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Back-to-Back Top-15s Accentuate Strong Start for Rookie Carson Hocevar

Carson Hocevar Spire Motorsports NASCAR Cup Sereis LAs Vegas phoenix

Photo Credit: Harold Hinson Photography

Throughout the opening four weeks of his NASCAR Cup Series rookie campaign, Carson Hocevar has managed to keep himself completely out of the headlines. While some may think that is underwhelming for the Portage, Michigan native, it’s quite the opposite.

See, it’s been nine months since Hocevar was unexpectedly thrust onto the NASCAR Cup Series scene at World Wide Technology Raceway to fill in for Corey LaJoie. In that short period, the 21-year-old driver has transformed his once uncertain future into a full-time ride with Spire Motorsports, while also picking up some additional laps with LEGACY MOTOR CLUB at the end of last season.

Eyes are wide open and intently watching the youngest driver in the NASCAR Cup Series field, as he tackles the grueling 36-race schedule that NASCAR’s top-level has to offer, a drastic step up from the 23-race schedule that he is accustomed to, having spent the last three seasons competing in the NASCAR Truck Series.

Throughout his 13-race tenure as a driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, Hocevar has already punched well above his weight on several occasions, picking up eight total finishes inside the top-20 — three of which have come in succession at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

In the first four races of the season, only in the prestigious season-opener at Daytona International Speedway has the Spire Motorsports driver not recorded a finish inside the top-20 — the result of being blindsided and getting involved in a multi-car accident on the fifth lap of the Daytona 500, resulting in a 40th-place finish.

Atlanta Motor Speedway, much like the season-opener at Daytona, was a bit of a crapshoot with its superspeedway-adjacent reconfiguration but featured a superhero-like effort by Hocevar and Spire Motorsports to score a 19th-place finish after sustaining damage in two separate incidents. But, when the “real season” began at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, that’s where Spire Motorsports as a whole, but especially Hocevar, began earning their keep.

From the beginning, both Hocevar and teammate Corey LaJoie showed significant speed, with LaJoie gaining track position with a two-tire strategy call and maneuvering his way through the top-10 and into the second spot. Meanwhile, the No. 77 team, led by Luke Lambert this season, was biding their time and waiting for the long-run speed on the Premier Security Chevrolet to launch the team up the running order.

The NASCAR Cup Series rookie spent much of the afternoon inside the top-15, and would eventually take the checkered flag in 15th, but would first have to rebound from an unscheduled green-flag pit stop for a flat tire, and then a horrific final pit stop in which the jack dropped without the left-front tire being secured onto the racecar. That eventful run still produced the second-best average running position of Hocevar’s career, at 15.403.

Any skepticism around the speed of the team at Las Vegas, and whether or not it was a fluke, was quickly eliminated Saturday at Phoenix Raceway when Hocevar advanced into the final round of qualifying for the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, qualifying 10th. That set the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series winner up for a strong first stage, advancing as high as seventh place before fading back outside the top-10.

After the race’s first stage came to an end, all of the track position retained from a great qualifying run was quickly washed away after Hocevar was forced to come back down pit lane for a loose wheel on his No. 77 Delaware Life Chevrolet Camaro, tossing the Michigan-born driver from among the top-15 in the running order to outside the top-30, and at the tail-end of the field at a track notoriously track position-dependent.

Hocevar and Spire Motorsports spent the majority of the remaining event trying to get back on sequence with the remainder of the lead-lap drivers, finally accomplishing that in the final stage, allowing the driver of the No. 77 to progress through traffic during the race’s 92-lap green-flag run to the finish to score a 15th-place finish, the best-ever result for Spire Motorsports at Phoenix Raceway.

With back-to-back finishes of 15th, Hocevar leaps up the NASCAR Cup Series point standings, now sitting tied with teammate Corey LaJoie for 23rd, and more importantly, is the highest in points of the four Rookie of The Year (ROTY) contenders, holding a 22-point advantage over Josh Berry, with Zane Smith and Kaz Grala sitting third and fourth-place in the rookie standings, more than 30 markers back of Hocevar.

Entering 2024, Hocevar wasn’t necessarily the favorite to claim Rookie of The Year (ROTY) honors, with an ultra-competitive rookie lineup that includes Josh Berry – working alongside Rodney Childers – and Zane Smith, who has a tight-knit alliance with multi-time NASCAR Cup Series race-winning team Trackhouse Racing. But, to this point in the season, his lead in the rookie standings can be chalked up to the speed that Spire Motorsports has found this season, as well as the two amazing recoveries that Hocevar has made in the last two weeks to score a pair of 15th-place results.

Following the ‘West Coast Swing’, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway, a race that the Spire Motorsports driver likely has circled on his calendar, after having a stellar run with LEGACY MOTOR CLUB last Fall, running inside the top-five on pace, before running the entire final run of the race with a loose wheel, and recording a career-best 11th-place finish.

With the field closer than ever before and Spire Motorsports on a clear path toward the front of the pack, it’s not ridiculous to think that Carson Hocevar could find himself with a couple of tallies in the top-five or top-10 column before the end of his rookie campaign… and maybe, if things fall in line just right, a trip to Victory Lane for the No. 77 Chevrolet Camaro.

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