Carson Hocevar escapes final lap carnage for first Truck career victory at Texas

After finishing in the runner-up spot four times while having numerous opportunities to win slip out of his grasp in his previous 58 starts, Carson Hocevar’s day under the victorious sun arrived as he emerged as a first-time winner in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career following a wild finish to the SpeedyCash.com 250 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 1.

The 20-year-old Hocevar from Portage, Michigan, led only the final lap of 172 over-scheduled laps and had appeared to be heading for a top-five finish in an event mired with late caution periods and on-track chaos. During the final lap, however, Hocevar gained a run on a side-by-side battle between Zane Smith and rookie Nick Sanchez on the final lap through the frontstretch when Sanchez got loose after making contact with Smith. While trying to regain his momentum, Sanchez got bumped by Hocevar as he turned back across the track and clipped Smith while wrecking across the outside wall with Christian Eckes. Amid the carnage, Hocevar escaped with the lead and managed to retain it as the caution flew to conclude the event, in which Hocevar was deemed as the leader and awarded his first long-awaited victory in NASCAR.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, rookie Nick Sanchez claimed his second Truck career pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 185.510 mph in 29.109 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Jack Wood, who clocked in the second-fastest qualifying lap at 184.906 mph in 29.204 seconds.

Prior to the event, Spencer Boyd and Matt DiBenedetto started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective trucks.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Sanchez pulled ahead with an early advantage followed by Ty Majeski while Wood slipped up the track as he lost a handful of spots and fell out of the top five. Then as the field made its way through the backstretch, the caution flew when Chad Chastain spun and backed his No. 41 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado RST into the outside wall as he sustained rear-end damage.

During the following restart on the fifth lap, Sanchez retained the lead followed by a side-by-side battle between Eckes and Majeski through the first two turns. Entering the backstretch, however, Majeski wiggled and was quickly overtaken by teammate Ben Rhodes, Carson Hocevar and Corey Heim amid a three-wide battle while Eckes settled in second while trying to pursue Sanchez. With Majeski dropping back to seventh during the following lap, Jack Wood went up the track in Turn 1 and continued to lose more spots early in the event as he slipped out of the top 10. Amid the battles around the circuit, Sanchez retained the lead in front of Eckes and Rhodes.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Sanchez was leading by three-tenths of a second over Eckes followed by Rhodes, Hocevar, and Corey Heim while Majeski, Friesen, Tanner Gray, Grant Enfinger and rookie Jake Garcia were running in top 10. Behind, Chase Purdy was in 11th followed by Zane Smith, Tyler Ankrum, Dean Thompson and rookie Rajah Caruth while Bret Holmes, Wood, rookie Taylor Gray, Matt Crafton and Colby Howard occupied the top 20.

Ten laps later, Sanchez extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Eckes followed by Rhodes, Hocevar and Heim. A lap later, the caution returned when Chad Chastain wrecked for the second time after spinning and backing his truck into the outside wall in the backstretch.

When the event restarted under green on Lap 25, Sanchez and Eckes dueled for the lead and remained dead even for a full lap as Eckes managed to lead the following lap. Sanchez, however, would prevail during the following lap and reassume the lead as the field behind jostled for spots.

When the competition caution flew on Lap 35, Sanchez was leading by more than a second over Eckes while Rhodes, Majeski and Rhodes were scored in the top five. By then, 29 of 34 starters were scored on the lead lap. During the competition caution, the teams were given three minutes to service their respective trucks with the competitors retaining their spots as they entered pit road and during the latest caution period, which kept Sanchez as the leader.

With the event proceeding under green on Lap 35, Sanchez battled against Eckes on the inside lane before he was able to pull ahead and retain the lead exiting Turn 4 while the field behind jostled for spots around the circuit.

Four laps later, Sanchez was leading by more than a second over Rhodes followed by Eckes, Zane Smith and Dean Thompson while Heim, Friesen, Purdy, Majeski and Enfinger were in the top 10. Sanchez would continue to lead by more than two seconds over Rhodes as the event reached its Lap 50 mark.

