The CARS Late Model Stock season is still several weeks away but content day at NASCAR Productions on Thursday set the stage for what projects to be a really competitive season.
For one, the expected full-time roster is … robust.
Carson Kvapil is back to chase a third consecutive championship with JR Motorsports but each attempt has been more challenging than the last as Connor Hall and Chad Bryant Racing was close in 2022 and Brenden Queen and Lee Pulliam Performance was even closer in 2023.
Specifically, both runner-up finishers could make the case that they were a fuel mileage mishap away from winning the championship themselves.
Queen and Pulliam are back this year. Hall is back on the tour but now paired with Nelson Motorsports. NASCAR Canada champion Treyten Lapcevich has paired with Bryant.
Is that the championship battle?
“All those drivers you just listed off are great talents. Queen really came on strong over those last four races. They got something figured out. I think we have to catch up to them a little bit.”
Three-time series champion Bobby McCarty has something to prove too in his second season with R&S Race Cars. Super Late Model star Stephen Nasse has stated his intent to run the full 17-race campaign. Hickory Motor Speedway champion Kade Brown with Matt Piercy Racing ended the year with wins in the Fall Brawl and South Carolina 400 and will take that momentum to CARS Tour as well.
Former champion Deac McCaskill has been paired with McCarty for another full-time run. Ronnie Bassett Jr. is back for a second helping. Landon Huffman has moved to Jimmy Mooring Racing. Brandon Pierce and Jacob Heafner are racing with Carroll Speedshop.
It’s just a stacked series.
Hall intended to chase the CARS Tour championship last year but a strong start running at home in his own car at Langley Speedway led to a commitment to the NASCAR Weekly Series national championship. It was a commitment that paid off with his biggest accomplishment to date.
But now he’s back on the tour to chase unfinished business and is doing it with Nelson, who claimed those three championships with McCarty.
“Their one of the powerhouses in Late Model Stock racing,” Hall said. “They’re kind of flipping the page a little bit. It’s a second chapter per se. They struggled a bit at the start of last season and started to put it together with (Huffman).
“But really, I just really identify with Barry’s values, and then the commitment to having fast race cars, and what they do for their community. This is such a strong chance for me to grow as a racer but also as a person with them.”
Even Huffman feels like he’s got a shot to make some noise after a partial campaign last year at Nelson, that included a $30,000-to-win victory in the Old North State Nationals. Paired with Mooring, who captured the 2020 CARS Tour championship with Jared Fryar, this is also the nicest car he has ever driven.
“I think we can win, we should win, it’s a brand-new R&S race car, the first time I’ve ever had a brand-new race car,” Huffman said. “That’s exciting for me to work on that, put it together, a learning experience but super exciting.
“We have the right people, the right cars, engines and everything we need to be a contender right off the bat.”
But until proven otherwise, this championship will run through Kvapil versus Queen.
“We’ll make sure we have fuel this year,” Queen said with a laugh. “But really, there were other races that would have made up the five points but we’re a team and we win and lose together.
“What has me so excited is getting back to tracks for a second year that I saw for the first-time last year. I’m looking forward to having a chance to put a full season together and not just parts of it.
“Hopefully, we can go back to Kenly and repeat all over again.”
But again, Kvapil is the champion until someone topples him.
“Every year this gets harder,” Kvapil said. “2022, it gets hard then. The increase in competition from 2022 to 2023 was crazy. So really, for me, it just comes down to winning races.
“I want to win more races, keep winning races, because there’s 10-15 cars that can win now. So to win a CARS Tour race is huge and a championship is way bigger now.”
The 2024 season begins on March 9 at Southern National Motorsports Park and every race airs live on FloRacing.