Travis Kvapil‘s full-time return to the Cup Series in 2010 hasn’t been as successful as he would have liked. No top-15 finishes in 32 starts showcase the type of limited resources he’s working with, Front Row Motorsports’ underdog organization simply hoping to finish every race inside the top 20. But as he tells our Bryan Davis Keith in the latest Beyond the Cockpit, team morale is high as the entire organization senses an upswing in both performance and support for 2011. Can they get better simply by streamlining their cars, dropping from three to two full-time Fords next season? Kvapil explains the advantage, how their new front ends can affect things and more in a sitdown interview conducted at Texas over the weekend.
Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch: Three races left in the season. What’s the biggest challenge your organization is looking at both in closing and preparing for 2011?
Travis Kvapil: We have such a limited staff. In our fab shop, there’s only so many guys to keep everything going track-to-track, week-to-week. We don’t really have a lot of time to build new stuff. We are taking some of our existing cars and putting some newer front clips on them. I think for us, though, we have a fleet of old Petty cars that we bought out and it’s hard… we’ve got 10 of these that are all the same, so all three teams can run the same stuff. But we’ve got one or two teams still transitioning over, which makes it harder to compare notes and stuff like that. We’re just trying to get through this year with what we’ve got.
Over the winter, we’ll try to standardize everything for all two, three teams, whatever it is. Whether that’s taking the Petty cars, stripping them and taking their front clips off to put on Hopkins [clips] or build our own, we don’t have that 100% figured out yet. We know we need to run the same car between the teams obviously, but the rest we’re trying to figure out. You know, do we go out and just buy 10 cars from somebody? We’ll figure out what Bob [Jenkins] wants to do, if he wants to buy things new or maintain what we’ve got and update it for 2011.
Keith: The Cup cars are going to a new front end next year. How much work will it take to transition to it?
Kvapil: I really don’t know that much about it. All I’ve seen is the pictures, but I don’t believe it’s going to be too hard. A lot of these Petty cars were Dodges that we switched into Fords. This team ran Chevrolets last year, so we had to turn those into Fords, too.
The CoT makes it relatively easy to switch manufacturers — nose, tail, side windows — it’s not really that hard, but it does take time. It’s not hard when you’ve got a staff of six or seven doing body plates all day long, but we’ve got one body plate and a couple guys. That makes it harder for a team like ours to update. We’re in kind of wait and see. We hear they’re going to do something, and then a week or two later it may be something different. So we’ll wait to get a final spec from NASCAR and go from there.
Keith: Ford’s plans for 2011 are kind of up in the air with Richard Petty Motorsports in limbo. What does that mean for your team?
Kvapil: I don’t know. We were very fortunate to have Ford step up with the support they did this year, giving us some wind tunnel time, some seven-post time. The little bit they can has really helped this small team. As far as I know, we’ve got an agreement with Ford going into next year, but as far as the level that support is going to ratchet up to, I honestly don’t know. We’re very thankful for what they have done for us, and obviously any additional support they’d be able to throw at us would be helpful.
Keith: You started the year with a rookie driver for a teammate. Now you’ve had a couple of months of veterans driving all the cars. How much have you seen the team dynamic change as a result?
Kvapil: It’s changed it 180 degrees, I think. I like Kevin [Conway], I respect what he’s doing, he’s doing what he thinks he needs to to be a Sprint Cup driver. If I was in his position, I’d probably be making the same moves, but it was a big challenge for our team. We were switching drivers and teams to keep him locked in the Top 35. The drivers, the teams, you kind of get bummed out about it, like we’re having to carry this guy’s weight. But we all knew what we were getting into when we signed up for it, it wasn’t sprung on us. We knew going in what we were up against.
Probably the biggest thing that hurt this team was that 150-point penalty back at Pocono. If it wasn’t for that, we’d be looking pretty solid right now. But we’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror. We’ve got one car out of the Top 35, even with Kevin and swapping cars and all that. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot and put ourselves in this position. But right now the team, with myself and David Gilliland and the third team with [Dave] Blaney, [Tony] Raines, whoever is in the car, and all the crew chiefs really work well together. We get along great and we share information 100%. We have to. We just don’t have enough people, cars, whatever, to not. We know with all of our minds working together it’s going to be better. The team’s morale is up, everyone is excited about the direction we’re going. Our cars are getting better, our setups are getting better. We’re just hoping to finish this year out on a strong note.
Keith: When you were back in the Truck ranks, you were driving top-notch equipment with Roush Racing, you won a championship with Xpress Motorsports. How much of an adjustment is it to come over here and know that a 20th-place run is a really good day?
Kvapil: It’s tough. The thing about Sprint Cup racing is that it’s so competitive, especially among the top-20 guys. But you look all around this garage back to 35th place. I mean, right next to me is Regan Smith with a Childress car and a Hendrick motor. Over there is Sam Hornish Jr. in a Penske car, there’s a Red Bull car. There are no slouches back here, lots of well-funded teams and good drivers.
The thing is [though], I really don’t think this garage understands how tight of a ship we run. All the corners we cut, all the older, heavier equipment we have. For us to run 20th, 25th really is amazing. We’re really proud of those days when we can do that and be competitive. Obviously, those aren’t goals as a driver you’d really like to set, but knowing what we have and what we’re up against, we finish 20th and we’re tickled.
We want to ratchet that up for next year, and we’re going to up our goals. It looks like we’ll have some better equipment and a better gameplan for next year. We probably won’t have three teams. I’m not 100% sure on that, but it looks like we’ll be able to focus our attention on two cars, two teams, and that should make us better.
Keith: How much of a difference will a two-car shift make?
Kvapil: That’s part of what I’m talking about [that] I don’t think people understand. Going from Texas to Phoenix after the race, we have to pull ballast, lead, out of these cars for our Phoenix cars. We just don’t have enough stuff. We have to pull sway bar arms, springs — we just don’t have the components to really be prepared.
Hopefully downsizing would be able to help that. We’ve got three cars on the track right now. We downsize to two, that frees up a lot of equipment and components to where it’d be easier to be better prepared.
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