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Carson Kvapil Earns Impressive Fourth-Place Result in Xfinity Debut at Martinsville

The 10-time CARS Late Model Stock winner impressed Saturday at Martinsville with a fourth-place finish in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut, earning high praise from Dale Earnhardt, Jr.


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He's got such good racecraft, better racecraft than 80 percent of the people in the field, and he's just mature -- not a knock on everybody in the field here, he's just that good.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on 20-year-old Carson Kvapil

If I had a nickel for every time Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and JR Motorsports brought a winning Late Model driver to the NASCAR Xfinity Series and they scored a top-10 on debut, I'd have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s odd that it’s happened twice – and in back-to-back weeks, no less.

At Richmond, it was 37-year-old Super Late Model star Bubba Pollard finishing sixth on debut in the No. 88 Rheem Chevrolet Camaro. This weekend at Martinsville, it was time for Carson Kvapil, the defending champion of the CARS Tour’s Late Model Stock Car division to shine, driving the team’s fifth entry.

Not to be outdone, the 20-year-old son of NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil brought the No. 88 Chevrolet home in fourth, after being heavily engrained in a battle for the lead between teammates Justin Allgaier and Sammy Smith in the race’s second stage.

By the end of Saturday’s DUDE Wipes 250, Kvapil looked like a veteran of the NASCAR Xfinity Series, battling hard among the top five in the race’s closing laps, and holding his own magnificently, especially as the intensity and aggression began to ratchet up during a series of late-race restarts.

“I feel pretty good, right now. My goal going in was honestly to finish the race, and the next goal was to finish as best as we can, and I feel like we pretty much came right up on that,” said Carson Kvapil after the race. “I felt like we kept losing spots on pit road, and I’d pass a few cars, then all of the sudden coming out of the pits, I am right back behind them, and I’m like ‘Man, I have to pass these guys again.’”

“So, that was a little bit of a struggle, I would say. That’s about the only thing we struggled with,” added Kvapil. “I felt like all race long we weren’t pressured the whole time, we were able to get into a rhythm every stage and just kind of pick guys off as the run went on.”

Even though it was his first time competing in the second-tier series, the Mooresville, North Carolina native was critically aware of the potential for disaster as the field moved into NASCAR Overtime. Despite that, Kvapil and spotter TJ Majors took a risk, choosing the outside lane on the second row with two laps remaining, a move that ultimately paid dividends for the No. 88.

“There at the end, I felt like I didn’t want to go to the top on that last restart because I knew I was going to get put three-wide and something was going to go down,” the 10-time CARS Tour winner added. “We just kind of had to, and we were kind of messing around three-wide for a minute and got clear, and then coming off of two on the white flag, we were able to get under third, but the caution came out.”

Though, in true racer’s fashion, there was a slight tinge of disappointment from the 20-year-old rising star, after he felt his Chevrolet Camaro was good enough to park in Victory Lane on Saturday, or at least play a bigger role in the outcome of the event.

“Maximizing is to go out there and get a win, to me,” Kvapil said when asked about maximizing his day. “I know this No. 88 team, this Chevrolet Camaro, it’s capable of winning, so, the end goal and really the expectation for me is to go out and win. So, coming up with a fourth, it’s obviously not bad, right, like I’m pretty excited, but I felt like we had a car capable of at least running top-three and maybe going for the win.”

Kvapil may have been modest about his accomplishments Saturday at Martinsville – which his father, Travis, says he comes by honestly with his quiet, reserved nature – but there was nothing but pure excitement coming from Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who sang extremely high praise about his driver on pit road post-race.

“Excited man, really good for this track. I think it’s tough to finish them here, as you saw at the end, it gets really aggressive,” said Earnhardt, co-owner of JR Motorsports. “He’s got such good race craft, better race craft than 80 percent of the people in the field and he’s just mature – not a knock on everybody in the field here, he’s just that good. [The] Kid has grown up in it, works on cars all day, every day, everything about his life, every minute is racing. He’s got an incredible temperament, he’s level all the time, not once did he show any nerves or anxiety over this being too big, or too heavy, can’t seem to really rattle him.”

“I asked him in the middle of the race what he thought, and he’s like ‘Pretty simple. I do what I’m supposed to do'. So, just fun to watch him race, awesome to be able to give him a car he can do something with, and his dad and his mom did a good job raising him, he is such an awesome character. Awesome character and a hell of a racecar driver.”

Like sons Carson and Caden, Travis Kvapil wasn’t too shabby of a driver himself, winning nine NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races and capturing the series’ championship in 2003. While the Wisconsin-born driver never got the picture-perfect opportunity in the NASCAR Cup Series, he did manage to notch 271 career starts over a decade, as well as eight finishes inside the top-10.

The 48-year-old former driver is no doubt proud of his son for taking advantage of such an amazing opportunity to race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, but in his post-driving life, Kvapil is having a blast helping both of his children chase the same racing dream that he had dedicated so much of his life to.

“I tell you what, I work harder right now working on these boy’s Late Model cars than I have my whole life, and I love it,” said Travis Kvapil. “Get up, go to the shop, work, and go chase Late Models around the country with them, and it’s been so much fun, him and his younger brother Caden.”

“Yeah, I know he’s better than me, he’s a great racecar driver, he’s a great kid, he’s super smart, works hard and I couldn’t be prouder of him and his little brother, but I know great things are in the future for him. It’s just fun to kind of be tagging along carrying the radios or helmet or whatever he needs.”

With impressive debuts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series (Martinsville), NASCAR Truck Series (Bristol), and ARCA Menards Series (Kansas), what is next for Kvapil? For now, his sights are set on a second CARS Tour Late Model Stock Car title, where he’ll have ground to make up after skipping Saturday’s event at Hickory.

Though, when it comes to additional NASCAR chances, JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. says the organization remains in a similar position to a couple of years ago, when funding was required to get Josh Berry, now competing in the NASCAR Cup Series, a full-time seat in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

“The deal with Carson [Kvapil] is kind of similar to Josh [Berry], we’re just going to keep grinding running him in Late Model races and doing everything we can to get him chances,” said Earnhardt. “For Josh, it took 10 years, hopefully, it doesn’t take that long for Carson.”

“Runs like that didn’t do much for Josh’s career, we would take Josh somewhere and he’d run really good and we thought the phone was going to ring, and you just got to stay in it like Josh did. That’s the example of dedication and sticking with it and not giving up on your dream and we’re going to keep doing that with Carson as long as we can.”

There’s no question that JR Motorsports and Chevrolet have put Carson Kvapil in a position where success is imminent, whether that’s dominating the ranks of the CARS Tour Late Model Stock Car division or putting together impressive runs in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Fielding a fifth entry in the Xfinity Series has been a rarity for JR Motorsports in the past, but in 2024 the organization has elected to break it out some more, announcing a seven-race schedule between Bubba Pollard, Carson Kvapil, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Connor Zilisch.

Earnhardt, a two-time champion of the Xfinity Series, will return to the series at Bristol Motor Speedway for another shot at the victory, while Zilisch will run a four-race schedule in the No. 88 once he becomes of age, beginning at Watkins Glen, and continuing at Kansas, Homestead, and Phoenix.

Plus, you never know, with some additional sponsorship help, who is to say that Carson Kvapil couldn’t make a couple of additional appearances in the second-tier series this season? After all, it’s not totally far-fetched for the Late Model star to collect an Xfinity Series victory.

Photo Credit: Jonathan McCoy, Overbey Photography

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