Just past the Lap 60 mark, Sanchez retained the lead by a second over Rhodes while third-place Eckes trailed by more than a second. Zane Smith and Thompson remained in the top five while 25 of 34 starters were scored on the lead lap.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 77, Sanchez claimed his first Truck stage victory of the 2023 season. Rhodes settled in second while Eckes, Majeski, Zane Smith, Thompson, Heim, Purdy, Friesen and Enfinger were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the field led by Sanchez returned to pit road as the teams were given three minutes to service the truck while the competitors retained their respective spots as they entered pit road.

The second stage started on Lap 77 as Sanchez and Rhodes occupied the front row. At the start, Sanchez and Rhodes dueled dead even for the lead for a full lap as Rhodes prevailed during the following lap to lead by a nose. Sanchez, however, fought back during the following lap on the inside lane as he returned to the lead. Shortly after, the caution returned when Lawless Alan spun his No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado RST on the backstretch.

When the event restarted under green on Lap 82, Sanchez retained the lead while Eckes challenged Rhodes for second in front of Zane Smith and Thompson. As the event surpassed its halfway mark a few laps later, Sanchez started to extend his advantage to nearly a second while Eckes retained second over Rhodes. By then, Corey Heim launched his bid for a spot in the top five while more jostling within the field occurred.

Nearing the Lap 90 mark, Ankrum scrubbed the wall while running within the top 15 while rookie Rajah Caruth made contact with the wall after contact with Hocevar, which prompted Caruth to pit under green for damage repairs.

At the Lap 100 mark, Sanchez was leading by nine-tenths of a second over Eckes while Rhodes, Thompson, Zane Smith, Heim, Taylor Gray, Friesen, Tanner Gray and Purdy occupied the top 10. With Enfinger back in 11th, Matt Crafton was up in 12th followed by DiBenedetto, Colby Howard and Hocevar while Majeski had fallen back to 16th in front of Jake Garcia, Ankrum, Wood and Hailie Deegan.

Ten laps later, Sanchez’s advantage decreased to eight-tenths of a second over Eckes while third-place Rhodes trailed by more than a second.

When the second stage concluded on Lap 122, Sanchez, who used the lapped traffic to his advantage to extend his advantage while Eckes struggled to overtake the lapped competitors, claimed his second Truck consecutive stage victory of the season and of the day. Eckes settled in second as he trailed a second behind while Rhodes, Thompson, Zane Smith, Tanner Gray, Heim, Purdy, Taylor Gray and Crafton were scored in the top 10.

Following the final three-minute pit stop period, the final stage started on Lap 122 as Sanchez and Eckes shared the front row. At the start, Sanchez jumped ahead with another strong start on the inside lane followed by Zane Smith, who also gave Sanchez a push as he then tried to pursue Sanchez for the lead while Eckes fell back to third. A lap later, Rhodes navigated his way to third while Eckes was being challenged by Hocevar for fourth.

Not long after, Taylor Gray, who was running in the top 10, made contact against the wall, but the event proceeded under green as Zane Smith started to intimidate Sanchez for the lead. Getting his deficit down to as little as a tenth of a second, Zane Smith, however, continued to settle behind Sanchez while more battles ensued behind.

Then with less than 35 laps remaining, the battle for the lead intensified as Zane Smith, who kept Sanchez close within his sights, tried to overtake Sanchez in Turn 1 through a slide job. He, however, slid up the track in Turn 1 and could not make the move stick as Sanchez pulled the crossover move to reassume the lead through the backstretch. Rhodes then tried to follow suit in second, but he got loose entering Turn 4, which allowed Zane Smith to reassume second as he tried to reignite his charge on Sanchez for the lead.

With 31 laps remaining, the caution flew when Jack Wood, who was running in the top 20, plowed his No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado RST through the frontstretch grass as he kicked up debris and grass on the frontstretch’s pavement.

