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Short Track Weekly: A Look at the CARS Tour Class of 2024

The start of the 2024 zMAX CARS Tour pro late model season is just days away, with the Pro Late Models set to begin their season at Southern National Motorsports Park on March 2, before the late model stock cars take center stage a week later on March 7. 

While the pro late model season is set to be outstanding in its own right, the late model stock cars Class of ‘24 is the most competitive the series has ever seen on paper, with a mix of series veterans and newcomers alike.

With new title sponsor zMAX and the new ownership group now in its second year, the series is at the dawn of a new era, potentially with its best season yet on the horizon. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the late model stock car class of ‘24, and the outlook for the season as it’s set to begin in just over a week’s time. 

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Lowden Jackson Returning to ARCA West, Johnny Borneman Running Partial Schedule

The Title Favorites

One season ago, the chase for the 2023 title came down to just five points between eventual champion Carson Kvapil and runner-up Brenden Queen, as Kvapil ultimately walked away with his second consecutive series championship. With the stacked full-time field heading into 2024, these two should remain the title favorites until someone else proves otherwise. 

For Kvapil, being the two-time reigning champ speaks for itself, and that’s just the start of Kvapil’s list of accomplishments of the course of his time with JR Motorsports. It’s no secret the JRM No. 8 is top of the line equipment, but it takes a wheelman to make sure said equipment still ends up in victory lane often, and Kvapil has done just that. 

With four wins in 2022 followed by five in 2023, nobody has found victory lane more than Kvapil and the No. 8 team over the past few years. In fact, the team even started off its 2024 with a win, winning the annual Ice Breaker event at Florence Motor Speedway against a full field of late model stock competition in February. 

The only knock on Kvapil to this point is that he’s already guaranteed to miss at least one race in 2024. It was recently announced that Kvapil would make his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Martinsville Speedway in April, a race that conflicts with the CARS Tour event at Hickory — a race Kvapil won last year. This isn’t a first for Kvapil. His 2022 championship campaign included a one-race absence due to suspension, so it’s a challenge that is entirely possible to overcome, although it does create an opportunity for the rest of the field. 

The next man up ready to capitalize on that opportunity would undoubtedly be Brenden “Butterbean” Queen. Butterbean had an outstanding first year in the CARS tour last season, finding victory lane four times with 12 top fives and 15 top 10s in 16 races.

As previously mentioned, the first year pairing of Queen and Lee Pulliam Performance came up just five points short of a championship in 2023, and without a fuel calculation mishap in the Old North State Nationals at Tri-County, they very well could have walked away as champions. 

Queen led 94 of 200 laps in the series’ crown jewel event, before the fuel blunder led to the No. 03 running out of gas with 22 laps to go. The result was a season-low result of 16th, on a night where Queen easily had the dominant car and Kvapil came home second.

As Butterbean and LPP head toward year two together and Queen’s second go-around with the CARS tour, the pair continues to trend upward, and we could very well see a Waffle House championship celebration at season’s end. 

Old Faces In New Places

While Queen and Kvapil may be staying put in their old rides, there’s a whole list of drivers who are ready to contend for a title as they prepare for fresh starts with new teams. Connor Hall, Deac McCaskill, Landon Huffman and more made up the silly season carousel that helped lead to such a competitive field for 2024. 

When looking for a title contender, look no further than Connor Hall. Not only is he the reigning NASCAR Weekly Series National Champion, which carries a ton of weight in its own right, he’s now paired up with one of the most successful teams in the series history with Nelson Motorsports. 

Hall is no stranger to full-time CARS competition, as he ran the full series schedule in 2022, winding up second in the standings at season’s end to Kvapil. Hall intended to run the tour again in 2023, but after a strong early season run on the Weekly side, went in a different direction. 

Now, Hall is back for more, looking to go one spot better than his ‘22 effort with a team that is no stranger to championships. The Nelson No. 22 won the title with Bobby McCarty in 2018, 2019 and 2021, and found victory lane as recently as last fall, when the team won the Old North State Nationals with Landon Huffman behind the wheel. The Hall-Nelson duo will certainly be a force to be reckoned with in 2024.

Another driver to keep an eye on is the driver who Hall replaced in the No. 22, Huffman. He joined the Nelson Motorsports team mid-season in 2023 as the team was struggling and needed a driver to get it pointed back in the right direction. 

Huffman did just that, finally breaking through for his first win in the series’ biggest event, the aforementioned Old North State Nationals, and finished out the season strong in the No. 22, with six top 10s, three top fives and a win in the final seven races. 

However, despite the success, Nelson elected to go in a different direction, and Huffman now finds himself paired with Jimmy Mooring Racing, the winners of the 2020 series title with Jared Fryar. The team is set up with a brand new R&S racecar, and Huffman is bringing back the No. 37 that his father Robert made a career with in the Goody’s Dash series back in the day, so the former Hickory Motor Speedway track champion could be a title contender in his own right. 

