Our weekly series of interviews continues: 12 questions with NASCAR drivers who aren't currently in the top 12 of the Sprint Cup Series. Since the Chase drivers already get plenty of publicity, we thought this would be a good way to get to know some of the non-Chase drivers a little better. This week: Front Row Motorsports' Travis Kvapil.
What's the best race you ever drove?
TK: I'd say the Homestead truck race in 2003 – the day we won the championship. It really kind of fell into our hands. [Points leader] Brendan Gaughan had a decent points lead but wrecked out, and it kind of changed the strategy. It came down to me and two other guys, [Dennis] Setzer and [Ted] Musgrave, racing for the championship. I really just had to race hard, race smart and put it all on the line the last few laps.
Who is the most talented driver in NASCAR?
TK: Kyle Busch, I think. It seems like he can adapt to an ill-handling car and still make it go fast. Whether it's in the Truck Series or the Nationwide Series, he wins pretty much any time he gets in, or is a contender for sure.
If a new driver entered the Sprint Cup Series, who is one driver you'd tell them to learn from and one you'd tell them not to learn from.
TK: That's tough. You hate to talk bad about anyone. To learn from, you gotta talk to maybe like a Jeff Burton for experience and general racing stuff. Not to learn from...you know, you'd say like a Brad Keselowski, but I can't knock him or fault him for racing hard. He's gotta hold his own ground. I really have a hard time saying who not to learn from.
When is the best time for a fan to approach you for an autograph?
TK: Probably before practice or after practice. Not during, definitely. It's kind of like once you're in the garage area, you're at work and you're focused on your race car and what you've got to do over the next couple hours. Typically, most of us drivers have designated times where we're at an appearance or whatever. Ideally, that would be the time, when we're away from the racetrack.
What is something people may not understand about you?
TK: How much I love the sport. I feel like I'm a true racer. I grew up working on cars in the Midwest and I'm 100 percent all in. I'm very dedicated to my race team. I might be kind of quiet and soft-spoken, but I'm not afraid to get up on the wheel and mix it up with the guys, either.
What's the worst track we go to?
TK: Probably the worst track for me personally, I really struggle at Sonoma. I really enjoy road course racing – it's fun – but it's still not a knack I've mastered. All the other tracks on the circuit I enjoy.
If you ran NASCAR, what is one thing you'd change?
TK: Boy...I'll tell you, over the last year, they've probably changed some of the things I would have: I love the double-file restarts. I love the green-white-checkered rules. There's a lot of debate over the top 35 – I'm kind of up in the air on that. Honestly, it's probably outside the Sprint Cup garage, but I would say to pay better through the Nationwide and Truck series. There's a lot of teams barely getting by, and I feel like the racing is spectacular in those series.
What driver outside of NASCAR do you admire the most?
TK: Probably John Force. If you want to talk about what's a true racer, that's him to a T. A guy who came from a trailer and a junkyard to a multi-time champion with big corporate money behind him and has been successful for decades.
How long do you envision yourself driving?
TK: Well, it's hard to put a number on that. I would like to drive until I'm 50, at least. That's a long ways down the road. I'm 34, so another 15 years, easily. I think that's something where you kind of cross that bridge as it comes. It depends on how your career is going. I mean, look at Mark Martin. He was looking to retire five years ago and it looks like he's in his prime right now.
What's the first thing you do when you get home from a race?
TK: Probably the first thing I do is I get mauled by the dog. My dog gets super excited to see me, jumping on me. I have a yellow lab, a mix. And then whether the kids are up or sleeping, I'll go check on them and see if they're awake and go talk to them and see how their weekend went.
Who will win the Sprint Cup in 2015?
TK: I'll say Juan Pablo Montoya. I feel like he'll be there at that level in a couple years. He's such an aggressive, hungry driver. I don't know him real well, but he seems like the kind of guy who sets a goal and really goes after it.
Would you rather be known as a great driver or a great person?
TK: Definitely a great person. I mean, at the end of the day, driving race cars is just how I make a paycheck. Believe me, I'm passionate about it, I love it and am fully dedicated to what I do. But the person you are away from the racetrack is much more important. Raising my kids right, spending time with them, enjoying those moments. Racing, even though it's the passion of your lifetime, really it's only with you for awhile, and your friends and family are with you forever.