Race Weekend Central

Counting CARS: 3 Takeaways From Carson Kvapil’s Season-Opening Win

KENLY, N.C – The zMAX CARS Tour opened its Late Model Stock Car season Sunday (March 10) at Southern National Motorsports Park, after a dreary forecast forced series officials to postpone the race from its originally scheduled Saturday time slot.

Following the Saturday washout, the Late Model Stock stars showed up Sunday to a packed house at Southern National. On a windy afternoon, they put on a show for the fans at the tour’s season opener.

In the end it was defending champ Carson Kvapil who picked up the win. 

The storylines following Kvapil’s season-opening triumph are plentiful, as the champ sent a strong message to the field while some had extremely disappointing starts to their championship efforts in 2024.

Much like the Pro Late Model race a week ago, we saw a relatively clean race with a large field of cars, with many walking away in a great spot to fight for the title. Here are three of the biggest takeaways following the CARS season opener. 

To Be the Champ, You Have to Beat the Champ

The more things change, the more they stay the same. All the talk during the offseason was about how strong this field of Late Model Stock drivers is, how the competition has never been tougher and how the battle for the championship is wide open. 

But at the end of the day, the two-time defending champ opened the season with another win.

Kvapil started the day strong, qualifying seventh for the first race of the season. That left him starting inside row four. 

His day almost ended before it really got going. Moments after the drop of the green, Kvapil’s No. 8 caught air during an incident with Deac McCaskill on lap three. Kvapil had half a car to the inside of McCaskill’s No. 08 and the two made heavy contact entering turn 1, but both drivers kept it in the right direction and the race stayed green. 

Kvapil methodically worked his way through the field, cracking the top five for the first time on lap 30 after getting around the No. 77 of Treyten Lapcevich. The North Carolinian maintained his spot in the top five until the first competition caution at lap 45 and broke into the top three for the first time on lap 78. 

The moment of truth for Kvapil was a restart with 35 laps to go, where he elected to restart first in the outside lane rather than third in the inside lane. The initial restart was waived after race leader Brent Crews jumped the start. On the ensuing second attempt Crews missed a shift, allowing Kvapil to get the jump off turn 4 and take control of the race. 

It looked as though Kvapil was driving away to the win, until the caution flew once again with six laps to go. That stacked the field up one more time, giving second-place Connor Hall one more shot at Kvapil’s rear bumper for the win.

On the restart, Hall took that shot, moving Kvapil’s No. 8 up the hill in turn 1. But ultimately it wasn’t enough. Kvapil held off Hall for the final six laps, taking his 10th CARS win, just one shy of a three-way tie with McCaskill and Bobby McCarty for second on the tour’s all-time wins list. 

Kvapil may be at the disadvantage of missing a race — he’ll be absent from the April 6 race at Hickory Motor Speedway to attempt his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut — but this win sends a message to the rest of the field that nothing has changed in the No. 8 camp. 

“It’s awesome,” Kvapil said post-race. “It just kinda shows them that after the off season nothing’s changed with this team, and Brian still brings a really good car to the racetrack week in and week out and allows me to compete for wins.”

There is no doubt the road to a title is steeper than in years past for Kvapil, but the team sent a message at Southern National.

To be the champ, you have to beat the champ. That’s going to be a tall task for the rest of the field. 

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We See You, Brent Crews

On the flip side of Kvapil’s triumph, an outstanding Late Model Stock debut as a full-timer with the tour for Crews ended in heartbreak at race’s end. On a day that saw the young Kevin Harvick Inc. driver dominate, a sixth-place result leaves something to be desired. 

The 15 year-old Crews laid down a blistering lap in qualifying, a 15.353-second lap good enough for second behind Chad McCumbee. The polesitter got the jump on the initial start of the race, but Crews had muscled his way to the lead by lap 7.

From that point through the race’s middle stages, it was absolute dominance from Crews. The rising star led without a challenge from behind until the first competition caution at lap 45. The second stint was more of the same, as Crews jumped out to the lead on the restart and drove away, holding the top spot the competition yellow at lap 90.

It was then that everything went south for the No. 29 team. Crews got the jump on Kvapil on the ensuing restart, but it was called off and he was warned for going too soon.

On the second attempt, Crews was a victim to experience. Kvapil snookered the young KHI driver from the outside lane, which led Crews to a missed shift and multiple spots lost on the restart.

Crews elected to take the outside lane following the pileup in turn 1, as the field took the green once again on lap 91. Despite a strong effort, Crews wasn’t able to get in line on the bottom of the racetrack, and was subsequently shuffled out of the top five. He wasn’t a factor at the front for the rest of the day. 

Although the sixth-place result is certainly disappointing after leading so many laps on the day, the future is bright for the driver of the No. 29. A dominant performance against the best Late Model Stock drivers in the country is nothing to be ashamed of, especially in only your third start with the series and first as a full-time driver with a new team.

Crews and KHI are a force to be reckoned with in 2024, a group the field should keep an eye on as a sleeper for the title as the season progresses. 

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Early Championship Implications

Aside from Kvapil and Crews, plenty of other drivers are leaving Southern National with their championship aspirations in great shape, while others have dug themselves into a hole in the title fight. 

Up front, it was Hall and McCaskill rounding out the podium behind Kvapil, both making their first series starts with their new teams.

Hall made an offseason move to the Nelson Motorsports No. 22, and the pairing is off to a hot start in 2024. He was runner up to Kvapil in the Icebreaker at Florence Motor Speedway last month, before once again coming home second last weekend.

The combination of three-time champion Nelson and reigning NASCAR Weekly champion Hall finding victory lane is a matter of when, not if. With Kvapil already out for one race, they may be in the catbird seat to take over the points lead in April. 

As for McCaskill, his first run in an R&S Race Cars machine was a successful one. He found himself back on the podium once again at Southern National, a track McCaskill has three wins at in the past.

It’s well documented the force McCaskill can become when running the full schedule. In a similar manner to Hall, he may be poised for a title run with Kvapil set to miss Hickory in April.

On the other end of the spectrum, Landon Huffman, Stephen Nasse and Brenden Queen all have holes to dig out of in the points standings after a disappointing opener.

For Nasse and Huffman, their time on track was numbered. Both drivers failed to make the 30-car starting field after qualifying 32nd and 34th, respectively. 

The pair intends to run the full season but now will have to chase a title with one less start on the stat sheet compared to other title contenders, which makes doing so a difficult task.

As for Queen, he and the No. 03 team never truly had the car dialed in. Queen battled with a lack of grip all day long, before an eventual mechanical failure left him with a 19th-place finish.

If anyone can go on a hot streak and dig out of a hole, it’s Queen; we’ve seen it before. Queen won three of the final four races in 2023, nearly tracking down eventual champion Kvapil at season’s end. Time will tell if the driver known as ‘Butterbean’ can replicate that success and overcome his poor start to the season. 

See also
Monday Morning Pit Box: Christopher Bell, Ty Gibbs Overcome Slow Stops at Phoenix

What’s Next?

The Late Model Stock Cars now take the week off, before heading to New River All American Speedway in two weeks; time on Saturday, March 23.

The Pro Late Models West Series is set to make its debut this Saturday, March 16, at Kevin Harvick’s Kern Raceway, while the Pro’s on the East coast are off until Hickory Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 6.

All three events can be streamed live on FloRacing. 

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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