From starting at the rear of the field to methodically carving his way to the front and executing a late pit strategy to his favor, Carson Hocevar made an emphatic statement about his quest for a NASCAR championship by winning the Worldwide Express 250 at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, July 29.
The 20-year-old Hocevar from Portage, Michigan, led twice for 64 of 250-scheduled laps in an event where he was set to start in 17th place before a flat tire derailed his event early and he was forced to have the tire changed and start at the rear of the field. Amid a steady gain, while carving his way through the field, Hocevar cracked the top 20 prior to the first stage’s conclusion and would proceed to finish in the top five at the conclusion of the second stage.
Then after dominant pole-sitter Ty Majeski was penalized for speeding on pit road during the second stage’s break period, Hocevar assumed the lead to start the final stage, where he would lead 60 laps. After pitting with select others under green with 40 laps remaining, Hocevar spent the remainder of the event tracking Majeski, who attempted to remain on the track and pilot his way to victory on the exact tires used since the start of the final stage. Hocevar, though, managed to catch and overtake Majeski for the lead with four laps remaining. From there, the Michigan native muscled away with the advantage and cruised to his third NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory of this season and of his career with the regular-season stretch concluding and the 2023 Playoff field set.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, July 28, Ty Majeski claimed his second Truck pole position of the 2023 season after posting a pole-winning lap at 119 mph in 22.689 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Corey Heim, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 118.728 mph in 22.741 seconds.
Prior to the event, Justin Carroll dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to his truck. Carson Hocevar would also drop to the rear of the field after he pitted to have a flat tire on his truck changed.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced amid a delay that spanned nearly an hour due to a lightning strike, Majeski rocketed ahead with the lead from the outside lane as the field fanned out through the first two turns and entering the backstretch. With the field continuing to jostle for early spots while fanning out to three lanes entering the frontstretch, Majeski proceeded to lead the first lap ahead of teammate Ben Rhodes, who navigated his No. 99 Campers Inn RV Ford F-150 around Heim for second place.
During the second lap, Majeksi was out in front by three-tenths of a second over teammate Rhodes while Heim, Christian Eckes and Matt Crafton were in the top five. Behind, William Sawalich, who started third, was back in sixth ahead of a side-by-side battle involving rookie Jake Garcia and Matt DiBenedetto, both of whom were vying for spots for the 2023 Truck Series Playoffs.
Through the first five scheduled laps, Majeski was leading by half a second over teammate Rhodes followed by Heim, Eckes and Crafton while Tanner Gray was in sixth ahead of William Sawalich, DiBenedetto, Jake Garcia and Chase Purdy. Behind, Matt Mills, making his first start in the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports entry, was in 11th ahead of Grant Enfinger, rookie Nick Sanchez, Bayley Currey and Zane Smith while Tanner Gray, rookie Rajah Caruth, rookie Daniel Dye, Stewart Friesen and Dean Thompson occupied the top 20.
At the Lap 10 mark, Majeski continued to lead by more than a second over teammate Rhodes while Heim trailed by nearly two seconds. Behind, Eckes and Crafton remained in the top five while Tanner Gray, another competitor vying for a spot for the 2023 Truck Series Playoffs, retained sixth ahead of Sawalich, Garcia, DiBenedetto and Purdy.
Fifteen laps later, Majeski extended his advantage to nearly two seconds over teammate Rhodes while Heim, Eckes and Crafton followed suit in the top five. Meanwhile, Hocevar was in 18th after overtaking rookie Daniel Dye and Friesen on the track.
Another 10 laps later, Majeski continued to extend his advantage to nearly three seconds over teammate Rhodes while third-place Heim trailed by more than five seconds. With Eckes and Crafton retaining fourth and fifth on the track, Jake Garcia was in sixth while Sawalich, DiBenedetto, Purdy and Matt Mills were in the top 10. Behind, Enfinger was in 11th ahead of Tanner Gray, Sanchez, Taylor Gray and Zane Smith while Hocevar was up to 16th on the track.
At the Lap 50 mark, Majeski, who lapped 23rd-place Friesen, a competitor who came into the event nine points below the top-10 cutline to make the Playoffs, a lap earlier, retained the lead by nearly four seconds over teammate Rhodes as third-place Heim trailed by nearly six seconds while Eckes and Crafton occupied the top five ahead of Garcia, Sawalich and DiBenedetto. Despite being marred into more lapped traffic while lapping 19th-place Zane Smith, Majeski continued to lead ahead of teammate Rhodes by Lap 60.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 70, Majeski captured his third Truck stage victory of the 2023 season, having led every scheduled lap thus far. Teammate Rhodes followed suit in second while Heim, Eckes, Crafton, Sawalich, Garcia, Purdy, Matt Mills and DiBenedetto were scored in the top 10. By then, 16 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while names that included Hailie Deegan, Dean Thompson, Zane Smith, Rajah Caruth, Daniel Dye and Friesen were pinned a lap down. In addition, Corey Heim, who ended up in third place during the first stage’s break period, clinched the 2023 Craftsman Truck Series Regular Season championship.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Majeski pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Majeski retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Heim, Rhodes, Eckes, Crafton and Sawalich.
