Race Weekend Central

Short Track Weekly: JR Motorsports’ Short Track Pipeline

Over the past decade, nobody has done more for the health of grassroots racing than Dale Earnhardt Jr.

From the revival of North Wilkesboro Speedway to his involvement in the CARS Tour. Using his own race teams to give short track aces the spotlight. Earnhardt’s played a major role in the discipline’s resurgence.

This Saturday (April 6), two of grassroots racing’s own will take their place on center stage with the help of Earnhardt and JR Motorsports.

While Carson Kvapil makes his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Martinsville Speedway, Mason Diaz will step into Kvapil’s No. 8 for the CARS Tour event at Hickory Motor Speedway.

For Kvapil, many saw this coming long before it was announced. The son of 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil took over the JR Motorsports Late Model Stock program after Josh Berry exploded onto the Xfinity Series in 2021.

Since taking over in the No. 8 in the CARS Tour full-time in 2022, Kvapil has become a two-time defending champion. He’s amassed 10 wins, seven poles and 27 top fives in 31 starts.

Kvapil picked up a win in the series’ biggest event, the Old North State Nationals, in 2022. He sits just one win behind Deac McCaskill and Bobby McCarty for second on the tour’s all-time wins list. 

Kvapil made both his ARCA Menards Series and Truck Series debut in the fall of 2023, coming home second in ARCA at Kansas Speedway and finishing 12th in the Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway. 

Just a week after Super Late Model star Bubba Pollard made his Xfinity Series debut in the JR Motorsports No. 88 at Richmond, Kvapil will get his chance to shine in NASCAR’s second series at Martinsville on Saturday night.

Kvapil is no stranger to Martinsville, with finishes of second and third in the track’s iconic Late Model Stock event, the ValleyStar Credit Union 300. 

With experience at the track, familiarity with the organization and a track record of success, Kvapil could be in the mix on Saturday night. He’ll just need to keep all four corners on the racecar for 250 laps to give himself a chance.

About two hours down the road in North Carolina, Diaz will make his first-ever appearance in a JR Motorsports Late Model, at the site of his first CARS Tour win in 2023. 

While only 23, Diaz is a veteran of the CARS Tour, having made at least one start in the series every year since 2016. Last year was a breakout year for the Virginian, who doubled his career top five and top 10 totals and picked up a win in the summer throwback race at Hickory Motor Speedway. 

Despite this, Diaz was left without permanent plans for the 2024 season. The young star managed to make the season opener, driving the No. 14 for Jimmy Mooring. But he left the weekend with a DNF and a last-place finish in 30th. 

Diaz has been on Earnhardt’s radar since the CARS Tour visited North Wilkesboro in 2022. On that night he finished second to Kvapil, splitting the driver and team owner as Earnhardt came home third.

At Florence Motor Speedway in February, Earnhardt and Diaz rolled off pit road side-by-side for the track’s annual Icebreaker event. It was at that moment that Earnhardt made the decision to put Diaz in the car for Hickory. 

Diaz is one of the hardest-working individuals in the entire short track scene. When not behind the wheel, he’s searching for sponsorship or helping to operate Southern National Motorsports Park, the track owned by his father.

He won’t have to worry about sponsor hunting or planning his future Saturday. Diaz will only have to focus on trophy hunting in a top-tier car. 

Both Kvapil and Diaz have an opportunity to launch their careers to new heights this weekend, making starts that could change their racing trajectory forever.

Ultimately the results on track will tell the end of this tale. But one thing is for certain: What Earnhardt has done and continues to do with grassroots racing and his short track developmental pipeline is special. Short track enthusiasts and NASCAR fans alike should cherish it as long as it lasts.  

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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