the Cup guys and for the trucks. When it takes rubber, guys can search around, move the groove around. When the Cup race comes around, we’ll be three grooves up on Sunday I feel like. It seems like the tire they brought here is a good combination, it lays down rubber, it doesn’t wear out, it’s durable. Martinsville, they’ll probably bring something back that’s a little bit different. They know what they need, but I’m really happy with what we have at Dover. It’s going to be a durable, fast tire that’s going to promote some good side-by-side racing.

Keith: Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 with the Wood Brothers. A.J. Allmendinger is top 12 in points with Richard Petty Motorsports. Suddenly, Ford is no longer just the Roush Fenway team. What has your team’s role within the Ford camp evolved into this season?

Kvapil: We’re making progress with their support. Their support is more than what we had a year ago, with some simulation and some wind tunnel time… but I feel the biggest step we’ve taken as a company is running the new FR9 engine. There’s no question it has more horsepower than the engines we were running in the past. I don’t know if it’s better than our competition, but it’s as good. Having confidence in what’s under the hood, it allows you to focus on getting the cars handling. I feel like a lot of the Ford performance we’ve seen this year can be attributed to those engines.

Keith: Now, battling to get back into the top 35 as you’re trying to move the No. 38 team forward and adjust to a new crew chief, how does that impact your approach?

Kvapil: First things first, we have to qualify. But we need some good runs. Some top 20s, some top-15 finishes, we can make up a lot of ground in a hurry in the top 35. We’ve had race cars the past few weeks that with a few breaks, a few things going our way, we can run about 20th. That’s what we’re shooting for. We just have to keep making the races, figure out good handling during the race, and not get caught up in wrecks. We’ll keep chipping away at it, and eventually we’ll get there. We’ve just got to keep plugging away at it.

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