The second stage started on Lap 79 as Majeski and Heim occupied the front row. At the start, Majeski rocketed ahead with a strong start on the outside lane and entering Turn 1 while Rhodes battled Heim for the runner-up spot through the backstretch. With Rhodes claiming the runner-up spot, teammate Crafton, who came into the event nine points above the Playoff cutline, made it a ThorSport Racing 1-2-3 on the track as he moved his No. 88 Menards Ford F-150 to third place over Heim. Heim, however, fought back on Lap 81 as he reclaimed third place before challenging Rhodes for the runner-up spot. Amid the battles, Majeski ran away from the field as he was ahead by eight-tenths of a second.
Soon after, Purdy, who was in sixth and trying to race his way into the Playoff cutline, was assessed a pass-through penalty through pit road for a restart violation as he did not remain in his lane prior to the start/finish line during the second stage’s start. Meanwhile, Majeski extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Heim while Rhodes, Crafton and Eckes followed suit at the Lap 90 mark.
At the Lap 100 mark, Majeski was leading by more than four seconds over Heim followed by Rhodes, Crafton and Eckes while Garcia, Taylor Gray, Hocevar, Sawalich and Enfinger were scored in the top 10. Meanwhile, Tanner Gray was in 11th ahead of Sanchez, DiBenedetto, Ankrum and Matt Mills while Bayley Currey, the final competitor on the lead lap, was in 16th. Meanwhile, Zane Smith, the first competitor a lap down, was mired in 17th ahead of Thompson, Colby Howard and Hailie Deegan while Caruth, Connor Jones, Daniel Dye, Lawless Alan and Friesen were mired in the top 25. In addition, Purdy was in 32nd while two laps behind the leaders.
Ten laps later, the caution flew when Dean Thompson, who was running 18th in front of Deegan, spun in Turn 2 as he would be overtaken by the lead lap field while trying to re-fire his truck.
When the race restarted under green on Lap 116, Heim gained a strong start on the inside lane as he muscled his No. 11 JBL Toyota Tundra TRD Pro into the lead through Turn 1 and the backstretch. With Heim leading, teammate Rhodes proceeded to challenge Majeski for second while Eckes followed suit in fourth. On Lap 118, however, the caution quickly returned when Justin Carroll spun in Turn 4. At the moment of caution, Deegan had managed to emerge as the first competitor scored a lap down ahead of Friesen and thus, receive the free pass to cycle back on the lead lap.
During the proceeding restart on Lap 124, the field fanned out through the frontstretch as Heim fended off a three-wide attempt from Majeski to retain the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch. Then during the following lap, which marked the halfway mark of the event, Rhodes muscled his way to the lead through the frontstretch and from the outside lane over Heim. Majeski would follow suit during the next lap as he was locked in a tight side-by-side battle with Heim. As the three-truck battle for the lead involving Rhodes, Majeski and Heim continued to ensue, Majeski reassumed the lead on Lap 129 after overtaking teammate Rhodes through the first two turns. With Majeski out in front over teammate Rhodes and Heim, Eckes settled in fourth followed by Hocevar while Garcia, Crafton, Sawalich, Sanchez and Matt Mills were in the top 10.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 140, Majeski, who extended his advantage to more than four seconds over teammate Rhodes, claimed his second Truck stage victory of the night and fourth of the 2023 season. Teammate Rhodes settled in second while Heim fended off Eckes to claim third. Hocevar, Garcia, Crafton, Sawalich, Sanchez and Matt Mills were scored in the top 10. By then, 18 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while Connor Jones had managed to remain ahead of Friesen to be scored the first competitor a lap down and receive the free pass during the stage’s break period to cycle back on the lead lap.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Majeski returned to pit road for another round of service. Following the pit stops, Majeski initially retained the lead after exiting pit road first ahead of his teammate Rhodes, Hocevar, Heim, Eckes, Crafton and Garcia. Amid the pit stops, however, Majeski was penalized and sent to the rear of the field for speeding while entering pit road.
