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Toby's Take: Paved Short Track Racers Making the Most of Opportunities in NASCAR

While dirt was the trendy proving ground for cultivating upcoming NASCAR talent, it appears that the paved short track world is starting to become the new favorite amongst NASCAR teams looking for driving talent.


hero image for Toby's Take: Paved Short Track Racers Making the Most of Opportunities in NASCAR

While most of the headlines coming out of Dover Motor Speedway will be centered around aero-blocking and Denny Hamlin winning his third race of the season after holding off Kyle Larson this past weekend, this week in Toby's Take, I wanted to talk about the shift in the path to the NASCAR National Series in recent years.

While local dirt trackers were a hot commodity in the NASCAR ladder system not all that long ago, as evidenced by the rise of Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and others, it appears the pendulum is starting to swing back toward the local paved short track stars. Primarily, the racers that are dominating in the late model, super late model, and late model stock world.

A shining example of this is Carson Kvapil, the son of former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil who saw his star rise exponentially on Saturday.

The 20-year-old held the lead heading into the final overtime restart in Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race, and he held on to finish runner-up to Ryan Truex.

While Kvapil has impressed mightily for JR Motorsports in the zMAX CARS Tour ranks over the last few seasons, I think many expected there to be at least some sort of a learning curve for the young racer as he dipped his toes into the NASCAR National Series ranks this season.

If there has been a learning curve, it certainly hasn't been noticed to date as Kvapil finished fourth in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Martinsville Speedway a few weeks ago, and he now has a career average finish of 3.0 after the runner-up effort at Dover on Saturday, where he led the race for 14 laps.

It's been an incredible start for Kvapil's NASCAR National Series career, but it's the continuation of a recent vision for JR Motorsports, which has been showcasing the abilities of local pavement short trackers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Bubba Pollard, a local racing legend in the Super Late Model world, finally got his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series start at Richmond Raceway last month for JR Motorsports. The end result? The native of Senoia, Georgia came home with an emotional sixth-place run.

Obviously, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. making up part of the ownership group of the zMAX CARS Tour, there is a vested interested for Earnhardt to showcase the talents in the CARS Tour world, but JR Motorsports has been handing out opportunities to CARS Tour racers long before Dale Jr. was a co-owner of the series.

Prior to Pollard and Kvapil getting their big shots in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports, the race team showed how important local short track talent can be as they promoted Josh Berry to the NASCAR Xfinity Series part-time in 2021, a season where Berry registered two victories.

A season later, Berry won three more races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and he made it into the Championship 4. Now, he's a rookie in the NASCAR Cup Series for Stewart-Haas Racing.

And this pavement circle track-inspired NASCAR driver roster doesn't stop at JR Motorsports.

It took Ty Majeski, one of the most prolific short track racers in the country, a while to latch on, but he has also found solid footing in the NASCAR National Series ranks. Majeski has won three races in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and he sits third in the Truck Series championship battle after seven races this season.

He has been one of the best drivers in the series for the last few seasons with ThorSport Racing.

Another example of this is Corey Heim, who made his NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend, driving the No. 43 LEGACY MOTOR CLUB entry in relief of the injured Erik Jones.

Heim didn't light the world on fire as he finished 25th, but he wasn't expected to. Transitioning to the Next Gen car is no easy task, and doing so on short notice is even more challenging.

Still, Heim didn't make any massive mistakes throughout the weekend, and had it not been for a caution coming out after he pitted during a green flag pit cycle, there's a real chance that the 21-year-old would have finished well inside the top-20.

Heim, who cut his teeth in Late Models and Super Late Models in the South East, will get his second crack behind the wheel of the legendary No. 43 car this weekend at Kansas Speedway. Expect the six-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver to be even faster this week.

With all of this paved short track talent excelling up the ladder in the NASCAR National Series ranks, currently, the question becomes who will be next? Or, rather, who should be next?

Gio Ruggiero is the obvious next pick among the local paved short track standouts. The 17-year-old has impressed mightily in his limited starts in the ARCA Menards Series, and the ARCA Menards Series East Series.

Ruggiero leads the ARCA East points through the opening two races of the 2024 season, and he has finished runner-up in both of his ARCA Menards Series starts to date.

Expect to hear Ruggiero's name in the NASCAR circles very soon.

I also truly think, if given the right opportunities, the Canadian-born Cole Butcher and Treyten Lapcevich would be incredible in the NASCAR National Series ranks.

Butcher, who scored a photo finish win over Jake Finch this weekend at Mobile International Speedway by just 0.002 sec., has racked up wins inthe prestigious Oxford 250 twice, and the Redbud 400 once.

Lapcevich, 20, put up one of the most dominant performances in NASCAR Canada Series history a season ago as he amassed seven victories, and recorded an average finish of 2.6 on his path to the championship in 2023.

This year, Lapcevich has been competing in local short track events in America.

28-year-old Stephen Nasse, who has been the thorn in the side of Bubba Pollard for years, could also potentially excel if given an opportunity in the NASCAR National Series ranks. How fun would that be to see the two rivals square off in the middle of a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at a short track? I think many would pay the price of admission to see that one.

It would also be cool to see how many other local late model and super late model hot shoes would do if given a chance in NASCAR. I think Matt Craig could turn some heads as could Landon Huffman, who actually ran five NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races between 2017 and 2019.

Huffman has had a trying season on track so far in 2024, so, what better time to abandon a championship run in the short track world in favor of some NASCAR starts?

At the end of the day, it all revolves around opportunity, and a lot of that opportunity is sponsorship-dependent, but man, it's fun to think of all of the possibilities. There are a lot of ultra-talented racers that never get a chance at NASCAR.

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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