Kevin Conway is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year in what is a subpar rookie class, yet NASCAR did not approve him to run this year’s Daytona 500.
Conway explained NASCAR’s decision and the future of Front Row Motorsports to Frontstretch writer Mike Lovecchio at NASCAR Media Day in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Mike Lovecchio, Frontstretch: You’ve got to be excited that you’re running a full schedule and have a great shot at Rookie of the Year, but how disappointed are you that you’re not running the Daytona 500?
Kevin Conway: It’s really disappointing. Every kid dreams of two races – the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 – and for me as a stock car driver, the Daytona 500 is the pinnacle. It’s something we’re just going to have to put off until next year. I don’t have to necessarily agree with all of the calls that were made, but I have the utmost respect for NASCAR and the leadership there and that’s the decision that’s the decision made. We’re looking forward to kicking off our rookie season at Fontana.
Lovecchio: What reason did NASCAR give you for the decision?
Conway: The on the record probably would be that basically no driver has made their Sprint Cup debut in the Daytona 500. We had some things lined up to run the ARCA race and the Nationwide race, but at the end of the day in every circumstance a guy’s run at least one Sprint Cup race somewhere whether it’s Martinsville or whatever before they ran the Daytona 500.
Lovecchio: Are you disappointed a guy like Jaques Villeneuve gets to make his Cup Series debut at Talladega, but you can’t at Daytona?
Conway: I think it’s more about the history and the tradition and that it’s the Daytona 500. We could have gone and started some races last year, but we were planning on running the Nationwide Series this year. The whole Cup thing came together late in the offseason and it put us in a position where we couldn’t do anything about it. We’ll still have Travis Kvapil in the car, but man… it’s hard to describe. I know that come Sunday when I’m sitting on the pit box with my teammates it’s going to be very much a love/hate, bittersweet thing. It’s kind of like having a knife in your stomach twist every time the car goes around. But hey, I’m excited I get to compete for Rookie of the Year and we have a great team and sponsors behind us to head into Fontana.
Lovecchio: Did NASCAR give you any options that would allow you to run the race?
Conway: No. We basically had those things secured (running the ARCA and Nationwide races), but at the end of the day the answer was, “No.” We have to accept that and live with that and move. They do have their reason and their leadership is what has built NASCAR into the best sport in the world so it’s hard to come in as a rookie and question their leadership.
Lovecchio: Why not run the ARCA race or Nationwide race strictly for experience then?
Conway: At the end of the day it comes back down to sponsorship. Our sponsors basically said if we have to do it to run the 500 then great, but if we’re not then there’s no need for us to invest money in it. It’s been really frustrating, but I understand NASCAR’s decision and I respect it. I’m grateful they even let me compete in the series this year so we’ll take that and make the most of it.
Lovecchio: Talk about the strides that Front Row Motorsports has made here in the past week.
Conway: Being locked into the first five (races) is huge for our efforts to run for the rookie title. Once you get that foundation it helps so much to stay in the Top 35. You saw with Scott Speed last year that if you miss just one race it’s a big, big hole to dig out of. The partnership with Yates Racing is a huge step in the right direction and Front Row just continues to keep improving by the week almost so it’s been really cool to see what Bob Jenkins has come in with and see where he’s got in the past few years. So many team owners come and go and Bob has tried to do it the right way and build a program that’s around for the long haul.
Lovecchio: So what’s the goal for yourself and for the team in 2010?
Conway: Hands down it’s to win the Rookie of the Year title. Secondly, it’s to try and stay in the Top 35 all year long. For me personally I want to walk away from this season with some solid runs because that gives you something to build on for the next year. We’re not Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing, yet, and knowing where we are as a brand new team, if we can go out with a benchmark and get some top 15 and top 20s, maybe some top 10s here and there, that would be a great season.