With 101 laps remaining, the final stage started under green as Rhodes and Hocevar occupied the front row. At the start, Hocevar gained a strong start from the inside lane as he launched his No. 42 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Silverado RST into the lead while Eckes and Heim took Rhodes three wide in a battle for the runner-up spot. With Rhodes and Eckes battling dead even for the spot entering Turns 3 and 4, Heim settled in fourth while Garcia, Crafton and Zane Smith followed suit as the event reached its final 100-lap mark.
Five laps later, Hocevar was leading by six-tenths of a second over Rhodes while third-place Eckes trailed by more than a second. With Heim retaining fourth, Zane Smith moved up to fifth after overtaking Crafton and Garcia earlier while Majeski was mired back in 18th.
Another 10 laps later, Hocevar continued to lead by more than a second over Rhodes followed by Eckes, Heim and Zane Smith while Crafton, Garcia, Matt Mills, Tanner Gray and Sawalich were in the top 10. Behind, Enfinger was in 11th ahead of Sanchez, DiBenedetto, Majeski and Tyler Ankrum while Deegan, Currey, Connor Jones, Taylor Gray and Daniel Dye were in the top 20. By then, Friesen was mired in 22nd, the final competitor scored on the lead lap.
Then with 78 laps remaining, late troubles occurred for Josh Reaume, who smacked the outside wall in Turns 1 and 2 due to a flat right-front tire. As Reaume attempted to turn his truck left to enter pit road, he was nearly T-boned by an oncoming DiBenedetto, though Reaume managed to steer his damaged truck to his pit stall and the race remained under green flag conditions. By then, Hocevar retained the lead by more than a second over runner-up Rhodes and more than four seconds over third-place Heim.
With less than 60 laps remaining, Hocevar extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Rhodes while Heim retained third place. By then, Zane Smith was in fourth while Majeski, who re-entered the top five three laps earlier after overtaking Eckes, was in fifth.
Down to the final 50 laps of the event, Hocevar continued to extend his advantage as he was leading by more than four seconds over a hard-charging Majeski, who overtook Heim and Rhodes during the five previous laps. In addition, Jake Garcia and Matt Mills both made a pit stop a few laps earlier under green.
Two laps later, more green flag pit stops ensued as Zane Smith pitted his No. 38 Boot Barn Ford F-150. Then with 40 laps remaining, Hocevar surrendered the lead to pit under green as Majeski cycled his No. 98 Road Ranger Ford F-150 back into the lead. Heim would then pit from the runner-up spot along with Crafton and Sanchez with 36 laps remaining while Rhodes would pit during the following lap. Rhodes would eventually be penalized for a commitment line violation as seven of 36 starters led by Majeski were scored on the lead lap. Currey and Dye would also be penalized for a commitment line violation.
With 25 laps remaining, Majeski was leading by more than 16 seconds over Eckes and more than 19 over Sawalich. Zane Smith, the first competitor who pitted, was in fourth followed by Garcia, who is placed in a “must-win” situation to make the Playoffs while Tanner Gray, DiBenedetto, Taylor Gray and Matt Mills were in the top 10. Behind, Heim was mired in 11th, Crafton was in 13th, Sanchez was in 15th behind Enfinger and Rhodes had fallen back to 16th.
Five laps later, Hocevar, who overtook Zane Smith to be the first competitor running on the track on four fresh tires, was up to second place as he trailed race leader Majeski, who has decided to roll the dice and remain on the track while on worn tires, by more than 15 seconds. By then, Garcia was mired in fourth ahead of teammate Eckes and Sawalich.
Down to the final 15 laps of the event, Majeski, who started to lose ground on his advantage over Hocevar amid his worn tires, retained the lead by more than nine seconds over a hard-charging Hocevar. Majeski would continue to lead by more than five seconds over Hocevar with 10 laps remaining while third-place Zane Smith trailed by more than nine seconds as Garcia and Matt Mills followed pursuit in the top five.
With five laps remaining, Majeski, who was trying to navigate his way through lapped traffic and lost more ground on his advantage, retained the lead by a second over Hocevar, who was also navigating through lapped traffic but had Majeski close within his sights.
Then with four laps remaining, Hocevar gained massive ground on Majeski through the backstretch and overtook him through Turns 3 and 4 to reassume the lead through the frontstretch and with just three laps remaining.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Hocevar remained as the leader by more than a second over Majeski. Having the four fresh tires to his advantage and with Majeski unable to mount a late rally on his worn tires, Hocevar was able to smoothly navigate his way around the circuit for a final time and streak across the finish line on four fresh tires to claim his third checkered flag of the 2023 season.
With his third career victory in the series and third of the season, Hocevar became the first competitor to achieve three victories in this year’s Truck season as he also recorded the third victory of the season and the seventh overall for Niece Motorsports. The victory was also a monumental moment for Hocevar, who piloted a Worldwide Express-sponsored truck to the victory in a Worldwide Express-sponsored event as he is one of 10 competitors who will contend for the 2023 Craftsman Truck Series title throughout a seven-race Playoff stretch.
