NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2006 Driver Review: Travis Kvapil

Travis “Trucking On Out of Cup” Kvapil
2006 Ride: No. 32 Tide/Downy Chevrolet
2006 Owner: Cal Wells/PPI Motorsports
2006 Crew Chief: James Ince (Feb.-Apr.); Gary Putnam (Apr.-Nov.)
2006 Stats: 31 races, zero wins, zero top fives, zero top 10s, 36th in points.
Best Finish: 19th (three times).

High Point: Starting off the season as the new driver for a team that was outside the Top 35 in owner points the previous year, Kvapil knew he’d be under the gun simply to make the Daytona 500. With the team knowing that a DNQ at the Great American Race could make or break their season, they stepped up to the plate, and so did Kvapil; the 18th-fastest time during Bud Pole qualifying was enough to lock the No. 32 Chevy into the Daytona 500 despite Kvapil running into problems during his Duel 150. In the race, Kvapil never had a car capable of winning but kept the car on the lead lap and out of trouble, winding up a respectable 27th in his PPI Motorsports debut.

Low Point: Unfortunately, this team put so much effort into Daytona they forgot that their standing in owner points required them to qualify on speed for each of the first five races in 2006, not just one. Not only did Kvapil fail to qualify at the second race of the season at California, he added a second DNQ at Atlanta that all but destroyed any hopes the team had of securing a spot within the Top 35 at all during 2006.

Summary: After getting word late in the 2005 offseason that the No. 77 Penske team he drove for was closing up shop, Kvapil was a late addition to the PPI stable and took some time to gel with his new team. The early DNQs dug the organization an early hole, and it didn’t help that one-time superstar crew chief James Ince left the team in April after being unable to work his magic with the No. 32. Once new crew chief Gary Putnam assumed his role, things got better with Kvapil in the driver’s seat, and during the second half of the season the Tide Chevrolet was actually one of the more competitive single-car teams on the circuit. Unfortunately, the two-month disaster with Ince at the helm had caused a “too little, too late” scenario to unfold; hopelessly behind in owner points, there was simply no way for the team to climb back into contention for a “locked-in” qualifying spot each week, and they suffered as a result. In the end, Kvapil was never able to take the car further than the top 20, adding three more DNQs to bring the season-long total to five; with performance lacking, longtime NASCAR sponsor Tide chose to leave the sport rather than stay with PPI following the 2006 season, leaving owner Cal Wells no choice but to put his fleet of cars up for sale following the final race of the season at Homestead. That left Kvapil busy looking for a ride for the second straight season after performing admirably under difficult circumstances.

2007 Outlook: After spending two seasons saddled with subpar equipment that’s kept him from running up front in Nextel Cup, Kvapil opted for a change of pace in ’07 and plans to return to the series that launched his career: the CTS. The 2003 Truck Series champ plans a full-time schedule driving Jack Roush’s No. 6 truck that won six times this season with Mark Martin behind the wheel. With Kvapil’s experience and Roush’s equipment combined, look for the Wisconsin native to give Toyota flagship drivers Todd Bodine, Johnny Benson and Ted Musgrave a stiff challenge for the ’07 series title.

Grade: D

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