Race Weekend Central

Short Track Weekly: Carson Kvapil Talks 1st Xfinity Start, His Rise Through Short Track Ranks

In November 2023, Carson Kvapil finished off a dominant season in the zMAX CARS Tour, ending the year with five wins and his second consecutive series championship.

Before the 2024 CARS season began, JR Motorsports announced that Kvapil would get his shot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, attempting his first career start at Martinsville Speedway on April 6. This came after a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut in 2023.

Kvapil then picked up right where he left off in 2023, winning the CARS season opener at Southern National Motorsports Park in March to kick off his campaign for a record third consecutive CARS championship, despite the fact that he’d have to miss a race at Hickory Motor Speedway due to his Xfinity commitment at Martinsville.

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Kvapil made the most of his opportunity, running up front for the entire 250-lap event and picking up a fourth-place finish at night’s end.

The accomplishment for Kvapil is one that no other driver has ever done while making their first series start in JR Motorsports equipment, despite names such as Chase Elliott, William Byron and Josh Berry all trying their hand at the feat.

Frontstretch caught up with Kvapil April 6 before his breakout performance at Martinsville later in the evening to talk about his journey as a racecar driver up to this point, having Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a mentor, and the correlation between a Late Model stock car and the Xfinity Series. You can also watch the interview below.

https://youtu.be/N2B0JmFO-o4

Chase Folsom, Frontstretch: At what age was it that you knew you wanted to drive a racecar for a living, and what was the first racecar you ever had?

Carson Kvapil: I started when I was 10 in Bandoleros at the Charlotte [Motor Speedway] quarter mile on the frontstretch. I guess then it was just for fun, it was just something for me and my dad [Travis Kvapil] to do and take up some room in his shop. At that point it was just fun, just go have fun and mess around.

I guess when I was probably about 14 or 15, we got a Late Model stock, and that was kind of where it turned serious, and kind of a big step up financially from the Bandoleros and legends cars to late model stuff.

Jumping into that, it was kind of one of those deals, “Do we really want to do this?” I guess that’s where I decided, and it’s brought me here so far, so it’s been a good ride and it’s been fun so far.

Folsom: Your dad posted on X (formerly Twitter) that those two cars and your first start here tonight have all been in the No. 88 car. Is that just a coincidence, or does that number have any sentimental value to you at all?

Kvapil: Honestly, it was all coincidence. The Bandolero was Cody Connor’s, it must’ve been the previous driver who bought the car was No. 88. I really don’t know the whole back story on that one. We ran it initially as No. 88, [and] then we duct taped it into a No. 93.

The Late Model stock we bought off a guy, and that was his number and that was his wrap; we ran it our first race like that. It is funny, it’s kind of different. I guess it’s more of a popular number. To come out here and get the opportunity to drive the No. 88 is pretty awesome.

Folsom: You’ve been with JR Motorsports’ Late Model stock program full time in the CARS Tour for two years now. How did you get hooked up with the team, and have you been able to learn anything from Dale Earnhardt Jr., the team or even Josh Berry in your time there?

Kvapil: All of them, honestly. They’ve all given me so much advice. I thought when I was going there I was a pretty experienced racer, but I’ll tell you I’ve learned a lot from those guys, especially my crew chief Bryan Shaffer, he’s been around forever.

Him and Josh Berry built up basically an empire of a Late Model stock team, and I was just fortunate enough to be able to take his spot whenever he moved to Xfinity.

I was kind of a cool deal how it all came together, I was running Supers [late models] at the time with my dad, and that was honestly about as far as we were gonna go on the scale we had. We couldn’t really go to [the] ARCA [Menards Series] on our own and stuff like that, so we were kind of stagnant, and I was able to win the CARS championship that year, win some races.

At the same time, Josh was going full time in the Xfinity car after running the late modes for however long he did, and it just came together. We knew the Millers, Kelley [Earnhardt] Miller and LW [Miller] from Millbridge Speedway, that I had raced at for a while, they were looking for a guy, and I was fortunate enough to be picked for it.

Folsom: You’re going to make your first Xfinity start tonight, that’s a big step up, what are your emotions going into this race tonight?

Kvapil: Right now I’m pretty relaxed, honestly, but I feel like about an hour away I’ll be about shaking. So I’ll be nervous; I’ve been looking forward to this for however many years now. But at the same time, there’s so much spotlight on this NASCAR Xfinity Series, really good quality drivers. It’s going to be tough, but hopefully we come out with a decent finish.

Folsom: The ultimate goal is to win the race any time you’re at the racetrack, but given the tough field you’re in tonight, what would you take away as a success?

Kvapil: Honestly, just like my Bristol [Motor Speedway] Truck race last year, I just wanted to finish the race, and if I was able to finish and able to stay out of trouble, I wanted to finish as good as I felt like I could.

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In that Truck race I felt like honestly we were better than where we finished. I kind of messed up in qualifying and ended up 12th. I feel like the truck was definitely a top-five truck so I just kind of ran out of time on that one. So looking forward to this one. Just try to make the most of it, hopefully we stay out of trouble and end up with a good finish.

Folsom: On the Late Model stock side, you have a pretty good track record here, second and third the past two years in the Martinsville 300. You’ve put some laps down now in an Xfinity car — does anything really translate over from the two cars?

Kvapil: Yeah, for sure. I mean, there’s pretty much about all of it, honestly. The cars are pretty similar, there is [sic] differences in the cars, weight and power is a little different. But for the most part, all of the geometry, they’re still truck arm steering box racecars, so they pretty much drive the same.

The only difference is really the radial tire vs. the late model bias ply tire just kind of feels a little different. I was able to get used to it a little bit in the practice we had, but I feel like it’ll probably take most of the race for me to get the hang of it.

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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