Maybe four will prove to be Travis Kvapil's lucky number.
After stints with three teams, Kvapil's decision to sign with Front Row Motorsports was based upon the opportunity to return to the Sprint Cup Series full time in 2010 and the potential he sees in the small organization owned by Bob Jenkins. The driver and the team seem like a good combination for their next step, as they harbor the ambition to establish themselves as top-25 competitors together. Kvapil has been there with Yates Racing: 23rd in the points with four top-10s in 2008.
Front Row has been in business since 2004 and ran all 36 races for the first time last season in its No. 34, finishing 35th in owner points that guarantee the team a starting spot in the opening five races this season. Kvapil was a victim of a lack of sponsorship at Yates, which ran him in the opening four races at the start of last season to keep him and his No. 28 team alive. At the end of the season, in his other Cup races, Kvapil drove twice in Front Row's second entry, the No. 37 that had to qualify on time.
"They asked me to run their second car and I got to know the guys on the team," Kvapil said. "This team had been an unknown, struggling team for a couple of years, all over the board with a bunch of different drivers and different equipment. Last year, they settled into a groove with John (Andretti, who drove in 34 races) and he did a great job keeping them in the top 35. I kind of liked the direction the team was going and the plans they had. We sat down at the end of the year and they asked me to drive the 34 and I was more than happy to jump on board."
Front Row has switched from Chevrolet to Ford and gained manufacturer support in the process. The team also plans to run rookie Kevin Conway for the entire season.
"The team is moving forward, growing," Kvapil said. "There are a lot of exciting things happening. The plan is for two cars for the first time. One of the neatest things is the team finally got some manufacturer support from Ford. We've got some wind tunnel time, some seven-post shaker rig time and technical data."
Front Row will lease Roush-Yates engines, but build its own cars.
"There's no alliance with Roush Fenway Racing at all," Kvapil said. "We're an independent team. Ford is excited to have more partners. The last two seasons, Ford's cars were all at Roush and Yates (which were technical partners) and last year they went down the wrong path and it reflected on Ford."
This will be Kvapil's fourth full Cup season. With his previous three teams, he was left without a job due to a failure to find funding. Kvapil, from Janesville, Wis., was Rookie of the Year in the Camping World Truck Series in 2001 and the Truck series champion in 2003. He stayed in the Truck series in 2004, winning Toyota's first races in the series, and drove 36 Cup races in Penske Racing's No. 77 in 2005. When that team shut down, he moved to Cal Wells' PPI team in 2006 and it folded at the end of the year.
Kvapil went back to the Truck series, winning four races with Roush Fenway in 2007. That performance earned him a job with reconstituted Yates Racing, where he had his best season and best result: sixth at Las Vegas in 2008.
"It was really disappointing what happened at Yates," Kvapil said. "Our funding was definitely limited and we were short-staffed and still had a good season. We were on our way to building something there."
Kvapil has signed a one-year contract with options at Front Row. He's hoping it becomes a home.
"The way it stands right now, I'm really excited about the direction of the team," Kvapil said. "To build a successful team, you've got to keep a team together for more than one year. I'm at a level experience-wise, I'm capable of giving the best of what I can do. I'd like to stick with this team and build something.
"I've always been able to take care of equipment and get the most out of it. You can't make mistakes at the Cup level, you've got to be there at the end. I'm confident in the information I give to the team."
Steven Lane will be Kvapil's crew chief, the same position he had with Andretti last season. "He's a very hard worker and dedicated," Kvapil said. "He'll keep the program moving forward."
Jenkins is a very successful owner of more than 100 fast food restaurants and Kvapil's Ford will be sponsored by his Long John Silver franchises.
"Bob needs to be applauded," Kvapil said. "He puts his own money in and, hopefully, we can attract some corporate dollars to take this team to the next level. I'm thankful to Bob that he gives us the opportunity to do what we love and go out and race. Bob is smart and he keeps his eye on the budget. We run a tight ship, it's a pretty low budget. He's committed to running the whole year and he's done a great job giving us the tools we need."
Jenkins likes the package his team has put together.
"To have support from Ford, along with the quality engines from Roush-Yates, this is a big step forward for us," Jenkins said. "Travis is a champion and a veteran. We expect him to take us to the next level and at the same time be a great mentor to Kevin (Conway), who is competing for Rookie of the Year. I have confidence that they can really help us get to the next level."
David Reutimann has developed into Chase contender in his three Cup seasons with Michael Waltrip Racing, finishing 16th in the points last season. Like Kvapil, Reutimann made the jump directly from Trucks (where he won only one race in three seasons) to Cup and has had the benefit of driving for one team.
"Michael stuck with him and the sponsor stuck with him and gave the team time to develop together," Kvapil said. "David is definitely a great race car driver and he's had time to prove it. The first year, you look, and you think maybe he ain't got it, but that whole team grew together, everybody gave each other time and now they're established as a Chase contender."
Kvapil has nine wins and a Truck championship on his resume, plus 112 career Cup starts. There's every reason to believe he can be another Reutimann if Front Row can become another Michael Waltrip Racing.