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April 10, 2024

Carson Kvapil dazzles in Xfinity debut at Martinsville, still eyeing more

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Carson Kvapil knew the opportunity in front of him at Martinsville Speedway was special. There was no way Saturday could be just another day.

He made sure he did his part behind the wheel to make his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut unforgettable.

The 20-year-old native of Mooresville, North Carolina stormed to a fourth-place finish in his inaugural Xfinity start in the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, impressing but perhaps not surprising anyone who has followed Kvapil’s career up through the CARS Late Model Stock Tour as the two-time defending series champion.

MORE: Xfinity Series schedule

A top-five result in his first outing after never driving the Xfinity chassis before Friday’s 20-minute practice and two-lap qualifying sessions dazzled. But Kvapil admitted he wanted a little more still.

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“Man I know this 88 team, this Chevrolet Camaro, it’s capable of winning,” Kvapil said. “So the end goal and really the expectation for me is to go out and win. So coming up with a fourth is obviously not bad, right? I’m pretty excited. But I felt like we had a car that was capable of at least running top three and maybe going for the win.”

That perspective and drive are what JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. admires most about his shining prospect, who has wheeled JRM late models since the beginning of 2022. Kvapil may be young, but the head upon his shoulders only bolsters the talent he sees on the race track.

So while Kvapil may have had higher expectations for himself, Earnhardt was beaming under the bright lights of Martinsville Speedway after such a notably positive performance.

“He’s got such good race craft — better race craft than probably 80% of people in the field,” Earnhardt said. “He’s just mature. And (that’s) not a knock on everybody in the field here. He’s just that good, I think. Kid’s grown up in it, works on cars all day, every day. Everything about his life, every minute is racing, and he’s got this incredible temperament.

“He’s level all the time. Not once did he show any nerves or anxiety over this being too big or too heavy. Can’t seem to really rattle him, you know? I asked him in the middle of the race what he thought. He’s like, ‘It’s pretty simple. Do what I’m supposed to do, you know?’ So just fun to watch him race. Awesome to be able to give him a car that he can do something with, and his dad and his mother did a good job raising him. He’s just such an awesome character. Awesome character and a hell of a race car driver.”

Carson Kvapil's name sits above the door of the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Martinsville.
James Thomas |

Kvapil’s father is none other than Travis Kvapil, the 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion and a longtime driver between NASCAR’s three national series with 481 combined Cup, Xfinity and Truck starts. The younger Kvapil made his first national appearance in the Truck Series last season at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he finished 12th, 20 years after his father’s title run.

Travis Kvapil keeps it no secret that he’s been fortunate to help open doors for his sons — both Carson and the up-and-coming Caden Kvapil — as he helps find sponsorship to fund future opportunities. But Carson Kvapil’s performance Saturday at Martinsville was just the latest example of the sheer talent and ability to perform on the race track once those opportunities come to fruition.

“He’s put in the work and he’s got the ability,” Travis Kvapil said. “To me, Carson is the right story. You know what I mean? He’s a young kid. He’s worked hard. He’s put in the work. He’s started at Millbridge and Bandoleros and cut his teeth and won at every level. And get an opportunity like this and then go do great things when you do get the opportunity.”

Carson Kvapil drives the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet at Martinsville in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
James Thomas |

Kvapil is far from the first late model driver from the JRM stable to get his inaugural Xfinity start with the same program. Earnhardt — who himself has returned to the grassroots level he loves so much — helped propel Josh Berry all the way to the NASCAR Cup Series, with the Tennessean racing for JRM for more than a decade before this year’s rookie campaign driving the No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, a coveted seat at the sport’s top level.

“The deal with Carson is kind of similar to Josh,” Earnhardt said. “We’re just gonna keep grinding, running the late model races and doing everything we can to get him chances. And for Josh, it took 10 years. Hopefully it doesn’t take that long for Carson. You know, runs like that didn’t do much for Josh’s career. You know, we’d take Josh somewhere, he’d run really good, and we thought the phone was gonna ring. But you’ve just got to stay in it like Josh did. That’s the example of dedication and sticking with it and not giving up on your dream. And we’re gonna keep doing that with Carson as long as we can.

“I’m almost sad watching him run good out there because I know he might move up and move on out; at least out of the late model car. And it’s tough when you get so used to them driving it every single week.”

Kvapil hopes not to stray far from the Earnhardt family any time soon, expressing his gratitude for Earnhardt’s belief in him Saturday night.

“You guys have seen what he’s done for short-track racers the last few years,” Kvapil said. “It’s an honor to drive his late model full time and it’s definitely an honor to get the run at Martinsville here with them. So obviously I was wanting to go out and win, right? That’s everyone’s goal. But I’m pretty happy with how I did.”