The 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season provided fans with fun thrills, wacky moments and chaotic turns week by week. Craftsman returned as the series sponsor after a long hiatus, and this season provided some of the craziest and exciting moments thus far in the series.
2023 brought about a newly rebranded team in TRICON Garage turn heads with Toyota, while long-standing teams in Kyle Busch Motorsports and GMS Racing saw the checkered flag fly for the final time as an organization.
This season provided many storylines and incredible moments. Here are a few of them.
The Kyle Busch Most Dominant Driver Award
Corey Heim flew the TRICON banner all season long, logging the most consistent season of the field. He captured three victories during the season at Martinsville Speedway, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and a playoff victory at Bristol Motor Speedway, leading to a Championship 4 appearance. He showed his speed and dominance at multiple tracks, achieving 19 top 10s in 22 races while only collecting one DNF.
He also missed the race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway but still managed to hold the points lead after the race concluded.
In fact, Heim pulled off a streak of 13 consecutive top-10 finishes that stretched from his first victory at Martinsville to the penultimate race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Heim’s No. 11 Toyota Tundra ran and competed at the front of the field the entire season, and if it wasn’t for a late-race spin by fellow Championship 4 driver Carson Hocevar, he more than likely would be celebrating this type of dominance with a championship as well.
However, his consistency should be honored and respected, and no doubt, Heim is the heavy championship favorite as he returns next year to fight for the Truck championship once again in the No. 11.
He finished the season with a staggering and series-leading average finish of 6.8.
The Ross Chastain Most Improved Driver Award
Speaking of Hocevar, he finally had his breakout season. He tied for the most wins on the season with Christian Eckes, capturing his first four wins of his career at Texas Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, Richmond Raceway and Homestead. This momentum vaulted Hocevar to a Championship 4 appearance, where he gave everything he had to stay ahead of the hard-charging Heim to ultimately no avail.
2023 was a vast improvement from 2022, when victory lane seemed to allude Hocevar at every opportunity. Along with his four wins, Hocevar improved to finish with 11 top fives and 13 top 10s, up from seven top fives and 12 top 10s in 2022.
His newfound success helped create opportunities in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Cup Series, where he continued to show his talent. This was enough to help the 20-year-old a full-time opportunity to run the No. 77 in the Cup Series for Spire Motorsports in 2024.
While the Truck Series has seen the last of Hocevar as a full-time competitor for now, this season will be known as the season that sent Hocevar’s career to new heights and a good opportunity to run on Sunday with the best in the business.
“Boys, Have At It!” Moment of the Year
2023 wasn’t short on drama, and surprisingly the most dramatic came not at a short track, but at a superspeedway.
Tempers boiled and overflowed at Talladega Superspeedway between 24-year veteran Matt Crafton and rookie Nick Sanchez, who duked it out after Crafton was turned by Sanchez in the tri-oval, sparking the Big One.
In one of the bloodiest moments in recent NASCAR memory, Sanchez, after being on the receiving end of a blow from Crafton, promised to get Crafton at Homestead, and Crafton returned the promise right back at the rookie.
For the next two weeks before Homestead, the talk of the Truck Series was centered around these two getting revenge and potentially costing Sanchez a chance to transfer to the Championship 4. However, besides fines issued to drivers and a suspension to Sanchez’s father, nothing else resulted from the melee.
But one thing is for sure: the two will still be on track together in 2024, and this maybe just one chapter in a potential rivalry that fans will be eager to watch next season.
Checkers or Wreckers Race of the Year
Nothing could quite top the finish to Texas.
The race was dominated by Sanchez’s No. 2, the polesitter, all day, and it seemed like no one had an answer for his dominance.
But even on lap one of the race, there was a spin from the No. 41 of Chad Chastain, which was followed by another spin by him a few laps later.
After a relatively quiet race of what was scheduled to be a 147-lap race, with 31 to go, debris bunched the field up. And with 23 to go, a multi-car wreck left the TRICON No. 5 of Dean Thompson with a destroyed truck and a trip to the hospital after getting pounded by the No. 20 of Matt Mills.
After this, four more wrecks followed, sending the race to three overtimes, extending the race to 172 laps and shuffling the field dramatically.
The final wreck happened under the white as Sanchez battled side-by-side with Zane Smith and got loose, sending the No. 2 to the grass in front of Hocevar — who didn’t lift, sending the No. 2 careening into the Nos. 38 and 19.
Now that’s a crazy way to earn your first win.
Other notable and unusual finishers from this race included Hailie Deegan, who tied her best finish of sixth after the carnage, and Ryan Vargas, who collected his best finish of eighth in the No. 30 On Point Motorsports Toyota.
Despite its reputation, Texas surprised and produced the craziest finish of the year in the Truck Series.
Biggest Letdown of the Year
This might have been the worst championship race to date.
Two factors played into this being the biggest disappointment of the year: the late start time and the antics that helped create the worst championship race in NASCAR.
The race start time was scheduled for 10 p.m. ET, and the race went well into 1 a.m. by the time the race finally concluded. This left fans with the decision to just turn off the race or have to continue watching the craziness that transpired. Having any race start that late doesn’t make sense, much less for your championship-deciding race that matters more than any other.
Secondly — and most importantly — this race veered into a demolition derby involving all championship contenders at some point.
It all started with the initial incident between Hocevar and Heim with 31 laps to go.
Heim, on fresher tires and with the faster overall truck, caught the No. 42 and passed him, however, while trying to continue the battle going into turn 3, Hocevar stuck his nose underneath the No. 11, got tight and spun Heim, creating a two-way battle between Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger.
Hocevar botched the following restart after the incident and fell back to the tail of the field, while Rhodes gained the advantage until a caution with 22 to go brought Rhodes and Enfinger back together.
Enfinger passed Rhodes and looked like he was going to seal the title until retaliation by Heim on Hocevar that sent the race into an unnecessary, ridiculous five-overtime finish, extending the race past 1 a.m. ET.
In overtime, both Enfinger and Rhodes received damage. Enfinger had to pit and try to catch the No. 98 but fell one spot short of the title.
After the race, it was also found that the restart zone was not placed properly, increasing the lunacy of the situation on NASCAR’s behalf.
Many of NASCAR’s stars could not hide their frustration on social media.
Worst of all, this race took place on the same day that NASCAR’s Steve Phelps defended the playoff format in his annual state of the sport address, and at the end of it all, we were left with a champion who won exactly one race all season.
To put it bluntly, this was one of the worst races NASCAR has put on, and the Truck Series needs to redeem itself with compelling, clean championship races to decide a title instead of what was witnessed.
Legacy Award: Kyle Busch Motorsports
Little did we know at the start of the season that it would be the end for a storied and dominant team.
Along the way, boss Kyle Busch scored the organization’s 100th win in dominant fashion at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and again in the waning laps at Pocono Raceway.
As the season came to a close, it was announced during the Talladega weekend that KBM sold its assets to Spire, and with the checkered flag falling at Phoenix, KBM will no longer grace the Truck garage.
A legacy of victories, championships and success is complete, and what a ride it was for KBM over the years.
Best Paint Scheme of the Year
The Truck Series was full of stunning paint schemes all season, but none captured my eye more than the No. 42 during NASCAR’s throwback weekend at Darlington.
Matching his mentor and occasional Niece Motorsports teammate Ross Chastain’s UPS ride in the Cup Series, Hocevar ran the fiery brown UPS machine driven by Dale Jarrett in 2001 for Robert Yates Racing, donning the UPS sponsor on his No. 42 during the weekend.
About the author
Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.
Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime
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