AVONDALE, Ariz. – Corey Heim and Carson Hocevar entered the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway as the favorites.
Instead, the two left the 2023 finale with wrecked trucks and no trophies.
Heim motored past Hocevar at Lap 118 for sixth place to claim the top spot at the time of the Championship 4 drivers. To win the title, a title contender just needs to beat his other three playoff competitors.
In his attempt to reclaim the position, Hocevar contacted Heim’s left-rear quarter panel two laps later, spinning both Heim and Stewart Friesen through Turns 1 and 2.
Then with just three laps left in regulation, Hocevar attempted to pass Heim through the outside of Turn 2. Heim washed toward the right, sending both trucks into the wall and collecting Heim’s Tricon Garage teammate Taylor Gray.
Heim led a second-best 47 laps. Hocevar led none.
At the end of the day, there were bent fenders, hurt feelings and zero championships between the two on Friday night.
“Obviously, got cleaned out there and got a lot of rear damage and lost some of my side force so I couldn’t really do much from there,” Heim said. “Yeah, I don’t know. Just really felt like I had them covered today. The 38 (Zane Smith) was fast, but I thought we could’ve raced it out there at the end and it just kind of turned into a wreckfest.”
Hocevar was despondent over the radio after the initial contact. In multiple caution periods that ensued, the 20-year-old Niece Motorsports driver radioed his team apologizing to the No. 11 team, incredulous he made erred so severely.
“I did not mean to do that. (EXPLETIVE!)” he radioed in the immediate aftermath. “I thought he was going to drive in deep. … That’s so stupid of me. I thought he was going to drive in so deep and then he made the corner.”
During the caution that followed Heim’s initial spin, Hocevar was lamenting the mistake so much that the crew couldn’t inform him they wanted him to pit. On the ensuing restart, Hocevar sank through the field on the next restart to 18th place. On Lap 146, he was out of the race following contact from Heim’s truck.
Heim insisted the contact with Hocevar was coincidental, the result of an ill-handling truck and not retaliation.
“Had a lot of right-rear damage and was pretty much out-of-control free,” Heim said. “So as soon as the 42 (Hocevar) – really, he was the third one that went by me on the outside and I about wrecked every time, and then by the time he got there, I finally just spun it out. So with him on my door, it lost all my side force and lost control. So super unfortunate.
“Yeah, I mean you can go watch my in-car camera. I about wrecked five times before that.”
Heim didn’t shy away from frustration with how he perceives his past with Hocevar, however. Hocevar signed a multiyear deal to drive for Spire Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series full-time beginning in 2024, so he will depart full-time truck racing. Heim’s previous years of racing Hocevar left him unsurprised by the result of Friday night contact he viewed as deliberate.
“I passed him clean and then he hit me two or three times. And then finally he had enough fun just kind of hitting me and he wrecked me, so it is what it is,” Heim said. “You know, every guy on Sunday (in the Cup Series) is gonna see that and understand that they’re gonna be racing against him like that.
“I’m not too worried about it. I won’t race him anymore, so I don’t have to deal with it too much. But yeah, just, you know, kind of expected. He’s been racing me like that since he was five years old. I raced with him in quarter midgets. So it’s part of championship racing.”
Hocevar had a season-high four wins. Heim won three races himself. But their final stat line in the 2023 title race will simply read third and fourth in the title standings – an 18th-place finish for Heim and a 29th-place DNF for Hocevar.