Race Weekend Central

Carson Kvapil Shines In Xfinity Series Debut

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – The NASCAR Xfinity Series has long carried the slogan “Names are Made Here”, and Saturday (April 6) night at Martinsville Speedway, the NASCAR world very well could have been introduced to a new one that is here to stay. 

Carson Kvapil, the son of 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil, made his Xfinity Series debut Saturday at Martinsville driving the famed JR Motorsports No. 88. After 250 laps around the paperclip, he found himself with his first career top five in hand, coming home fourth. 

For those who don’t know, Kvapil is no stranger to success with the JR Motorsports team. Kvapil has driven for the team’s Late Model Stock car program full-time since 2022, picking up 10 wins and back-to-back zMAX CARS Tour championships to this point. However, the step up to the Xfinity Series is a big one, and Kvapil made sure to prove the lights were not too bright when racing with the big guns.

Kvapil started his weekend strong on Friday (April 5) afternoon with practice and qualifying, making his-first ever laps in an Xfinity Series car around Martinsville. The No. 88 team wound up 18th in practice before Kvapil laid down a solid lap in qualifying that put him outside of row six in 12th for Saturday. 

From the drop of the green, Kvapil showed solid speed in the No. 88, never falling below 13th in the opening run of the race. 

With a caution on lap 36, the JR Motorsports team elected to go off strategy and bring Kvapil down pit road, and he was joined by his three JR Motorsports teammates in Justin Allgaier, Sammy Smith, and Brandon Jones, all of which started from the rear of the field. 

The team had trouble with the stop as the car fell off the jack, leading to a somewhat costly 34 second pit stop under yellow that led to Kvapil restarting from the tail of the field. 

The strategy game worked out for Kvapil and JR Motorsports, as the stage break at lap 60 brough the rest of the field down pit road, putting the JR Motorsports cars one through five to restart stage two thanks to Sam Mayer also staying out on older tires. 

Following the restart, Kvapil continued to show great pace at the front of the field, running as high as third in stage two, all while learning more and more about the car lap after lap. By the end of stage two, Kvapil had fallen one spot back to fourth, picking up his first career Xfinity Series stage points. 

However, pit road troubles once again bit the No. 88 team on the ensuing pit stop. Another slow stop, this one around 20 seconds, sent Kvapil all the way back to 12th for the ensuing restart. 

From there, the stage three march back to the front began for Kvapil. On lap 131 Kvapil broke back into the top 10, and another 30 laps later, he was running just outside the top five in sixth. 

Unfortunately, the team once again suffered a slow stop on pit road, leaving Kvapil restarting just outside the top 10 with 73 laps to go. 

Once again, Kvapil began to make moves following the restart, picking off cars one by one as he charged to the front for the third time. The big jump came with a restart on lap 239, when Kvapil surged from ninth to fifth in just five laps before another yellow on lap 245. 

When it came time to choose, Kvapil elected to restart fourth, second on the outside lane, rather than seventh, fourth on the inside lane, and the move proved to be a good one.

On the restart, Kvapil survived some close-quarters racing with Mayer, Sheldon Creed and Aric Almirola and kept the No. 88 out of the turn two wall, maintaining the fourth position before the race-ending yellow flew on lap 251. With the race official, Kvapil officially scored his first Xfinity Series top five in his first career start. 

To put that in perspective, Kvapil is the first JR Motorsports driver ever to score a top five in their first Xfinity Series start. The list of names on the list that didn’t score a top five finish in their first Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports includes Josh Berry, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and more.

Much like Berry, Kvapil earned his shot in the Xfinity Series through success in the Late Model Stock ranks. To the same point, it was well-known that the opportunities would be limited without significant sponsorship, so making the most of every start is important. Once again, just like Berry three years ago, Kvapil made the most of his opportunity at Martinsville. 

“I feel pretty good right now,” Kvapil said. “I’m really, really happy. My goal going in was honestly to finish the race, then the next goal would be to finish as best as I can, and I feel like we pretty much came right up on that … coming off two on the white flag, we were able to get under third but the caution came out. So I was really hoping to say that I got a top three in the first race, but this will do.”

When asked about the learning process of the Xfinity car, Kvapil seemed to feel as though he picked up on it pretty quickly.

“There’s some differences, but once you get into a rhythm of running a race car, you figure it out,” Kvapil said. “That’s just kinda how it was, about the second stage I really just got into a good rhythm and I was able just to roll the bottom. No mistakes and stuff like that, so it was good there.”

For Kvapil’s father Travis, watching his son get this opportunity was something special, and something he had been hopeful for for quite some time.

“For years, people have been saying he’s better than [me],” he said. “Great, I’m good with that. Just need these opportunities like this, hopefully I think we’ve got a few more coming up this summer so, looking really forward to those, and I’m not gonna be surprised if he’s in victory lane here before long.”

Between Carson’s time in the CARS Tour with JR Motorsports and now branching out to the Xfinity Series, along with younger brother Caden Kvapil’s CARS Tour Pro Late Model and ASA Super Late Model schedule, Travis stays busier than ever with racing. 

“I’ll tell you what, I work harder right now working on these boys’ late model cars than I’ve ever worked in my whole life, and I love it,” Travis said. “You know, get up and go to the shop and work and go chase late models around the country with them. It’s been so much fun, him and his little brother Caden.”

As for team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., he had nothing but praise for Kvapil post-race at Martinsville, especially with Kvapil being the product of his grassroots pipeline that has blossomed over the past few years.

“He’s got such good race craft,” Earnhardt said. “Better race craft than probably 80% of the field. He’s just mature — not a knock on everybody in the field here, he’s just that good I think. The kid’s grown up in it, works on cars all day, every day. Everything about his life, every minute is racing.”

Now, Kvapil heads back to the Late Model ranks to prepare for next Saturday’s (April 13) CARS Tour race at New River All American Speedway. Having missed the race at Hickory, he’ll now have some ground to make up in the standings.

On the Xfinity Series side, Kvapil’s future will ultimately be decided primarily on funding, as he proved at Martinsville he has the talent to compete at the highest levels. If all goes well, we very easily could look back on Saturday night’s Xfinity race as the night a star of the sport was born. 

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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