By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
BRISTOL, Tenn – Though he was ‘stuck’ in traffic, Carson Hocevar still had several positives to take from Thursday night’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.
The UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway was frontloaded with cautions in the first two Stages. As the final Stage went caution-free, Hocevar found that he couldn’t maneuver his No. 42 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Silverado in traffic. Like much of his competition, the Niece Motorsports driver was stuck battling others that were multiple laps down.
However, other drivers also encountered the same issues. That allowed Hocevar to easily finish the race at ‘Thunder Valley’ in fourth. Although he didn’t lock himself into the Championship Four, the finish did pad his cushion over those below the NASCAR Playoffs cutline.
“I want to say boring, but (the race was) just really tame,” Hocevar said. “It’s right around the bottom. It’s really you could only go anywhere else. I hope the science experiment is they got to change something. Hopefully soon they got to help us out a little bit. I know we’re the ‘support series’ for later on in the weekend and they got it like a dirt track. It’sgoing to be struggle at the beginning so you can have a better product at the end, but man, it would be nice to go around the top and at least have some options.”
That cushion was extended in the first two stages of the 200-lap race. Hocevar took second in Stage one. With varying strategies, he worked his way up the running order to take seventh in the second Stage. In total, that was an additional 13-points that Hocevar earned throughout the night.
“We finished second in stage one, had a little slow pit stop, got as good as we could in stage two and finished fourth,” Hocevar continued. “It’s still tough get past some trucks, but honestly, I mean, Grant (Enfinger) even said he’s like you were way faster than me. He’s like all I had to do was just hit the bottom. And I was stuck. I (tried) to go around the top and I would just be no man’s land. We just don’t have enough power.”
The positives at ‘The Last Great Colosseum’ started several hours before the green flag. In qualifying, Kaden Honeycutt tagged the wall and spun in an unsponsored Young’s Motorsports truck. Despite the contact and the spin, Honeycutt went to the top of the speed charts before ultimately starting 17th.
After the spin, Hocevar caught up with his fellow up-and-coming driver as he walked to the infield care center. Not too long ago, Hocevar was in a similar position as Honeycutt, trying to get all that he could out of his equipment while learning the racecraft in the Truck Series. Now the championship hopeful is giving other drivers advice for situations he has been through himself, having won the pole before crashing at Sonoma Raceway last year.
“I just said (to Kaden), ‘hey, don’t let this get you too far down, don’t ruin anything you have already,’” Hocevar recalled. “He ran a really good lap for that truck and made a mistake. But that’s going to happen when you’re pushing that hard and in that caliber equipment, your box and window is bigger. I just wanted to remind him of that. He did a good job and (I told him) don’t make matters worse for himself just apologize to his guys running smooth race and don’t be pouting and too hard on himself.”
The fourth-place finish was Hocevar’s 10th top-five this season, and his 12th top-10, matching his single-season career high. It was also the 20-year-old’s 20th career top-five finish.
The top-five finish puts Hocevar third on the playoff grid, four points above Enfinger, who currently holds the final spot for the Championship Four. The Portage, MI native is 18-points ahead of defending champion Zane Smith, the first driver currently outside the playoffs.
Next for Hocevar in the Truck Series is the unpredictable superspeedway racing at Talladega Superspeedway. In two starts at the 2.66-mile track he has a best finish of 25th in 2021. The driver for the Al Niece-owned team has one top-five and two top-10 finishes at the other traditional superspeedway track, Daytona Int’l Speedway.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Talladega is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 30 on Fox Sports 1. The race will also be broadcast by the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.