Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Truckers End 2023 With a Whimper, Not a Bang

In what should have been a night of celebration, the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship race devolved into complete anarchy and chaos, filled with 29 laps of overtime and a genuine thought that the race would never end and all four championship drivers might crash out.

The product that the Truck Series put on at Phoenix Raceway was embarrassing.

There is simply no other way to put it.

The story going into the offseason should be about the champion. In this case, Ben Rhodes winning his second title in three years should be what people remember about the 2023 season.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: Ben Rhodes' 2nd Title Comes in Farcical Race

Instead, Truck Series drivers, fans, and media head into 2024 with a sour taste in their mouths.

It started when Carson Hocevar and Corey Heim got together with 31 laps to go, sending the No. 11 spinning in turns 1 and 2 while collecting an innocent Stewart Friesen in the process.

Hocevar was so frustrated by his actions that he seemed to mentally check out. On the next restart, he plummeted through the field after restarting up front. He came down for tires during a caution with 20 laps to go that saw Bayley Currey run over Stefan Parsons in turn 3, causing both trucks to slam into the outside wall along with Daniel Dye.

The crash actually had ramifications beyond the race. Dye was not medically cleared by NASCAR to compete in the Xfinity Series race the next day. Leland Honeyman stepped in to qualify and race Dye’s No. 44 for Alpha Prime Racing. APR team owner Tommy Joe Martins was not happy with the situation.

The race was supposed to go clean and green to the end. It certainly appeared that way as Grant Enfinger looked to have the championship in hand with just four laps to go.

But Heim, salty that his chance at a championship was gone, decided to alter the outcome of the race and championship by waiting on Hocevar and ramming him into the wall off of turn 2. Not only did the crash end Hocevar’s day, but it also collected Heim’s teammate Taylor Gray.

The reason this move irked fans and drivers alike is the fact that there was so little time left in the race. Heim could have easily waited a few more laps and exact his payback on the final lap – if the caution came out then, the race would have been over and the running order wouldn’t have been affected.

What’s even more shocking is the fact that NASCAR chose not to park Heim following the incident. While the payback was likely warranted (Hocevar himself even called the move fair), NASCAR has usually been consistent with overaggressive forms of payback. Even when the driver claims “something broke” in the car/truck doesn’t stop NASCAR from parking them anyway. Why it didn’t with Heim is beyond me.

Besides, the punishment for Hocevar arguably did not fit the crime he committed.

Heim did not take any damage when he spun and had a truck more than capable of making his way back through the field. He claimed there was an issue with his truck, but it was incredibly convenient that his truck happened to have a problem in front of the No. 42. Spinning someone versus ending someone’s race are two issues of completely different magnitude.

So Heim chose to make a move which incited an overtime period that included 29 extra laps tacked on to the original 150. Rhodes and Enfinger made contact. Rhodes ran over race leader Zane Smith after the latter missed a shift on a restart. More and more frontrunners made contact and crashed.

But finally, after 179 laps of mayhem, Rhodes hoisted his second trophy in three years. Heim’s move, in essence, cost Enfinger the championship. Before that caution for his payback, Rhodes had no hope of catching Enfinger.

Oh, by the way, Christian Eckes won the race, if anyone cares about that. In fact, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing finished 1-2 with the outgoing rookie Jake Garcia finishing second.

See also
Ben Rhodes Wins Truck Title at Phoenix as Christian Eckes Wins Race in Overtime

The race was so atrocious that drivers of all series chimed in. Josh Berry, Chris Buescher, Denny Hamlin, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Hemric, and more pulled back the reins on Twitter to make their opinions known.

On Wednesday (Nov. 8), NASCAR announced that Heim would be fined $12,500 and docked 25 driver points for his actions. The move doesn’t really matter much, as it knocks him from third to fourth in the final standings, below Hocevar. Some fans want Heim to sit for the season opener in 2024 at Daytona International Speedway.

However it appears unlikely that will be the case.

The question that almost everyone will be asking is whether or not NASCAR can take steps to prevent that kind of race from happening again. The Truck Series has had a history of disrespectful drivers, and just this year drivers have been more and more outspoken about the lack of respect in the series.

At this point the Truck Series is no different than the ARCA Menards Series in terms of development. Both series features drivers racing way over their heads and making moves that result in damaged vehicles and hurt feelings.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: Breaking the Championship Mold

It’s part of the reason why some ARCA drivers choose to skip the Truck Series altogether in favor of developing themselves in the Xfinity Series. Hell, Jesse Love will be doing just that in 2024.

So what can NASCAR do? One thought it could consider is limiting the age of who can race in the series. On tracks less than 1.25-miles in length plus road courses, drivers under the age of 18 are allowed to compete – lower speeds mean less of a chance for a literal teenager to make a colossal mistake.

But the key players involved in Friday night’s (Nov. 3) farce of a race were all 18 and older. So maybe NASCAR needs to enforce bigger penalties for causing big accidents. It seems apparent that getting an entire field of disrespectful drivers on the same page is impossible without NASCAR stepping in and threatening to do something about it.

Hopefully, NASCAR will do something about it. In the Cup Series drivers’ meeting, NASCAR told the drivers to essentially race like the Xfinity Series did and not the Truck Series.

Hopefully that means NASCAR is looking into ways to limit the disrespectful driving the Truck Series is rife with.

There was one highlight of the night at Phoenix. Reminiscent of his 2021 championship, Rhodes made sure to enter the media center for his press conference fully under the influence of alcohol and give yet another entertaining press conference.

And so, I leave you with his press conference in hopes that this will be something remembered fondly from the 2023 Truck Series entering the offseason. And when 2024 arrives and we reconvene, the Truck Series will take the green flag for its 30th season.

Hopefully it brings us more respect than we saw this season.

See you in 2024, friends.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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Jill P

The standards in the series are extremely low. ARCA purses are so low the drivers don’t want to stay there long, so they move up too quickly and it hurts their development. Owners don’t seem to care who they put in their seats, as long as the checks clear. If someone does get a penalty, especially a playoff driver, it’s an absolute joke. Fox doesn’t even bother to send their announcers to the track for a championship race, so it greatly affects the telecast. No wonder the series isn’t taken seriously.

AW

In 2015, Matt Kenseth was suspended for two races and placed on six months’ NASCAR probation after altering the Championship 4 outcome. Corey Heim should have been fined $25,000 and suspended for 1-2024 race, and placed on probation. Clear message sent. As for the Friday debacle, NASCAR can have radio contact with all drivers and crew chiefs. A simple warning over the radio to ALL competitors would send a message to “play right.” Also, parking or warning Corey after hearing chatter on his radio regarding retaliation sends another message. Simply put, NASCAR clearly informs the 11 Team (driver, crew chief, etc.) – we are watching you (after the incident) – no retaliation. Also, maybe penalizing Carson with a 1-lap penalty for rough driving also sends a signal. If NASCAR wants the playoffs and Championship 4 race to be legitimate, including the Truck Series – they have send strong messages to the drivers in the past, and Friday would have been another perfect opportunity. You impact the Championship with a deliberate dumb move – we impact you as a driver.

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