During the following restart with 25 laps remaining, Sanchez and Zane Smith dueled for the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch until Sanchez managed to use the inside lane to his advantage as he cleared Zane Smith and retained the lead. Behind, Eckes challenged Zane Smith for second, with the latter still prevailing as the field returned to the frontstretch amid a series of battles. Shortly after, the caution flew for a viscous multi-truck wreck on the frontstretch when Thompson, who was having a strong run towards the front, hit the outside wall entering the frontstretch as his damaged truck veered sideways towards the outside wall and came to a stop towards the middle of the frontstretch before he was T-Boned by Matt Mills as Trey Hutchins and Armani Williams also piled into the carnage. Amid the hard carnage, all competitors emerged uninjured, though Thompson was placed on a stretcher and into the ambulance for further evaluation. The wreck, however, was enough to place the event in a red flag period to give the on-track safety crew time to clear the carnage.

Once the red flag was lifted amid a 15-minute hiatus and the race restarted with 17 laps remaining, Sanchez jumped ahead of Zane Smith despite spinning the tires to retain the lead as Hocevar challenged Zane Smith for second. Smith, however, pulled away and tried to challenge Sanchez for the lead while Friesen battled and overtook Hocevar for third. Shortly after, Friesen nearly got into the wall on the backstretch as he lost third to Hocevar, but he continued to run straight as the event proceeded under green. By then, Sanchez was still leading by a tenth of a second over Zane Smith.

Following another late caution period with 11 laps remaining due to a multi-truck involving Taylor Gray, rookie Daniel Dye, Mason Massey and Ankrum on the backstretch, the event restarted under green with seven laps remaining. At the start, Sanchez and Zane Smith dueled for the lead through the backstretch until Sanchez managed to fend off Smith once again to retain the lead. The caution, however, shortly returned when Matt Crafton, Tanner Gray and Enfinger wrecked in Turn 4. The incident was enough to send the event into overtime and past its scheduled distance of 167 laps.

At the start of the first overtime attempt, Sanchez and Zane Smith battled for the lead with neither peeking ahead. Amid the side-by-side battle towards the front, the caution flew and the event was sent into a second overtime attempt for a spin involving Lawless Alan, who rallied to run in the top 10, on the backstretch. At the moment of caution, Sanchez was still scored the leader followed by Zane Smith, Friesen, Eckes and Hocevar.

During the start of the second overtime attempt, Sanchez and Zane Smith dueled for the lead with Friesen, Eckes and Hocevar following in pursuit. Sanchez and Smith would remain dead even for the lead while Hocevar and Eckes dueled behind for third, all while the field behind battled for spots within the top five and 10.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Sanchez and Zane Smith remained dead even for the lead. They then made contact as Sanchez slipped sideways. Despite regaining control of his truck, he was then hit by Hocevar as Sanchez spun back across the track and clipped Smith’s No. 38 Speedy Cash Ford F-150 before colliding into the outside wall while also collecting Eckes. Amid the carnage, Hocevar escaped with the lead through the first two turns as the caution flew to end the event under the yellow flag. With the lead within his grasp, Hocevar was deemed the leader at the moment of caution and declared the winner as he cycled back to the finish line to claim his first checkered flag in NASCAR competition and in his 59th series start.

With the victory, Hocevar became the 122nd different competitor to achieve a victory in the Craftsman Truck Series, the first competitor to achieve a first series victory at Texas since Jeb Burton made the last accomplishment in 2013 and he became the first first-time winner in the series of the 2023 season. He also recorded the first victory of the season and the fifth overall for Niece Motorsports.

“I didn’t think y’all were gonna talk to me [in Victory Lane], to be honest,” Hocevar, who became the fourth different winner of the 2023 season, said on FS1. “I figured I was gonna talk to y’all [on pit road]. I’m just excited. I didn’t mean to get into [Sanchez]. I just wanted to give him a push and they were sideways the second I hit him. He was gone. I apologize to them. I’ll take the fall for it. I wrecked a Chevy, but, Chevy’s in Victory Lane, I’ll go talk to him. He deserved to win, for sure, but all the times we were the fastest car and I don’t win and this team don’t win. They deserve to win more than anything. I finally can stop getting the same question asked so many times. We didn’t deserve to win today. We were just in the right spot at the right time…My whole crew deserves this win more than anything.”

