Although Jimmie Johnson's victory at Pocono was the most significant aspect of the NASCAR Nextel Cup weekend, the most significant event of the weekend in terms of the sport as a whole came at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday, where defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion Travis Kvapil scored Japanese automotive giant Toyota's first win in any of NASCAR's three premier series.

Kvapil's victory in Saturday's Line-X Spray-On Truck Bedliners 200 marked the first for rookie NCTS team Bang Racing and the first for the Toyota Tundra in just their 13th start on the tour.

"This is huge...what a day!" Kvapil exclaimed. "Toyota gave me some great horsepower again. I screwed up yesterday and drove my truck into the wall off turn 2 after only getting five or six practice laps. Then we broke a motor and had to start in the back."

Despite having to start at the rear of the 34 strong field, Kvapil took advantage of the wide-open spaces offered by the two-mile MIS oval, picking up 15 places in the first 20 laps and cruising passed teammate Mike Skinner for the lead with 15 laps to go.

"I really have to thank crew chief John Monsam, Mike Skinner and the 42 crew for helping us out with all their notes. They had a fast, fast race truck in happy hour yesterday, and we were able to look at their notes and go a little bit more in their direction from where we were and tune on our truck for the race. So we relied a lot on my teammate and his setup.

"I knew if I ever got to the lead and out in clean air, I could get to the front fast," he added. "Clean air is so big at Michigan. You've got all the downforce on the truck working for you. I thought I had a good enough truck that I could drive away from them, and that's exactly what happened. It was a great feeling to look in the mirror and see that I was pulling away.

"Eric [Phillips] and everyone on my team did a great job and gave me tremendous pit stops today. They picked up three and four spots every time I pitted and made perfect adjustments on the truck. Earlier in the race, I was able to drive up to about 10th or 15th fairly easily, but once I got to those trucks they were pretty good and it was hard to pass. My truck was just too loose.

"We really had to work on our truck pretty hard to get it to where I was that fast. The draft was a big equalizer, too. There were some guys that probably don't have the horsepower that Toyota has under the hood, and they were able to keep up. But I had a good horse under the hood. The last 20 laps were the best laps I had all weekend. I was just riding around wide-open. And Mike and I worked together really well at the end. I thought it was going to be a one-two, but it was pretty darn close."

Kvapil's joy ride couldn't have come at a better momentum-boosting time mid-way through the 25-race NCTS season.

"I expected it a little earlier than 13 weeks into the season to be honest," Kvapil said. "I knew my owner, Alex Meshkin, had put together a tremendous group of people. With Toyota behind us giving us all the tools we need to go to the race track to run well - I know I've got great bodies, I know I've got great engines and I know Alex has got the best pieces bolted on the truck that we can buy.

"I've got Eric and Brad [Whaley], a great engineer, and now John's on board as the new 42 crew chief. We've got a good group of people that really work together and communicate well, and I think that's what the key was to our weekend. We finally put the whole package together. We tested last week in Nashville, and it was a huge turn around for our team. Since testing there, we brought a completely different truck with a totally different setup to Michigan, and Toyota providing us with that testing time and giving us that opportunity to get on the track was a key in my victory."

As the youngest team owner in NASCAR to reach victory lane, 24-year-old Meshkin's laurels were all the more sweet as both drivers finished inside the top-three after a roller coaster month of average finishes and changes within the organization.

"For the past couple of weeks, I've taken more hands-on control of the team making changes to help the two teams become stronger and bring them together," Meshkin said. "I think we've accomplished that. Thanks to the hiring of our new crew chief on the 42 team, John has helped further solidify our team. Our track performance today, Mike having the best happy hour yesterday, two top-five finishes in which either of our trucks could've won and to have Travis win his sponsor's race, it just can't get any better than this. It's an honour to be able to deliver Toyota their first win. To have Travis in victory lane - nothing could be more special."

From victory lane and a momentous time in NASCAR history, it's hard to imagine less than 10 months ago Bang Racing didn't even own a hammer.

"I remember last fall when we didn't have any employees or a race shop," Kvapil said. "We have done a lot in a very short time. And we just keep getting stronger and stronger. I've been saying for the last couple of weeks, the second half of the year is when Bang Racing is going to come on strong. We've been testing all this time, and the engines are getting better under the hood. Now that we've been to a lot of these racetracks once and know exactly what to bring for setups, we'll start climbing our way to the top. We still definitely have a shot at the championship. Our team hasn't given up and is looking for some more victories."

With 12 races remaining on the 2004 Craftsman Truck Series schedule Kvapil is seventh in the points table, just 222 points behind leader Dennis Setzer.


Loading Comments...