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Corey Heim was cruising toward his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title Friday night (Nov. 3) at Phoenix Raceway. With 30 laps to go, Heim closed in on championship rival Carson Hocevar and seemed ready to breeze on by and drive away.
Hocevar wouldn’t let it happen. But he also couldn’t keep control of his truck. And with one silly mistake, a NASCAR championship race spent the rest of the night like a drunk guy trying to stumble out of the bar.
It wasn’t pretty. Embarrassing, in fact, filled with apologies that rang hollow compared to the chaos that followed.
“I can’t sit here and say I didn’t mean to,” Hocevar said of the contact that took Heim out of title contention. “I just fucked up.”
The incident, coming after Heim had made the pass, still left Hocevar in a commanding position. When the race restarted with 25 laps remaining, the No. 42 sat several positions and rows ahead of his championship rivals. But the mental damage was done, a 20-year-old driver claiming he spun the tires while it was really his head that was spinning, coming to terms with what just happened.
“I didn’t even want to run the rest of the laps,” Hocevar said. “I just wanted to crawl into a hole.”
So Hocevar dug an on-track hole for himself. Sliding backward, he dropped all the way outside the top 15 before a yellow for an incident involving Bayley Currey, Stefan Parsons and Daniel Dye brought out an 11-minute red flag with 19 laps remaining.
That’s when crew chief Phil Gould found a moment to reset, using the quiet time to ease his driver’s mind and get the team back on track.
The motivation worked, leaving Hocevar marching forward once the race restarted. He had no shot of catching Grant Enfinger and Ben Rhodes for the title but a respectable top-10 finish remained within reach.
Three laps remained when Hocevar closed in on Heim in front of him. That’s when the driver of the No. 11 claimed “something broke.”
Judge for yourself.
“Got cleaned out there,” Heim said. “Had a lot of right-rear damage. … [Hocevar] was the third one that went by me on the outside, and I about wrecked every time. By the time he got there, I just spun it out; with him on my door, I just lost control … unfortunate coincidence.”
No one was buying that, least of all Enfinger, who was in position to win the championship at the time. In their final race together, GMS Racing President Mike Beam was livid at Heim, stomping around the pit box yelling, “We’re never doing anything for that fucking boy again.”
Beam refused comment after the race, watching Enfinger get roughed up on the ensuing restart and ultimately need to pit, costing him the title. The driver of the No. 23 Chevrolet made a valiant effort to work his way back through the field but came up just short. The point was made Enfinger chose not to bump Rhodes out of the way down the stretch after a four-overtime finish gave him a shot on the final lap.
“I guess I could have drove it down into the apron, into his door, not lifted or something and just bulldozed both of us,” Enfinger said. “But it wasn’t like I had enough of a run to get into [Rhodes] and just get him loose.”
So those two raced for the championship clean, Rhodes winning almost by default even after he found himself some trouble in one of the overtimes, slamming into Zane Smith after missing a shift. It was a whole lot of unnecessary carnage, a demolition derby begun by drivers who demolished their dignity in the name of winning it all.
The totals after the Heim-Hocevar contact are staggering indeed. Five more cautions involving a dozen drivers, eight of whom failed to finish. Those four overtimes, a record for any type of championship race. And two drivers in Heim and Enfinger who felt a title was stolen from out under their noses.
“We had it drawn up where it was there until that caution came out,” Enfinger said. “The green-white-checkered is just chaos. I think you see that with the way this format is, a bunch of guys going for a win and the way the restart zone is here. We’ve kind of manufactured it, in a way. We also see it because it’s so hard to pass on your own.
“Our truckers got a bad rap today. We’re better than that.”
Heim sure felt there was one exception to “we’re better”: Carson Hocevar.
“He obviously screwed up,” Heim explained. “Just wrecked me. I’ve been racing Carson for a long time, racing him since I was 8 or 9 years old, and it’s just kind of what he does. He’ll wreck you and apologize and then he’ll do it again the next week. So, it’s not going to be the last time he does it and it’s certainly not the first time he’s done it. … It is what it is, I completely expected it. I literally saw it coming.”
But Heim also bears responsibility, his wreck with Hocevar changing the course of Enfinger’s march toward a title.
“I feel like we had it in our grasp,” Enfinger explained. “Until that caution comes out at the end.”
Ironically, it’s the man who started it all that appeared to take on the most responsibility as the race completely fell apart.
“I deserve it,” Hocevar said. “If it was [payback], whatever … I’m trying to be better … I didn’t want to do that. I just basically took myself out doing it. I didn’t want to do that and I didn’t want to look dumb, and I didn’t want to be what everybody thinks I might be.”
But Hocevar still drove it in the turn a little too hard. Who knew how many in the field would wind up paying a hefty price.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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