Saturday, March 25, 2023

XFINITY: Carson Hocevar’s first last-place finish concludes his rough day at COTA

PHOTO: Jared Haas, @RealJaredHaas

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Carson Hocevar scored the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Pit Boss 250 presented by USA Today at the Circuit of the Americas when his #07 Engine Parts Plus Chevrolet lost the transmission after 7 of 46 laps.

The finish came in Hocevar’s series debut. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 13th for the #07, the 51st for the transmission, and the 613th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 24th for the #07, the 171st from the transmission, and the 1,878th for Chevrolet.

Among this week’s “Silly Season” news was that of Bobby Dotter’s team SS-Green Light Racing, which had endured a particularly difficult start to the 2023 season. The team had hired Blaine Perkins to drive their #07 Chevrolet, but their 22nd-place run in Atlanta was their only finish better than 31t through the season’s first five races. Driver and team parted ways, opening the door for a replacement. They selected Carson Hocevar, who was originally slated to make his XFINITY debut later this season in a new #77 Chevrolet fielded by Spire Motorsports.

Hocevar would pull double-duty on Saturday with his full-time ride for Niece Motorsports in the #42 Chevrolet for the Craftsman Truck Series. The Truck race at COTA would mark just his 58th series start, but in just five years the Michigan native and protégé of Johnny Benson, Jr. has become a fixture of the garage area. His many close calls for an elusive first victory have earned him fans in the stands, but his aggression has at times infuriated some of his fellow competitors. Both rallied around Hocevar last June, where he injured his leg in a last-lap crash at Gateway, then with crutches still chose to run the next round at Sonoma. There, he won the pole – only to crash just after his timed lap. A Playoff challenger the last three years, Hocevar continues to seek his first victory.

That win wouldn’t come Saturday at COTA. Brake issues sent his #42 into the gravel trap off Turn 1, and a subsequent axle issue put him out of the race for good, leaving him 34th in a field of 36. In a week that saw him participate in the tire test at North Wilkesboro for the upcoming race in May, Hocevar looked ahead to his XFINITY debut.

Hocevar was one of 42 drivers entered for the 38-car starting grid. He ranked 30th in practice, then in qualifying jumped to 8th-fastest in Qualifying Group 1A with a lap of 90.669mph (135.393 seconds). Just short of a spot in Round 2, Hocevar secured the 17th spot on the starting grid alongside JR Motorsports’ road course ringer Miguel Paludo. 

The four drivers sent home included Argentinian driver Baltzar Leguizamon, who drove CHK Racing’s #74 TEDIT / Altstadt Brewery Chevrolet after sponsorship fell through to drive Motorsports Business Management’s #66. Cameron Lawrence, Leguizamon’s replacement, also missed the cut in the #66 Impact Health Labs / RAFA Racing Club Toyota, and was joined by Garrett Smithley in the #4 2-C Equipment Chevrolet and Parker Chase in the #35 ONTIVITY Toyota. Chase had damaged his car in a practice incident where he slid into a gravel trap.

Securing the 38th and final starting spot was Kyle Sieg, who ran an unsponsored black #28 Ford for RSS Racing. Sieg would retain the last spot at the green flag, 4.636 seconds back of the lead at the stripe, as his was one of the 13 starters to incur pre-race penalties for unapproved adjustments. 

Sent to the back with Kyle Sieg were 8th-place Justin Allgaier in the #7 BRANDT Chevrolet, 10th-place Cole Custer in the #00 Haas Automation Ford, 16th-place Sage Karam in the #44 Quality Roof Seamers Chevrolet, 20th-place Kaz Grala in the #26 Fire Department Coffee Toyota, 23rd-place Alex Labbe, a suspended Josh Williams’ substitute in the #92 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet, 27th-place Chandler Smith in the #16 Quick Tie Products Inc. Chevrolet, 28th-place Brett Moffitt in the #25 AM Technical Solutions Ford, 29th-place Anthony Alfredo in the #78 Pit Boss Chevrolet, 33rd-place Kyle Weatherman in the bright yellow unsponsored #02 Our Motorsports Chevrolet, 35th-place Joe Graf, Jr. in the #38 G-Coin Ford, and 37th-place Brennan Poole in the #6 BeONE Sports Chevrolet.

Here were the final 11 drivers to cross the starting line, and where each was originally scheduled to start:

28-29) 78-Alfredo 3.061
29-8) 7-Allgaier 3.065
30-10) 00-Custer 3.310
31-33) 02-Weatherman 3.335
32-16) 44-Karam 3.586
33-36) 45-Earnhardt 3.624
34-20) 26-Grala 3.731
35-37) 6-Poole 3.834
36-28) 25-Moffitt 3.892
37-35) 38-Graf 4.226
38-38) 28-Kyle Sieg 4.636

As indicated by the intervals, Kyle Sieg trailed teammate Joe Graf, Jr. by four-tenths of a second across the stripe, which allowed both an orderly trip through the first corner. Further ahead, 15th-place starter Josh Berry stoved in the nose of his #8 Tire Pros Love The Drive Chevrole when he rear-ended William Byron’s #17 Chevrolet. Both continue on, and Kyle Sieg remained last until the entrance to the Carouel at Turn 12, where 13th-place Aric Almirola spun his #08 Rush Truck Centers Ford. This dropped Almirola to last across the stripe, 18.330 seconds back of the lead and two seconds back of Kyle Sieg. Almirola then set after the #28, and by Lap 3 leapfrogged both he and Graf to take over the 36th spot. This put Kyle Sieg back to last once more, and he was now 31.031 seconds back of the lead on Lap 4.

On Lap 6, the spot fell to Brad Perez, who qualified at the scene of his Truck Series debut last year in the Emerling-Gase Motorsports #53 Apex Coffee Roasters / Weiss Sand & Clay LP Chevrolet. At that moment, Perez had dropped five seconds back of now 37th-place Kyle Sieg, a full 47 seconds back of the lead. The next time by, Sage Karam incurred a pass-through penalty for cutting the course, and dropped a full 15 seconds back of now 37th-place Perez, 67.390 seconds back of the lead. He only held the spot for a moment. 

During the side-by-side commercial break, Carson Hocevar’s #07 stopped on the outside of Turn 1, drawing the caution flag. Hocevar had held onto the 15th spot in the early laps and had just slipped to 16th before the transmission failed. He climbed out, done for the afternoon, and his car was towed to the garage.

Two laps later, Brennan Poole made his own extended stay in the garage area, and he ultimately lost 13 laps to the leaders. He returned to the track and climbed out of the Bottom Five, passing a group of other cars that had fallen out. Taking 37th was last week’s winner Austin Hill, whose #21 Bennett Transportation Chevrolet suffered a mechanical issue that put him behind the wall on Lap 16. Pardus Racing, Inc. qualified for its first race in their very first attempt, but Preston Pardus incurred at least one pit road penalty before suspension issues left his #50 Garage Oil Spirits Chevrolet in 36th. Blown engines eliminated both Sage Karam in 35th and Brett Moffitt, who stalled on the track after completing 27 laps.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #07 in a XFINITY Series race since March 5, 2022, when Joe Graf, Jr. was disqualified for a lug nut issue at Las Vegas.

38) #07-Carson Hocevar / 7 laps / transmission
37) #21-Austin Hill / 13 laps / engine
36) #50-Preston Pardus / 16 laps / suspension
35) #44-Sage Karam / 23 laps / engine
34) #25-Brett Moffitt / 27 laps / engine

1st) SS-Green Light Racing (2)
2nd) CHK Racing, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


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