In front of a completely sold-out crowd at the recently revived North Wilkesboro Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. stormed to third place on the final laps of the CARS Tour’s Window World 125 and delighted fans as JR Motorsports driver Carson Kvapil took the checkered flag. It was Earnhardt’s first late model stock car race since 1997 and his first at North Wilkesboro since 1995.
Driving a green No. 3 Sun Drop Chevrolet, a throwback livery of the late model he drove in the early 1990s, Earnhardt qualified sixth and made it comfortable driving in and around the top 10. But mid-race he saved some from damage to his right rear quarter panel when he was involved in a three-way battle for position between himself, Jared Fryar and Mini Tyrell.
After his damage was repaired during controlled pit stops, Earnhardt’s car roared to life for the last 37 laps and he made it to third place in the fastest car on the circuit – to the rapturous approval of the North Wilkesboro crowd. – before a late warning for a spin by Connor Mosack gave Earnhardt a shot at victory in a two-lap run to the checkered flag.
In the end, it would be Carson Kvapil – a late model JR Motorsports driver and son of former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion Travis Kvapil – who capped a dominant performance by crossing the checkered flag while Mason pushed Diaz Earnhardt into second place. Jonathan Shafer and Bobby McCarty completed the top five.
After the race, Earnhardt joined Kvapil for a “Polish Victory Lap” at North Wilkesboro and saluted the crowd before joining his young driver in victory lane.
“In the middle of the night we had a chafe on the right rear wheel. That made the car so loose that when I had to go forward I couldn’t do it,” Earnhardt told Racing America. “And we were stuck there with the car on the side, the right rear was cooked. And then we put the right sides on it, man, and I just said, ‘It’s time to go.’
“We drove up there, we only have a little time.”
As the owner of the winning car, Earnhardt heaped praise on Kvapil, who started from pole in a deep field of 30 cars and commanded much of the race. Kvapil, who turned 18 in May, earned his third win of the 2022 season and currently leads the CARS Tour points standings.
“Carson’s the next real deal, man,” Earnhardt said. “He’s a damn good driver. Overall package, great boy. We’re proud of him tonight. It’s a big win for him.”
Earnhardt was a key figure in the revitalization of North Wilkesboro Speedway, which recently reopened after being closed for a quarter of a century following the final event of the NASCAR Cup Series at the historic Short Track in western North Carolina in 1996. And his presence on the field Wednesday night created an atmosphere rivaling a Cup Series race: the grandstands were completely sold out and the traffic trying to get onto the speedway was so overwhelming that the start of the race had to be moved upstairs to accommodate fans trying to get in.
As Earnhardt walked forward, the crowd made themselves both visible and audible. And Earnhardt took a moment to address her in his Victory Lane comments.
“You all made this a big, special deal. I hope you enjoyed what you saw and we’ll try to keep this ‘old circuit’ going,” said Earnhardt. “It was fun this week.”
Wednesday marked Earnhardt’s second race of any kind of 2022, continuing a pattern of one-off performances he’s made behind the wheel since retiring from the Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season. In April, Earnhardt finished 11th in a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Martinsville Speedway.
https://www.cbssports.com/nascar/news/dale-earnhardt-jr-finishes-third-in-cars-tour-late-model-race-at-north-wilkesboro/ Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishes third in the CARS Tour late model race in North Wilkesboro