Speaking of former champions, the 2016 series champ Deac McCaskill is back, full time, for the first time since 2021, this time with R&S Race Cars. McCaskill was previously a customer of the team, purchasing cars that he then ran out of his own family shop, but now will be running with in-house equipment.

McCaskill had a stellar 2023 season, with something of a return to form as he picked up two wins during his part-time schedule on the tour — the first multi-win season for McCaskill since 2017. McCaskill has never finished outside the top five in points as a full-time driver, and could very well contend at the top this season once again. 

Another driver on the move is Brandon Pierce, as he moves over from Lee Pulliam Performance to join Jacob Heafner at Carroll Speedshop, as both will chase the championship in 2024. Ronnie Bassett Jr is also back on the tour full time with his family operation, and three time champion Bobby McCarty returns to R&S Race Cars for a second full time season in the No. 6. 

McCarty picked up his first win on the tour since 2021 at Dominion Raceway in June, while Bassett’s first year with CARS resulted in five top fives and seven top 10s on the year. Heafner had a solid year in 2023 while Pierce had an uncharacteristic down year, and the two will look to improve in their first season as teammates. 

Last season’s rookie of the year candidates Dylon Wilson and Cameron Bolin also return to the series, both staying put with their current teams for 2024. The two look to build on a solid rookie of the year battle from 2023.

The Newcomers

Aside from the veterans, the class of 2024 has a whole cast of newcomers set to take on the series. 

To the surprise of few, Kade Brown is making the jump to go full-time in the tour with Matt Piercy Racing following a stellar 2023 season. Brown picked up the Florence track championship back in 2022, backed that up with a Hickory track championship in 2023, and won in the South Carolina 400 at season’s end.

Reigning NASCAR Canada Series champion Treyton Lapcevich is also joining the series full time in 2024, set to drive the No. 77 for Chad Bryant Racing. The CBR team comes into 2024 fresh off a national championship with Connor Hall in 2023. Lapcevich won half of the 14-race schedule with the Canada series in 2023, and now faces the new challenge of learning the ins and outs of a late model stock car. 

Kevin Harvick Incorporated plans on running a full time entry for 15-year-old Brent Crews following the team’s rebirth in 2023. Crews picked up the 2023 Trans Am Series TA2 championship in 2023 along with making select ARCA Menards Series starts, including a win at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Crews, who was already signed with KHI Management beforehand, will drive the No. 29 for the full season. 

Another big name on the list of newcomers is Stephen Nasse. A star on the super late model side of the sport, Nasse has decided to take on a new challenge and plans to run the full CARS season in 2024. It shouldn’t take long for the former two-time Winchester 400 winner to find his way to the front in a late model stock car. 

Some other notable newcomers include Logan Clark, Cody Dempster and Isabella Robusto.

Clark will get a full time bid with R&S Race Cars after select starts with the team in 2023, including leading the most laps when the series visited New River All-American Speedway.

Meanwhile, Dempster, a former NASCAR Regional champion, will make the switch from super late models to late model stocks, traveling the country from his home state of Colorado.

As for Robusto, she joins Lee Pulliam Performance alongside Queen after being sidelined for the majority of 2023 with lingering effects of a concussion suffered during a crash at Hickory Motor Speedway early in the season. 

Potential Spoilers?

The list above doesn’t even include the drivers who we know will run part of the schedule in 2024.

KHI plans to run a second car, the No. 62, on select occasions like it was run in 2023. The 2017 series champ and NASCAR Cup Series driver Josh Berry, 2023 ARCA Menards East Series Champ William Sawalich, 2022 NASCAR Weekly National champion Layne Riggs and former ARCA Menards West Series winner Landen Lewis will all split time in the car.

Tommy Joe Martins and Jonathan Findley will split time in the Martins Racing entry throughout the 17-race season in 2024, with Martins set to make his series debut in the car at Hickory in April.

The plans of Mason Diaz, who ended up third in the 2023 series standings, remain unknown, as work continues to go on behind the scenes. However, it was already announced Diaz will pilot the JRM No. 8 at Hickory during Kvapil’s absence, a place where Diaz picked up his first career win last season. 

Another young driver to keep an eye on is Connor Zilisch. He signed a developmental deal with Trackhouse Racing over the offseason that included starts with CARS, although the details remain unknown at this time. Zilisch recently found victory lane in one of motorsports’ biggest events, as he was a part of the race-winning LMP2 team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. 

Just recently, the press release announcing Bubba Pollard to the JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series No. 88 listed Pollard as making select starts in the CARS Tour as well. Pollard, while not having as much experience in a late model stock, is one of the most accomplished super late model drivers on the circuit, and would have no problem adjusting if and when his CARS plans are confirmed. 

It goes without saying that the class of ‘24 is absolutely stacked. Competition in the CARS Tour, along with late model stock car racing as a whole, continues to be on the rise, as we get set for what very well should be the best season the series has ever seen. Who knows, we may even see a couple of the boss men, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick, a time or two before season’s end. 

About the author

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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