Commentary

Kvapil rides momentum in trucks back to Cup Series

How do you get the attention of Nextel Cup owners? You win races. Period. Just ask Yates Racing newcomer Travis Kvapil, writes John Schwarb.

Updated: September 12, 2007, 4:43 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

Travis Kvapil remembers winning the Craftsman Truck Series title and not being this popular.

In 2003 he had the most consistent ride in the series, an Xpress Motorsports Chevrolet that finished outside the top 10 three times in 25 races. But it wasn't spectacular, going to Victory Lane just once in a season where five other drivers had multiple wins.

[+] EnlargeTravis Kvapil
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesTravis Kvapil has three wins in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford truck.

Brendan Gaughan led that group with six wins and ended up in a Cup ride the following season. Kvapil returned to the trucks.

"I won the championship and really didn't have any calls to move to a Busch car, a Cup car, anything, I was really surprised," Kvapil said. "I think it was because I only had one win."

He knows the difference now.

Last week Kvapil, 31, was chosen to replace Ricky Rudd in the No. 88 Yates Racing Ford for the 2008 Sprint Cup season, returning to the top level in the sport for the first time since 2006, when he was last seen running at the back of the pack for now-defunct PPI Motorsports.

It's the reward for a bounce-back season to remember in which Kvapil has won three times in the Roush Fenway No. 6 Ford.

"You're out there winning races, you're on the radar," Kvapil said. "[Owners], they want people that can win races, that's the bottom line. You've got to perform and get the job done."

Kvapil has done that this year as one of four drivers with three wins. Ron Hornaday and Mike Skinner lead Kvapil by 190 points in the standings, but in the last eight races Kvapil has had the best truck, with the three wins and six top-six finishes.

"This year we're a threat to win every time we go to the racetrack. Our competitors are always paying attention to what we're doing -- we're one of the trucks to measure off of," Kvapil said.

There was an adjustment period at the start of the season. After nearly winning the opener at Daytona, it took Kvapil six races to get back inside the top 10. Kvapil said he felt the tides turn in April at Kansas, where teammate Erik Darnell won and Kvapil thought his truck was the second best in the race, though it finished a lap down due to a pit road penalty (he has completed every other lap this season). Not long after that he began the run that, ultimately, led him back to a Cup car.

"For me, that was definitely the plan. I knew after the few years I spent in Cup, that if I was going to get another shot at it, I had to go out an prove myself again," Kvapil said. "The trucks are a great avenue. It's an interesting dynamic. Drivers in the truck series -- you've got Skinner, Hornaday, [Jack] Sprague. I think they're pretty content just doing it, having a great career there. Then there's also guys like myself, Darnell, [Matt] Crafton, that are young, trying to work their way up the ladder still."

Then there are the Cup guys who dabble in the trucks when their schedule allows, and Kvapil said he hopes to be one of those next year.

"I really would, for a few reasons. The truck series has done so much for my career, but more than that it's just so much fun to drive these trucks," he said. "I'd like to have that opportunity to splash in there here and there and see how we perform."

Spears Motorsports punts Setzer for Loudon
Dennis Setzer's streak of consecutive starts will hit 219 Saturday, but it will be in a different truck than he was in for No. 218.

Wayne Spears, owner of the No. 75 Chevrolet, called Setzer last week and said a different driver would be used at the New Hampshire 200. It will be Clay Rogers, a 26-year-old who has raced five times this season, most recently in June at Michigan.

Setzer, a first-year driver for Spears Motorsports, notched his 17th truck win in May at Mansfield, Ohio, but has finished no higher than 13th in 10 races since.

"We had an agreement to run for two years -- I thought our intention was to work through things," said Setzer, 47, the series' runnerup in points from 2003-05 with Morgan-Dollar Motorsports. "They decided to try something different."

Setzer was told it would be a one-race hiatus but was given permission to find another ride. He called Bobby Dotter and got in the No. 08 Chevrolet of Green Light Racing, which has run in 14 races this season with Chad McCumbee.

"I know that Bobby's always been a great racer. Unfortunately, the financial part hasn't always been there for him," Setzer said.

Setzer's run of consecutive starts is the second-longest active streak in the series, trailing Terry Cook's record (and growing) 241.

Green Light Racing's other driver, Tim Sauter, is leading a tight Raybestos Rookie of the Year race, two points ahead of ThorSport Racing's Willie Allen.

Xpress Motorsports changes owners, driver
NASCAR might not keep records on such things, but has one car or truck ever had eight different drivers in a season?

Xpress Motorsports' No. 16 Ford will reach that number this weekend, handing the wheel to 19-year-old rookie Brian Scott.

J.B. Scott of Scott Racing, Brian's father, recently acquired majority interest in Xpress Motorsports from owner Dave Fuge, who will remain with the team as a crew chief, competition director and minority owner.

"This is a great opportunity and I look forward to having the financial support to return Xpress to a championship-caliber team," Fuge said. "My goal is to have the entire team assembled by the Homestead [finale] in order to be fully prepared for Daytona in 2008."

Scott recently tested at Chicagoland Speedway and will run seven of the eight remaining races beginning this weekend. He has raced in the Hooters Pro Cup this season and one ARCA race, finishing 13th at Kentucky.

ESPN analyst Stacy Compton drove the No. 16 at Daytona to start the season and in three of the first four races, then the car bounced around to six others, including 2002 champion Mike Bliss, Kelly Bires and Kenny Hendrick.

Musical chairs at Roush Fenway
As smoothly as Travis Kvapil's truck has been running lately, the same can't be said for the other Roush Fenway Fords. Erik Darnell has not had a top-5 since his April win at Kansas, and the No. 50 team has had just two top-10s (one each by T.J. Bell and Danny O'Quinn) since Carl Edwards' fourth-place finish in the truck in the season's second race at California.

To that end, owner Jack Roush switched the crew chiefs and crews of the No. 50 and No. 99, with Matt Puccia taking over with Darnell and John Quinn going to the No. 50, which Bell is slated to drive Saturday.

Spare parts
Key Motorsports announced that two-time winner Chad Chaffin will replace rookie Brandon Miller in the No. 40 Chevrolet for the rest of the season. Chaffin drove the first six races of last season for Key. & Scott Caisse, a regular in the Busch East Series, will make his trucks debut in a third Germain Toyota. Caisse, 21, is a New Hampshire native. & NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour standings leader Donny Lia will drive a fourth truck for Bill Davis Racing this weekend. Lia, 26, has won six times this season, including once already at Loudon in the modifieds. & BDR's Mike Skinner sat on the pole last year in the New Hampshire 200, and if he can duplicate the feat Saturday in morning qualifying, he will match his 1995 series record of 10 poles in a season. & Also scheduled to run this weekend are Cup regulars A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.