Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Carson Hocevar Earns a Lone Star Top 10 in Texas

Top Dog: Carson Hocevar

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and for Carson Hocevar, his result at Texas Motor Speedway was much bigger than it may seem to the naked eye.

In what turned out to be a Texas-true slugfest in the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 on Sunday (April 14), Hocevar survived the race of attrition to earn his first career top 10 in 10th.

See also
Chase Elliott Snaps 42-Race Winless Streak, Wins in Texas

Hocevar’s return to the 1.5-mile track was likely welcomed with open arms. Texas was the site of his first win in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race in 2023. Yet, the freshman driver felt the heat from multiple sides during the event.

Starting in 16th, Hocevar quickly worked his way inside the top 15 before sliding a bit during the opening stage. A caution on lap 50 during a green flag pit stop cycle trapped Hocevar a lap down, though he took the wave around under yellow. He finished the stage in 29th.

During stage two, the Spire Motorsports driver struggled with the treacherous turns 1 and 2, getting out of the groove once. Later in the stage, Hocevar got loose entering the corner (perhaps from some help), sending him for a ride. Fortunately, he did an incredible job of keeping it off the wall and remaining in the race.

The Portage, Mich., native rebounded to finish stage two in 16th.

Seven cautions in the final stage kept drivers on their toes, but it also kept the field jumbled up. That allowed Hocevar to work his way forward, restarting inside the top 12 within 30 laps to go.

A pair of overtime restarts saw the rookie capitalize on the opportunity, seizing the milestone result.

Entering the season, there were no questions about Hocevar’s level of talent, but rather how he would build experience and also know when to soften his aggression level. Through nine races, he has done nothing but impress, and this top 10 will likely be a launching pad for even greater results.

Once again, Hocevar also led the way for both Spire Motorsports and the 2024 rookie class. It is the fourth time the 21-year-old finished as the top rookie, and he usurps the Rookie of the Year points lead entering Talladega Superspeedway.

How Does it Compare?

While Hocevar’s result wasn’t the shiniest star in Texas, it was comparable to recent results by the top dog at TMS. In the last five points races in Fort Worth, Hocevar’s 10th-place result ties him for third in that span.

Topping him was Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s ninth-place run in 2023, while Justin Haley scored a Texas-sized eye-opener in 2022 by finishing third. In 2021, Daniel Suarez also finished 10th in his first season with Trackhouse Racing.

Notable Underdog Runs

In his second start driving Kaulig Racing’s No. 16, Ty Dillon finished 16th, his second-best finish at Texas in 11 starts. After falling a lap down in stage one, Dillon held off none other than seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in stage two to get the free pass.

During the final stage, Dillon stayed out longer during a green flag pit cycle, catching a caution on lap 229 to play into his strategy. From there, he remained steady inside the top 20 to just miss out on a top 15.

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After Chase Elliott Sounds the Si-reen in Texas

Texas has been Erik Jones‘ bread and butter since the reconfiguration in 2017 (seven top 10s in 12 races), and while he didn’t secure a top 10, the No. 43 still finished 19th when the checkered flag flew. Jones was mired in traffic in the early part of the race before playing some strategy in stage two to crack the top five for several laps.

The strategy paid off, as Jones grabbed seven stage points in fourth. From there, the Byron, Mich. native cracked the top 10 again in the final stage before having to make a late pit stop under a caution. The lost track position relegated him to 19th, though it is his third top 20 in a row.

Rounding out the top 20 was Daniel Hemric, giving Kaulig Racing its third race with multiple drivers inside the top 20 this season. The No. 31 team was one of many teams who were aggressive on strategy, staying out long during green flag pit stops twice. Both times, they caught a yellow flag, gaining Hemric valuable track position. At the end, Hemric restarted in 21st with eight laps left after taking two tires, working his way into the top 20 to grab his best finish since Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

A couple of drivers left The Lone Star State on the wrong side of the duel after solid showings. Stenhouse was well on his way to a much needed good result before the race’s nature bit him. Stenhouse was one of several drivers to stay out after a lap 137 caution, putting him inside the top five after running inside the top 15. The Olive Branch, Miss., native finished stage two in eighth. The No. 47 showed impressive pace in the final stage, but things went awry on lap 254 when Stenhouse spun into the wall. He finished 23rd.

At times, it looked as though Zane Smith may have joined Hocevar to give Spire Motorsports a pair of top 10s. The other half of the Spire rookies ran inside the top 20 at least for much of the second and final stages, even taking advantage of strategy in the final frame to crack the top five. With eight laps remaining, he sat in 16th, yet had contact with Kyle Larson shortly after to relegate him to 26th.

What They’re Saying

Hocevar (10th):

Dillon (16th): “We battled through most of the day in the Sea Best Camaro ZL1. We weren’t where we wanted to be most of the day, but thankfully Travis Mack made a few good calls to help us gain track position and finish strong there at the end. This team never gave up and I can’t wait to get back in the car with Kaulig Racing.” (via Kaulig’s race recap)

Hemric (20th): “It’s not been thrilling or exciting the last few weeks, but at the end of the day we’ve managed a couple times this year to finish better than we raced. That’s what we did here today. I’m proud of Trent [Owens, Hemric’s crew chief] for making the call to take two tires there and getting some track position. I need to do a better job on restarts; we had a couple go our way there at the end, especially that last one. I’m proud of the fight from this No. 31 team today.” (via Kaulig’s race recap)

John Hunter Nemechek (34th):

Austin Hill (38th):

Who’s Really the Top Dog?

2024 Underdog Medal Count

Gold: Corey LaJoie, Stenhouse, Jones (3x), Hocevar (2x), Nemechek, AJ Allmendinger

Silver: Allmendinger, Harrison Burton, Hocevar, Todd Gilliland (3x), Haley, Smith, Dillon

Bronze: Nemechek (2x), LaJoie, Stenhouse (2x), Kaz Grala, Shane van Gisbergen, Hocevar, Jones

Small Team Scheme of the Week

With a couple of schemes thrown in the hat, it was Smith’s ride coming out on top. Ambetter Health made its debut on the car, the No. 71 dawned a simple, yet well-executed scheme with the pink and white colors. It sort of gave off a throwback theme, yet Spire brought a modernized look to make it the top dog in the scheme department.

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

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.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kevin in SoCal

Go Carson!

Share via