Old Drivers Making a New Start in NASCAR

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2010

LAS VEGAS - FEBRUARY 27:  Travis Kvapil driver of the #28 Golden Corral Ford stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Shelby 427 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on February 27, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for Nascar)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

On tonight's edition of NASCAR Race Hub, something caught my eye.

No, it wasn't Danica Patrick.

It was an interview with Travis Kvapil, who thanks to Long John Silver's and Front Row Motorsports, will make his return to the Sprint Cup Series this season. He last raced in 2008.

When I was first introduced to Kvapil, he was in an all black firesuit that said YATES across the front. I had to go to NASCAR.com to find out who he was.

He was the underdog and I liked that. He came every week and drove his car like it was his last race.

In 2008, he was one of the few drivers to finish all 36 races and had no DNFs. He finished eighth overall in number of laps completed.

Pretty impressive for a guy who ended the season not knowing where he would end up after that last lap at Homestead.

Then I got to thinking about other drivers who are making their return to the track after a long absence.

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Aric Almirola, who is sometimes more popular for the mispronunciation of his last name than his racing (it is not uncommon to hear his last name pronounced Amarillo), is returning to the track this year in James Finch's Phoenix Racing No. 09 Chevrolet.

Almirola raced in 2009 in the Camping World Truck Series for Billy Ballew and began the NSCS season in an Earnhardt Ganassi car that only lasted for seven races due to lack of sponsorship. Previously, he shared a ride with Mark Martin at DEI when Martin ran part-time in 2008.

Finch and Almirola are hoping to run a full season and not becoming a “start-and-park” team.

A newbie to NSCS but not NASCAR, Truck Series veteran Terry Cook is looking to vie for the Rookie of the Year title when he makes his debut in the No. 46 car for Whitney Motorsports.

Last year, he drove the No. 91 for MSRP Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, qualifying well. Cook is hoping to bring that success over to the Cup level.

Thanks to the new Budweiser Shootout rules, we get to see NASCAR legends like Ken Schrader and Bill Elliot drive with the drivers of today trying to become the legends of tomorrow.

On my “wish list,” I hope a team notices the capabilities of Casey Mears and picks him up as soon as possible. Mears had a decent 2009, ending 21st in points. But with Jack Daniel's sponsorship departure, RCR let him go.

Previously he was also let go by Hendrick Motorsports so Mark Martin could drive the No. 5 car, which he took all the way to second in points. Maybe he has a fourth car bad luck syndrome?

I'm also holding out hope that J.J. Yeley will find a way back to NASCAR now that he's fully healed from his accident (he broke several cervical vertebrae during a USAC race in mid-2009). I still remember the sight of him taking over for Tony Stewart when Stewart fell ill during the 2008 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.

True, he ran into some bad luck after taking over. But it still takes a dedicated racer to get into a car midway through a race, especially when it's the No. 20 Home Depot car, driven by such a popular driver.

There are more drivers out there I know I am forgetting that still need rides (David Stremme comes to mind) and I hope they all can find them. NASCAR drivers are the most passionate about what they do.

I once thought about writing a “What If They Didn't Drive...” article but realized I couldn't...because to these drivers, racing is everything.