“Man, I suck at this place and Niece Motorsports, ourselves, we’ve sucked terrible,” Hocevar said on FS1. “That [truck’s] splitter’s gone because we had a flat tire before we even went. We passed every single truck here. [Majeski] was class of the field, but I thought we were second, and when we won with (the) second best truck because I had the first best pit crew and first best crew chief [Phil Gould] on the [pit] box. I just love it. We’ve won two of our competitors’ title races and it sucks seeing our Worldwide Express trophy get handed to a Toyota [competitor]. We had to take it home and there’s gonna be a lot of happy faces. We’re gonna celebrate.”
While Hocevar was left victorious in Victory Lane, Majeski, who had already secured his spot for the 2023 Truck Series Playoffs prior to tonight’s event at Richmond, was left disappointed on pit road after leading a race-high 168 laps and falling short of notching his first victory of the season.
“[I was] Helpless,” Majeski said. “I just didn’t have enough there. Obviously, [I] made a mistake speeding on pit road. If I don’t speed on pit road, I feel like that strategy still wins. But regardless, we had a chance to win even with the penalty. I don’t know. It’s just disappointing. What an unbelievable race truck. That thing was so fast tonight. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a dominant vehicle that much better than the rest of the field. To not win with it, it is incredibly disappointing. Everyone’s working really hard at ThorSport [Racing] to get these trucks where they need to be for us for these Playoffs. This one’s gonna sting. Man, I’m so disappointed in myself, but we win and lose as a team. We can go make another run at the Playoffs.”
Zane Smith came home in third place while rookie Jake Garcia and Matt Mills earned strong top-five results. Heim, the 2023 Craftsman Truck Series Regular Season champion, ended up sixth while Crafton, Sanchez, Enfinger and William Sawalich finished in the top 10.
With their respective results of seventh, eighth and 17th, Matt Crafton, Nick Sanchez and Matt DiBenedetto secured the final three vacant spots in the 2023 Truck Series Playoffs, with Crafton claiming the final transfer spot by 39 points over Stewart Friesen, who concluded his long night in 27th place.
“We live to fight another day,” Crafton said. “[We got to] Kick [the competition’s] teeth in.”
“[We] Brought a dull knife to a gunfight tonight,” Friesen said. “It is what it is.”
Corey Heim, Zane Smith, Carson Hocevar, Christian Eckes, Grant Enfinger, Ty Majeski, Ben Rhodes, rookie Nick Sanchez, Matt DiBenedetto and Matt Crafton have made the 2023 Craftsman Truck Series Playoffs and will embark on a seven-race Playoff stretch to contend for this year’s series title. Stewart Friesen, Tanner Gray, Chase Purdy, Tyler Ankrum, Hailie Deegan, Colby Howard, Dean Thompson, Lawless Alan and Spencer Boyd along with a bevy of rookies that included Jake Garcia, Taylor Gray, Daniel Dye, Rajah Caruth and Bret Holmes were among the remaining full-time competitors who did not make the Playoffs.
There were nine lead changes for four different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 27 laps. While all 36 starters finished the event, seven finished on the lead lap.
1. Carson Hocevar, 64 laps led
2. Ty Majeski, 168 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner
3. Zane Smith
4. Jake Garcia
5. Matt Mills
6. Corey Heim, nine laps led
7. Matt Crafton
8. Nick Sanchez, one lap down
9. Grant Enfinger, one lap down
10. William Sawalich, one lap down
11. Christian Eckes, one lap down
12. Ben Rhodes, one lap down
13. Tyler Ankrum, one lap down
14. Taylor Gray, one lap down
15. Hailie Deegan, one lap down
16. Tanner Gray, one lap down
17. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap down
18. Bayley Currey, two laps down
19. Rajah Caruth, two laps down
20. Connor Jones, two laps down
21. Daniel Dye, two laps down
22. Chase Purdy, two laps down
23. Timmy Hill, two laps down
24. Colby Howard, three laps down
25. Dean Thompson, three laps down
26. Will Rodgers, three laps down
27. Stewart Friesen, three laps down
28. Lawless Alan, three laps down
29. Bret Holmes, three laps down
30. Ryan Vargas, four laps down
31. Justin Carroll, five laps down
32. Christian Rose, six laps down
33. Derek Lemke, seven laps down
34. Mason Massey, eight laps down
35. Spencer Boyd, 10 laps down
36. Josh Reaume, 11 laps down
The 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Playoffs are set to start at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in Brownsburg, Indiana, on August 11, with the event’s coverage to occur at 9 p.m. ET on FS1.