The typical 18-year-old has a lot to balance – between job(s) and a life-changing chapter with the end of high school and the potential next step to higher education.
Carson Hocevar doesn’t fit that mold. In just his first full-time season as a driver in the series, he’s on the cusp of his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.
Being the only qualified entry for NIECE, it’s a lot of pressure to balance and manage, a level not many 18-year-olds would expect.
Comforting, however, is that he knows what his future is, at least for next season, confirming that he will remain with NIECE for next season, entering his second full-time campaign with the organization.
“It’s huge when you know that you have a job for next year, more than anything, and it’s big to have that announced going into the playoffs finally,” Hocevar told TobyChristie.com. “It’s still in my mind that it’ll make or break; you never know if the opportunity to be in the playoffs is ever going to come again, but it’s nice to know that I’ll at least have another shot next year.”
The signing takes a heavy weight of the Michigan driver’s mind, with his future known and concrete. It’s reflected in his persona, with his calm, cool demeanor just hours before the opening race of the 2021 edition of the Truck Series playoffs. It’s been a solid season for Hocevar, one that many rookies can only wish for.
With 16 starts this year, six top 10 finishes accompany his on-track performance while completing 2036 of 2038 laps possible. Despite having an average running position of 14.98 at Gateway, Hoecavar came home in eighth.
Not about how you start, but about how you finish!
Ready for @TooToughToTame, almost tamed the lady in black last time we were there by finishing P3 earlier this year! Wouldn’t take on this journey with anyone else but @NieceMotorsport! #PressTheAttack pic.twitter.com/o2tXYSefoO
— Carson Hocevar (@CarsonHocevar) August 23, 2021
As Hoecavar explained, grading his season. “I’d give it probably a B+ or an A-, it’s had some high moments, and it’s had some lows, just haven’t quite been where I want to be weekly, I feel like it’s either bad luck and we had a bad stretch of races early in the year, I think we’ve cleaned that out, it’s just making our trucks better. We don’t have practice, so it’s all about that sim that we rely on. A lot of times, it’s off, and we kind of struggle and try to play catch up all race, but when it’s on, we run really good. Hopefully, we can iron out the details and have our trucks really good firing off and make our jobs a lot easier.”
His rookie season is made even more impressive by the fact that he’s had a near consistent performance across multiple crew chiefs. Phil Gould was brought in, replacing Cody Efaw, and almost immediately, Hocevar was displaying strong numbers. But, of course, it can take a few weeks, or even months, to build that team chemistry with a new name calling the shots on top of the box.
“Phil [Gould] got thrown into that after the truck was already done and set up at Darlington, so that was Cody’s setup, and he pulled it out, so him and I have clicked a lot, it’s just all about the little differences, they have different ideas and adjustments for pit stops and how we communicate.
“Cody is the General Manager trying to be a crew chief, so it helps for the whole company if he goes back into that role and plays to his strength, of managing people and managing the team, and help find sponsorship and everything and help run the company, while Phil focuses on what his strength is, and that’s building really strong race trucks.”
While he may not be the first name you think of for a championship title, Hocevar’s confidence in his team hasn’t faltered. He knows he isn’t in top-of-the-line equipment, but the fire to fight is there.
“The first round, I feel like we’re going to be really good,” Hocevar said. “I feel like we’re going to be at least contending for top-five, if not at all three, just the second round, is just everybody’s question mark. Vegas, we’ve never been great, at least my first time was, I wish I could forget it, to say the least, and Talladega, everybody has to figure that out, and it’s just the lottery, and Martinsville is kind of a lottery too of survival of the fittest, especially the late race restarts, so I think if we can make it to Phoenix, we have a legitimate shot, we’re really good at Phoenix, I think our package is really good, it’s just all about making it.”
But there is one track on his mind, one that slipped away earlier in 2021, where he seeks his best shot at advancing to the next round to the playoffs.
— Carson Hocevar (@CarsonHocevar) August 7, 2021
“Darlington, it’s got to be Darlington; I thought that one was kind of stripped away from us a little bi; II wish we had more green flag runs, otherwise I think I’d have a win in that category, or at least closer to one, but I’m really glad we’re not going to Mosport, and we’re getting another chance at that track.”
The playoff stretch will be important for Hoecevar and not just as a measuring stick for this season. With no confirmed sponsors for the 2022 season as of now, he feels his performance will take care of any potential sponsors the team can pull in for his sophomore season as a full-time Truck Series driver.
“There really weren’t any other truck opportunities honestly, I never really got a call or got anything, or at least at I know of. Kind of all wanted to be dedicated to Niece [Motorsports], teams don’t really reach out often, you go to them with ‘X’ amount of cash, and they’ll see if they can fit you in the ride.
“Luckily, that’s not really the case with Niece, or at least not my case next year… I don’t have any sponsors, yet, but running in the playoffs, we’re basically gambling that we’ll run really good in the playoffs and the sponsors will take care of themselves because everyone wants to get on a winning truck.”
The days of weekly practice and qualifying, seemingly feeling like a decade ago, haven’t hindered the performance of his NIECE Silverado either. Instead, the new format forced him to mature as a driver.
As Hocevar explained, “I had to really tone my aggression back, I try to be as aggressive as possible, but with coming to the end of the race, I didn’t want to throw away anything. I knew that we were in a points situation, and I didn’t want to ruin a top-five, top-10 day and kill trucks. Niece Motorsports is trying to make pennies work out of dollars and make every penny count and if I come back with clean trucks, we can work on them and invest in upgrades and other things, where if I’m tearing it up and we have to replace parts, that budget comes out of it. We got to scrap for pennies to try and upgrade later.”
Sitting in playoff contention heading into Darlington, look for Hocevar to leave it out all on the track. Learning how to better himself without any practice to qualifying, the early days of a potential star of the sport are unfolding right before our eyes.