It was Corey Heim’s championship to lose in Friday evening’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Phoenix Raceway. And with 30 laps remaining, Carson Hocevar’s reputation took another turn for the worse when he spun Heim.
Heim started from the pole and finished among the top two in the opening two stages, claiming his eighth stage victory of the season in the second stage. The No. 11 Toyota led 47 laps and was driving through the field after a late caution in the second stage flipped the Championship 4 drivers’ strategies. Hocevar was the only championship-eligible driver to pit, giving him track position to begin the final stage.
Quickly, Heim raced all the way up and passed Hocevar for fifth position. It wasn’t long into the battle when Heim was tagged in the left rear quarter panel by Hocevar, which also collected Stewart Friesen.
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“I‘m just more mad right now that I cost [Tricon] a shot to win the championship,” Hocevar said. “I don‘t care about my reputation right now, I just feel bad that I robbed [Heim]of that. I feel sorry for him. I can‘t say that I was mad, I just messed up.”
After the spin, Heim pitted for fresh tires. He drove all the way up to sixth position before his truck began to fade. It dropped quickly, and he ultimately got into Hocevar to end the No. 42 truck’s race. In the process, the No. 11 truck was also damaged.
“I had no sideforce and once someone puts it on my door, you lose sideforce and you lose control,” Heim said, noting he didn’t intentionally get into Hocevar.
Both drivers have raced throughout the ranks together. They’ve had multiple run-ins in the past, Heim said, at every level they’ve competed in. He wasn’t surprised by the contact.
“He‘s been racing at me like that since he was five years old when I was racing him in quarter midgets,” Heim said. “He‘s run into me in late models, he‘s run into me in ARCA, he‘s run into me in trucks, you name it. I‘m sure it‘s not over between us in the future. We‘re not racing in the same series anymore, but you run into me three times and finally had enough fun and just wrecked me.
“We can hold our heads high, I feel like we‘ve had a great season with three wins and should have had a championship tonight.”
Heim thought his truck was the class of the field with his closest competition being Ty Majeski and Zane Smith. With a bunch of late-race carnage that ended the race in four overtimes, he finished 18th, placing third in the championship battle.
Hocever, who has had a mixed reputation over the last two seasons, was credited with a 29th-place finish. He will move to the Cup Series next season to compete with Spire Motorsports.
“Every guy on Sunday is going to see that and understand what they are going to be racing against,” Heim said.
Meanwhile, Hocevar repeatedly sated that the contact with Heim was a slip.
“I messed up,” he said. “I didn‘t even want to run the rest of the laps. I wanted to crawl into a hole and I just feel bad. I‘m trying so hard to be better and trying to stay with him. I wasn‘t going to give up. I just didn‘t know how to give up in that moment. I didn‘t want to wreck him, I didn‘t want to hit him that hard, I didn‘t want to spin him. I was just trying to hold him up a little bit.”
Ben Rhodes became a two-time series championship, edging out Grant Enfinger, who made a late rally in the final two overtimes. Rhodes became the fifth driver in series history to win multiple championships.