“I didn’t see anything,” Hocevar, who addressed his involvement of the final lap incident, added. “I was just like, ‘I’ll sit here’. [Sanchez and Smith] hit pretty good. I just tried to push [Sanchez] and he was sideways, so the second he crossed right back up, I mean, I was coming so much faster than him just to help push. He crossed left, crossed right and he’s sideways, so the second I touched him, he went around. I didn’t mean to tear up any race cars. I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting that to happen.”

With Hocevar scored as the winner, Chase Purdy ended in a career-best second place followed by Friesen and Majeski while rookie Jake Garcia finished in the top five. Hailie Deegan came home in sixth to tie her career-best result in the NASCAR Truck circuit while Heim, Ryan Vargas, Jack Wood and Rhodes completed the top 10 on the track.

Sanchez, who led a race-high 168 laps, ended up in 16th and with a destroyed race truck after being unable to limp back to the finish line while Zane Smith and Eckes managed to limp their trucks in 14th and 15th, respectively, below the lead lap finishing category.

“It was, obviously, coming to the last lap,” Sanchez said. “Me and [Zane Smith] were playing aggressive side-drafting game and I feel like I went a little too aggressive on him, got loose, went through the grass, saved it and just got hooked by [Hocevar]. Don’t know what else to say on that after all day just kind of in my own little race and for that to happen, but it is what it is. It’s racing. Thanks to everyone on the No. 2 Gainbridge and Save Chevy team. The truck’s fast. I hate we tore a fast one up, but just got to build another one and come back strong.”

“The end there, it was just overtime, overtime, overtime restarts,” Smith said. “I don’t know what’s really going on with [Sanchez], but he was just so, so sketchy, especially on the straightaways. He doors me [on the frontstretch], gets off me, drives [his truck] through the grass and then, I just get hooked. We were in great position to get our third win of the year there. We’ll rebound and go to Bristol Dirt and hopefully have a good weekend there.”

There were seven lead changes for four different leaders. The race featured 12 cautions for 36 laps.

Following the fifth event of the 2023 Craftsman Truck Series season, Ty Majeski leads the regular-season standings by three points over Zane Smith, 12 over Ben Rhodes, 19 over Christian Eckes and 51 over Matt Crafton.

Results.

1. Carson Hocevar, one lap led

2. Chase Purdy

3. Stewart Friesen

4. Ty Majeski

5. Jake Garcia

6. Hailie Deegan

7. Corey Heim

8. Ryan Vargas

9. Jack Wood

10. Ben Rhodes, one lap led

11. Mason Massey

12. Kris Wright

13. Matt Crafton

14. Zane Smith

15. Christian Eckes, two laps led

16. Nick Sanchez – OUT, Accident, 168 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

17. Grant Enfinger, one lap down

18. Lawless Alan, two laps down

19. Rajah Caruth, three laps down

20. Colby Howard, three laps down

21. Josh Reaume, four laps down

22. Spencer Boyd, four laps down

23. Bret Holmes, five laps down

24. Taylor Gray, six laps down

25. Daniel Dye, seven laps down

26. Tyler Ankrum, eight laps down

27. Tanner Gray – OUT, Accident

28. Dean Thompson – OUT, Accident

29. Armani Williams – OUT, Accident

30. Trey Hutchins – OUT, Accident

31. Matt Mills – OUT, Accident

32. Matt DiBenedetto – OUT, Vibration

33. Keith McGee – OUT, Vibration

34. Chad Chastain – OUT, Accident

Next on the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season is the third annual running of the Weather Guard Truck Race at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Course in Bristol, Tennessee. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, April 8, at 8 p.m. ET on FS1.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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