Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Corey Heim’s Big Opportunity

During the NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday (April 21), the Toyotas had a huge crash that saw Erik Jones take a violent hit into the outside wall in turn 3.

After initially being checked and released from the infield care center, Jones returned to the care center after the race before being sent to a local hospital for further evaluation.

A further update came on Tuesday (April 23) that Jones would not be competing in the next race at Dover Motor Speedway, suffering a compound fracture in his vertebra from the accident.

Replacing him in Legacy Motor Club’s No. 43 will be Craftsman Truck Series driver Corey Heim, who will make his Cup Series debut come Sunday (April 28).

See also
Corey Heim Replacing Injured Erik Jones at Dover

The selection of Heim to replace Jones comes as no surprise. Not only does Heim have the talent to be a full-time Cup driver one day, but he also signed with Legacy Motor Club, as well as 23XI Racing, to be both teams’ reserve driver. This is in addition to his role as the sim driver for both teams as well.

Not to mention, he is in the midst of his second full-time Truck Series campaign with TRICON Garage and another part-time Xfinity Series endeavor with Sam Hunt Racing. Yeah, Heim is a busy man for 2024.

Heim isn’t the first driver to get his first Cup start via injury replacement. Jones himself got his first chance in a Cup car back in 2015, replacing Kyle Busch while he sat out the first one-third of the season after breaking both legs in an accident in the season-opening Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway.

Hell, Heim isn’t even the first driver to make his Cup Series debut via replacement at Dover. Matt Kenseth‘s first time in a Cup car back in 1998 was in replacement of Bill Elliott, who was attending his father’s funeral. Kenseth brought Elliott’s No. 94 home sixth, an impressive debut for such a treacherous track.

The last Truck Series driver to get his first Cup Series start via replacement was Carson Hocevar, who substituted for Corey LaJoie in Spire Motorsports’ No. 7 while LaJoie went and replaced a suspended Chase Elliott in the No. 9 at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Before that, Zane Smith was tabbed to replace Chris Buescher at the same track one year prior when Buescher tested positive for COVID-19.

Now both Smith and Hocevar are teammates at Spire – it’s safe to say those starts worked out for them.

Despite the Truck Series not racing at Dover, Heim was still scheduled to be at the track, as he is making his sixth start of the Xfinity season with Hunt. It should serve as a nice practice session for Heim’s big day.

See also
Entry List: 2024 BetRivers 200

So what should be expected of Heim in his debut?

While a Kenseth-esque performance would be nice, that shouldn’t be the ultimate goal, only a bonus. The most obvious goal would be to run all the laps. You can’t learn a new car if you don’t run all the laps. And Dover is a track where running all the laps is easier said than done, even for some of the most experienced drivers on the Cup Series grid.

Jones has mentioned that he will be at the track to support Heim, and will likely be able to help Heim adjust quicker than most. He also will have a seven-time champion as his owner and teammate for the race in Jimmie Johnson for guidance around the Cup garage as well.

A good benchmark for Heim would be to complete all the laps and finish within the top 25. If he can do that, Dover can probably be labeled a successful debut for him. Jones has an average finish of 21st this season, so if Heim can come within a few spots of that, it would be a solid day. Such a debut would likely start him off with some good momentum heading into future weeks.

Yes, Jones has said he’s taking his injury week-to-week. However, it’d be surprising if he returned before the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. In the Cup Series, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, and Alex Bowman have all broken their backs since 2013, and the shortest amount of time any of them sat out was Bowman, which was still three races last season. Hamlin sat out four races, while Almirola missed seven races.

So Heim ought to be preparing for more seat time in the coming weeks in the likely event that Jones is not cleared to race beyond Dover.

Heim is currently second in Truck Series points this season, earning a win at Circuit of the Americas to lock himself into the playoffs for the second straight season. He was the odds-on favorite to win the 2023 championship (as he had already won the regular season title) but was wrecked by Hocevar, igniting a complete nightmare of a finale.

Speaking of being the favorite, Heim was also the favorite to replace John Hunter Nemechek (who will ironically be his Cup teammate at Dover) in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 in the Xfinity Series this season. Surprisingly, he decided to stay with TRICON for another season in the Truck Series for 2024.

In the Xfinity Series, Heim’s best finish in five starts this season (and nine starts overall) is fourth, coming at Richmond Raceway. The 21-year-old is also the 2021 runner-up for the ARCA Menards Series championship. He has a resume that shows he is capable of running on Sundays in the future.

See also
Entry List: 2024 Wurth 400

And that opportunity is lying ahead of him this Sunday. A huge opportunity that, if executed well, will surely lead to promotion out of the Truck Series for the 2025 season.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • Connor Mosack will join Spire Motorsports in its all-star No. 7 for five races in 2024, starting with the next race at Kansas Speedway. Mosack was previously announced to split Niece Motorsports’ all-star No. 45 this season. It’s unclear if the deal with Spire is in addition to his Niece schedule (which has not been announced past his one start in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway) or in replacement of his Niece schedule.
  • Brett Moffitt will also return to the Truck Series with a part-time deal to drive TRICON’s all-star No. 1 truck for a multi-race slate, beginning with Kansas. His schedule beyond Kansas has not been announced, though every race for the rest of the season is currently open for TRICON’s No. 1. The only exception is North Wilkesboro Speedway, where Brenden Queen will pilot the truck.

About the author

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. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

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

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Drew

At least my expectation for Corey was to keep the car in one piece and he did so with that done I think he would do it again at Kansas until Erik comes back.

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