When it was announced that Corey LaJoie would replace the suspended Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car at World Wide Technology Raceway, the question then turned to who would drive the No. 7 car in his place.
Carson Hocevar got the call from Spire Motorsports, and on Sunday, June 4, the 19-year-old from Portage, Mich., made his NASCAR Cup Series debut.
It’s been an eventful 2023 season for Hocevar, who won his first Craftsman Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in April and made his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start at Darlington Raceway in May.
With both the Truck and Cup series at Gateway, I had the opportunity to sit down with Hocevar on Friday (June 2) prior to the race and discuss his endeavors in all three series.
For his first Truck win at Texas on April 1, there was no shortage of celebration within the Niece Motorsports No. 42 team.
“Yeah, [the win] was everything and more,” Hocevar told Frontstretch. “You get to just feel good about it for so many days after. You get to go experience the Waffle House run while holding the trophy.
“You get to experience the flight, the late flight with all the officials we upset because we wouldn’t sit down and we kept moving around, throwing hats and moving the trophy around.
“Everybody wanted to hold it. You just get to experience all that that you didn’t know […] when you finally get a trophy.”
Heading into Gateway, Hocevar was fresh off of fourth-place finishes at North Wilkesboro Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he had average running positions of third and led a combined 59 laps. Both were exceptional showings of speed, and Hocevar felt that the team’s had that speed all season; just not the luck to go along with it.
“No, I mean, we’ve been fast,” Hocevar said. “[Circuit of the Americas], we just had an issue running sixth. Martinsville [Speedway], we had an issue running seventh. Atlanta [Motor Speedway], we blew a tire running 11th, and that was basically our worst run, I thought.
“I just think finally we have a little bit more speed at some of these racetracks, little more grip, but I think the speed’s always kind of been there.”
Hocevar continued his run with a fourth-place finish at Gateway on Saturday (June 4), his fourth straight top five in the Truck Series.
Gateway was also the site of Hocevar’s frightening last-lap crash in 2022, when he broke his ankle. Last weekend marked his first return to the track since then. The crash is out of his mind, but he still deals with some difficulties in his right foot.
“[The crash has] been out of sight, out of mind for a long time,” Hocevar said. “Obviously, [coming back] reminds me a little bit. My foot, I have to deal with it for the rest of my life. It’s going to forever be at about 95%. I still notice that I don’t have 100% movement in it.
“That’s just the price you pay when you race cars for a living.”
Has that changed how he drives? Not at all.
“They had to peel me from that race truck at Sonoma [Raceway] the week after, and now, for a year, I haven’t changed a thing.”
Hocevar’s next step up the ladder came at Darlington on May 13. He scored a sixth-place finish in his Xfinity debut, and he backed it up with an eighth-place finish at Charlotte.
It’s been an impressive start to his part-time Xfinity schedule with Spire, but he hasn’t been surprised by the early success.
“I haven’t [felt surprised],” Hocevar said. “I think a lot of people around me have, but I wasn’t: I felt really confident going into those racecars. I felt really good, it’s a lot calmer racing.
“You’re trying to minimize sliding and […] there’s not a lot of grip in those vehicles. You’re just trying to find the most grip. That’s where I felt like I’m best at.
“Darlington and Charlotte, it’s obviously going to help being at two really great racetracks for me, tracks that I really feel confident about. But I think the Spire bunch and even our technical alliance with [JR Motorsports], everybody’s been shocked.”
Hocevar finally made his mark in Cup at Gateway last weekend. While some teams have reserve drivers (like Josh Berry for Hendrick Motorsports, for example), Hocevar said the announcement caught him by surprise.
“Yeah, I’m not anybody’s reserve driver or anything,” Hocevar said. “I never knew this opportunity was really going to be available until probably four hours before everybody else in the world knew.
“[…] [Jeff Dickerson, co-owner of Spire] called me out of the blue and said, ‘This is the direction we’re going to go. [Rick Hendrick] said this is our plan.’ I talked to them, and I was just shocked. […] They told Mr. H that they were going to put me in the car, in the No. 7, and I was just shocked he even knows my name.”
The goal that Hocevar set out for his Cup debut was simple: stay out of trouble and finish on the lead lap.
“I don’t look at this as an opportunity to audition for a ride or anything,” Hocevar said. “I’m just grateful and I’m going to soak it all in. I just want a clean smooth day, and I feel like I can ruin things and not gain things. Just want to see a checkered flag on the lead lap, wherever I am on the pylon it’s going to be.”
Unfortunately, a brake rotor failed on the No. 7 car in stage 2, and the car had terminal damage after smacking the wall. Hocevar finished last in his debut after completing the first 91 laps of the race.
He had impressed up until that point, though, as he had worked his way up to 16th after starting the race in 26th. And while his Cup debut didn’t end on the lead lap, he was able to take pride in how he ran up to that point.
“I’d rather have speed and break running good than run bad,” Hocevar said.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.