Race Weekend Central

2023 Frontstretch CARS Tour Awards

With the new year just around the corner and the 2024 zMAX CARS Tour opener at Southern National Motorsports Park not far ahead, now is a good time to hand out some awards before 2023 comes to a close.

The 2023 season was full of surprises, fantastic side-by-side racing and plenty of memorable moments. So for the first time ever, let’s hand out some well-deserved Frontstretch hypothetical hardware to the 2023 CARS stars.

Driver of the Year: Carson Kvapil

When picking the award for best driver, it’s hard to look past the guy who won the championship. It’s even harder to look past said driver when he just won his second consecutive championship while winning the most races during the 2023 season. 

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So therefore, despite the efforts of Brenden “Butterbean” Queen, the inaugural Driver of the Year award belongs to Carson Kvapil. Kvapil started the 2023 season scorching hot, with a second-place result in the season opener followed by three straight wins, coming at Florence Motor Speedway, Hickory Motor Speedway and Ace Speedway. Kvapil finished the season with five wins, 13 top fives and 0 DNFs in 16 starts, winning the championship by five points. 

Dating back to 2022, Kvapil had put together an outstanding streak of 22 straight top-10 finishes heading into the season finale this year at Caraway Speedway. But the streak ultimately came to an end with Kvapil’s 11th place at Caraway. It was still an impressive feat none the less, as Kvapil will look to start a new streak and defend his two titles in 2024. 

Breakout Star of the Year: Brenden Queen

Nobody in the sport of late model stock car racing had a bigger year of growth both on and off the racetrack more than Butterbean Queen. Afterall, Queen was the other candidate in mind for the previous award, best driver, but just came up five points short of that honor at season’s end. 

Back to what he did accomplish, Butterbean closed out 2023 with four wins, six poles and 12 top fives in 16 starts in just his first full-time season with tour. Butterbean also became a fan favorite with the series in his first season with Lee Pulliam Performance, as his season was documented through a series called “The Butterbean Experience” with FloRacing. 

In addition to the wins, Butterbean managed to lead every single lap of the final two races to close out the 2023 season, meaning he’ll have all the momentum heading into 2024. Combine that with the fan-favorite Waffle House trips after every win, and Butterbean is now a superstar in the world of late model stock car racing. His stock will only continue to grow for years to come. 

Race of the Year: Dominion Raceway

This past season, the CARS Tour — more specifically Kvapil, Queen and Bobby McCarty — put on quite possibly the greatest CARS race of all time. There was action throughout the field all night long at Dominion Raceway. However, the battle up front was relatively quiet for a good portion of the 125-lapper.

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That all changed around 35 laps from the finish, when race-leader Queen caught a heavy pack of lapped traffic, allowing McCarty and Kvapil to pull right up to the rear bumper of the No. 03. 

At one point, the top four of Queen, McCarty, Kvapil and Connor Hall were separated by less than a second before a caution with 15 laps to go set up the fans for the race of the year to the finish. A monster restart from the outside lane propeled Kvapil around Queen for the lead, and the battle was on from there. Queen stalked the No. 8 of Kvapil as the laps wound down, inching closer and closer before finally getting underneath Kvapil with six laps to go.

A nudge into turn 3 was the move that got Queen to the inside, and the two raced side-by-side from there. Queen pushed Kvapil up the track with four laps to go and again a lap later. However, the hit with three to go pushed both cars up the track, allowing McCarty to the inside. The three cars raced three-wide into turn 3 before Kvapil began to fade. McCarty and Queen spent the final two laps door-to-door, with McCarty taking the win by 0.009 seconds. 

Performance of the Year: Carson Kvapil/Wake County

Some honorable mentions definitely go out to both races that Queen led all 125 laps, as well as Deac McCaskill’s flag-to-flag performance at South Boston Speedway. But this award has to go to Kvapil’s dominant comeback drive at Wake County Speedway.

When the Tour made its late-summer stop at Wake County in August, Kvapil was fresh off a second place at Tri-County Speedway, looking to try and put the championship away. Following the late-race fuel blunder for Queen and the No. 03 team at Tri-County, Queen needed to outscore Kvapil in basically every race to end the season, and early in the day at Wake County, it looked like that would easily be accomplished. 

Earlier in the day, Kvapil put in a season-low qualifying effort of 18th, while Queen qualified fourth for the 125-lap feature. Kvapil later chalked up the poor qualifying result to “driver error” and proceeded to put on a one-man show at the Wake County bullring.

Just 62 laps into the 125-lapper at the quarter-mile, Kvapil made his way around race-leader McCarty, and from there, the rest was history. Kvapil never looked back, leading the remaining 63 laps on the night, with over a four-second lead by race’s end.  

Comeback Driver of the Year: Landon Huffman

Between lawsuits, team changes, track scandals, wrecked racecars and big-time performances, nobody had a more up-and-down year than Landon Huffman. Now, most of these happened outside of CARS, but even Huffman’s CARS season saw its ups and downs. Huffman got the call early in the season from Nelson Motorsports to go drive the teams No. 22, a move team owner Barry Nelson said was to bring his team’s performance back up to par. 

Early on, the pairing struggled, with an average finish of 17.4 in Huffman’s first seven starts of the season, although one of those was with his family team at Hickory. However, the tide began to turn at Ace in August with a solid top-10 result. In the team’s very next outing, it brought a rocket ship to Tri-County, and Huffman drove the No. 22 to a $30,000 win by night’s end.

However, it was announced toward the end of the season that Nelson was moving on to Connor Hall for the 2024 season, and Huffman was once again out of a ride. Huffman later signed with Jimmy Mooring Racing for the 2024 season, so a brand-new adventure awaits Huffman and the Claremont Posse for the new year. 

Social Media Moment of the Year: Most Popular Driver Campaign

This last award is without any serious intent, and I remain unbiased and will not pick a side. But Huffman’s and Queen’s back-and-forth most popular driver campaigns were pure social media gold and brought some off-season comedy to the entire late model community. I will now let the twitter exchange speak for itself.

Which was followed by this:
And then this:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. then jumped in:
Butterbean held his ground:

In the end, Landon Huffman vs. Waffle House and Brenden Queen was not on my end-of-2023 bingo card, and Earnhardt claiming that he went to Waffle House following his wedding is just the icing on the cake.  

With that, the awards have been given out, and we move on to 2024. A year from now, we’ll have all new awards to give out, and maybe Huffman will be on speaking terms with Waffle House again.

About the author

Chase_folsom_ROVAL_2022

Chase began working with Frontstretch in the spring of 2023 as a news writer, while also helping fill in for other columns as needed. Chase is now the main writer and reporter for Frontstretch.com's CARS Tour coverage, a role which began late in 2023.  Aside from racing, some of Chase's other hobbies include time in the outdoors hunting and fishing, and keeping up with all things Philadelphia sports related.

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