Naturally, the spotlight tends to focus on the leading runners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage, to where the mid-level teams can get overlooked. Breaking into the sport, and attempting to prove you belong, is the challenge for new teams – and often takes years to accomplish.
Within five races, the new BK Racing squad is hoping to accelerate the learning and developmental curve.
Founded out of the ashes of Red Bull Racing, a group of five partners had their interest in the sport piqued by runs by TRG Motorsports a year ago, and then had the opportunity to acquire the RBR assets. BK Racing was born.
The group includes Burger King franchise owner Ron Devine, chairman of Interstate Van lines Buddy Morrissette, tomato grower Wayne Press, former RBR race director Thomas Ueberall and team president Scott Gunderson, with general manager Harry McMullen. Gunderson explains the timeline of what led to the team's creation.
“We were all partners with TRG last year,” he says. “At the end of the season, the Red Bull assets were available; we inquired about Red Bull, and they called us back. We looked at the assets right after Christmas, and we closed the deal end of January. We moved into our shop February 1 and went racing at Daytona.
“All of us come with different racing backgrounds. We all have an interest in racing, and every partner has a different duty. One does racing operations, one does administration, one does sponsorships, and everyone has their own thing going on.”
The main thing going on was attempting to put the cars together. Though the RBR assets were there, there was still a need to built and fit the cars with 2012 specifications – building the chassis, installing Toyota engines built by Triad Racing Technology, mounting parts, and updating to the new fuel injection systems. For established teams, the work was constant over the winter, but for a new squad, the challenge seemed tougher to those on the outside.
“We moved into our shop Feb. 1, and all we heard was, ‘We couldn't do it,'” Gunderson relates. “Then we got to Daytona and everyone was like, ‘Wow. We're amazed you're here.'
“But it's a tribute to our guys. They were stellar in working all hours of day and night to get there. We bought good assets from Red Bull, but we still had to get them put together in doing the necessary modifications. Before we moved into our shop, guys were assembling them in other shops.”
The driver lineup includes Landon Cassill for the full season in the team's No. 83 Toyota, with Travis Kvapil in for all but one of the 36 races in the sister No. 93. David Reutimann was in that car at the Daytona 500 while Danica Patrick ran in Reutimann's usual No. 10 Tommy Baldwin Racing entry (in partnership with Stewart Haas Racing). Cassill's been paired with veteran crew chief Doug Richert, while the Kvapil/Reutimann pairing works with rookie Todd Anderson.
Cassill, a former Hendrick Motorsports development driver, completed his first full Sprint Cup season in 32 races last year driving for Phoenix Racing, with a best finish of 12th. When he announced he had a deal for 2012, he couldn't identify the team at the same time as it hadn't been officially revealed.
“Getting yourself out there is the thing for any job,” he says of his opportunity. “In this sport, it's so important to treat people well, and you never know when you'll get a call like this. I got this one as they were putting this team together, and it seemed like a pretty good opportunity.”
Former NASCAR Truck Series champion Kvapil has been in-and-out of Sprint Cup for several seasons, notably with Roger Penske, and is back in the series after running with Front Row Motorsports sporadically the last two years.
“I needed a different place to drive,” he says. “We have a lot of room for improvement, but have a lot of potential.”
The bizarre moment at this year's Daytona 500 when Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet drier also opened an opportunity for Cassill and the BK squad to get some notoriety. When the race was red-flagged, Cassill ran in second place behind Dave Blaney, after staying out of trouble throughout his first 500 start. Although both he and Reutimann were involved in an accident with less than 10 laps to go to end 22nd and 26th, it was the first chance for the NASCAR world to see the team had its act together.
“That was a unique situation and would have been very humbling (to finish second),” Cassill says. “It was cool to put our team on the map, get some exposure during our biggest race. We gave everyone a peek at who we are and what we're about, but we need to back it up with results going forward.”
So far, the team's best result is 19th – the following week by Kvapil in his team debut at Phoenix. Engine woes struck both cars at Las Vegas, with both cars surviving Bristol in the 20s and then adding its second engineer last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
“It's tough to get results straightaway, without a prior notebook,” Kvapil admits. “We've had competitive racecars, but that's been bottom of the mid-pack so far. We're beginning to make some good strides. As we get better prepared at the race shop, we can come with more speed in our cars, with a better understanding. We're zeroing in, and when we start coming to places a second time, we'll be a lot closer to where we need to be in terms of speed, performance, and results.”
“It's constantly evolving,” Gunderson says of the team's progress. “The superspeedways, to me, are anyone's game. The 1.5-mile stuff is where we need to get better, and we need to put some more attention into that. Short tracks provide us a chance for good, old school racing and setup. As we bring in more engineers and technological guys to help us for setups on the 1.5 and 2-milers, we'll catch up.”
Rather than a quantum leap the rest of the year, BK Racing seeks incremental strides as it works to run more regularly in the top 20 and top 25. After five races, the No. 93 remains locked in to the top 35, 30th in owner points, while Cassill's No. 83 is five points outside in 36th. Reutimann, Kvapil and Cassill are 32nd, 33rd and 34th in the driver points.
So far, the chemistry is solid between drivers and crew chiefs and the upper management of the team. The team now looks to build both character and its results.
“It's extremely hard to break into in the top-25 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and I hope by the end of the year we're consistently there,” Cassill says. “If you're looking at 25th, that's the 78 car (Regan Smith, a 2011 race winner), the 47 (former series champion Bobby Labonte), and the 56 (the improving Martin Truex Jr. at Michael Waltrip Racing). Those are 20th-to-25th place teams that are fully funded and well funded. We are a brand new team trying to establish what we are. We don't know yet. It takes weeks and months to get there.”
“We hired everyone here and said, ‘OK, it's one team, two cars,'” Gunderson adds. “We don't want to be two separate teams. We have great knowledge sharing right now. We want it to be interchangeable if we need to be, and go from there.”