By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Track time is everything for a NASCAR driver and Carson Hocevar could have an advantage over his Championship 4 competitors heading into Friday’s Craftsman 150 at Phoenix Raceway.
Not only Hocevar will have a shot of winning the Craftsman Truck Series championship, he’ll also run his ninth Cup Series race of the year with all but one being for Legacy Motor Club’s No. 42 squad.
In fact, the Michigan racer will go from qualifying the No. 42 truck for Niece Motorsports to partaking in Cup practice before his mindset shifts on to the 150-lap championship race.
As if that wasn’t enough, it’ll be bittersweet finale for Hocevar as it’ll be his final race with Niece before moving up to Cup full-time with Spire Motorsports next year.
The very Cup program that gave him a shot at Gateway in June when Corey LaJoie filled in for Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy after being suspended for hooking Denny Hamlin into the wall during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
Although Hocevar’s Cup debut was cut short due to a crash, the 20-year-old has been able to get himself acclimated in the sport’s top division. Highlighted with an 11th place finish in the Bristol Night Race where he was running inside the top-10 for a period of time.
Safe to say, the soon-to-be Cup rookie has learned a bit of everything in his time being one of several drivers who ended up piloting the No. 42 car following the suspension and dismissal of Noah Gragson.
“I’ve had my own little mini season. I’ve ran top five, I’ve ran 30th. I’ve went forward on restart and backwards on restarts,” Hocevar commented. “I’ve had really good conversations in the garage about how I’ve raced people. I’ve had bad ones. I’ve had to learn. I’ve crashed a time or two, just done a little bit of everything.
“I think it’s been been a big help that hopefully I could be able to start to slow down a little bit and go faster that I founded the truck. Where right now I feel like I’m at 110% and hope I can be able to bring it down a little bit with a little bit more speed we can put in our cars in the Cup side.”
Double duty may help Hocevar in having a strong chance of capturing the Truck Series title, especially at a mile track like Phoenix. A venue he admitted was his worst circuit last year in spite of finishing 10th.
To help him out and at the time aiding Trackhouse Racing, Hocevar spent time in the simulator. Even when he’s not in a sim, even going out of his way of racing at Phoenix on the PSP and asking his colleagues about the ins and outs of the mile oval to get into the zone. Going as far back as when the playoffs began in August.
If anything, Hocevar is prepared for the challenge that lies ahead Friday night.
“I was fortunate enough to run a lot of laps, mimicking the couple guys that run really good at Phoenix,” said Hocevar. “Then myself, I’ve worked on Phoenix, watching it, watching data, asking friends, family or whoever, just even what they thought about Phoenix.
“Asking Josh Wise, who works with Chevy really close. We’ve worked on Phoenix in the sim. We’ve done at least a hundred runs of sim just on Phoenix alone in the playoffs. From the start of playoffs to now. I don’t think it’s from a lack of effort.”
Over the years, several drivers in the series who’ve made the Championship 4 had two mindsets. Competing for a title, but also looking for or securing a ride the following year.
As evident with Hocevar, he won’t have to worry about his future and it’s kept him relaxed on a weekend where it may feel like the polar opposite.
Winning the championship will be an icing on the cake as he’ll hope next year and beyond will be the start of a long NASCAR career filled with victories and championships.
For now, it’s simply having fun with the truck team and hope to add one final memorable chapter to a season where he’s scored four wins and 11 top-five finishes.
“I’m excited for it, hopefully I have a truck championship to put on the table and on the resume,” said Hocevar. “There’s a lot of times where guys are in the seat I’m sitting and they’re trying to win the championship to guarantee themselves at least a shot at a job next year.
“I’m getting a hell of a upgrade per se in the ranks level. That part I don’t have to worry about. I can just go out and this is a bonus for us. I’m gonna hopefully keep this race suit on a few times next year and get to go play with the trucks on Friday with my guys, Al Niece and everybody there.
“I get to go just go have fun with them. It’s our round of golf per se. Instead of us all coming back together and playing a round of golf or going to a cookout, we’ll get to go try to race for trophies we missed along the way. But just hopefully we can get it. The shot, the big trophy.”