DARLINGTON, S.C. – During the Darlington Raceway weekend, Spire Motorsports had already reached a milestone in its existence. It became the first team to compete in each of NASCAR’s top three series in the same track weekend since Richard Childress Racing did it at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2013.
But on Saturday, May 13, Spire reached another milestone. The young team earned its first top 10 NASCAR Xfinity Series result in only its first start. The team’s driver, Carson Hocevar, rallied to finish sixth when it was all said and done.
“It means a lot,” crew chief Kevin Manion told Frontstretch. “We got a little old truck team that we take a lot of pride in. Then starting the Xfinity deal… It works out really well for us.”
But Hocevar’s rally was a late one.
After only bringing one car to Darlington to qualify with, Spire urged Hocevar to wheel the No. 77 gently in qualifying. He did, and it gave the team a 25th-starting position.
“None of us liked it,” Hocevar said post-race about qualifying. “But they liked it in the sense that they told me just run the bottom and save running the fence for the race.”
But after a learning period for Hocevar in stage one, they dropped the hammer on the 20-year-old and let him loose. There, Hocevar had worked himself and the No. 77 into the top 10 before the end of the segment.
However, when a yellow flag waved on lap 81, crew chief Kevin Manion opted to pit early before the stage conclusion.
“They just had me on a tight leash,” Hocevar said. “And I played to the game plan and learned all day in stage one. It felt really fast.
“Then stage two and stage three, we were able to race and be up front with good cars and did strategy there to maybe get track position or at least just be able to net out there.”
It’s easy to understand why, too. Hocevar doesn’t earn points for the Xfinity Series and Spire itself doesn’t compete full time in the championship.
So, they rolled the dice, and it paid off.
After the stage two conclusion, the No. 77 team stayed out and became the leader. While they didn’t stay there for long, as the powers of John Hunter Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing found themselves in the lead shortly after.
That said, Hocevar only faded to near the top five – better than where he was before.
Even after two more cautions, Hocevar maintained position all the way to the final few laps and just barely missed out on the top five as a wrecked Nemechek limped across the line in fifth.
Still, despite a missed top five, it was a massive learning experience for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series full-timer and his new team.
“I mean, I just learned a lot about how these guys race compared to a Friday,” Hocevar, who earned his first career Truck Series win in April, said. “I felt a lot calmer in a sense, which allowed me to be calm, and it was nice to let people go and know I’m going to get that back.
“So, it was really fun to have the long run and short run and a lot of [tire] fall off and be slipping and sliding around. That just felt more in my comfort zone.”
So, what’s next for Spire?
Well, for now, Spire will carry on its part-time Xfinity and Truck Series schedules. After that, however, team owner Jeff Dickerson has big plans for the teams according to Manion.
“I think it is to grow it into a championship-caliber team on the Truck side and probably on the Xfinity side,” crew chief Manion told Frontstretch. “But for right now we’re pretty content to picking and choosing the races we run and making sure we try to do them at the best of our ability and not really overdo it right now.”
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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