AVONDALE, Ariz. – Battling for a championship asks for more than the best from the best.
That tends to lead to mistakes, misjudgments, and the resurfacing of old habits.
While on differing pit strategies, Hocevar was somewhat forced into a situation where he had to try something opposite of Heim to hunt him down and contend for the crown.
And then, it didn’t.
He drove to the inside of Heim with less than 30 laps to go, a pass that would most likely determine the championship. But Hocevar got tight and slid the front tires straight into the left rear quarter panel of Heim, sending him spinning and collecting the innocent bystander of Stewart Friesen.
“I just tried to what I did in three and four and stay at his back bumper and do everything I could to just stay there,” Hocevar reflected after the race. “My only goal was to try and slow him down so he didn’t get too many cars ahead of us and I was just trying to hold them up and I didn’t expect him to be low.
“I thought he was gonna kind of miss the corner the way he entered and I thought we were both going to try and slide job the corner. I haven’t seen the replay or anything. I just messed up. I was just trying to roll the corner and I was committed to half a slider-ish thinking he was going to slide and he never slid.
“I’m just dumb.”
It wasn’t just fighting for a race win. The championship was on the line, and Heim took offense to the wreck. With less than three laps to go, Heim dropped back and wrecked Hocevar back in turn two, claiming a broken part.
Hocevar accepted the payback with heavy remorse.
“I deserve (the retaliation),” shared Hocevar after being released from the infield care center. “I didn’t even want to run the last few laps. I just wanted to go crawl into a hole. I was trying so hard to be better. I just needed to just give up and 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 didn’t want to do anything.”
Grant Enfinger was in position to win the title, but the late caution sparked a chain reaction of four overtime attempts to final conclude the race. One could argue that the impact cost Heim the championship, who was the only Playoff contender to lead laps in the Craftsman 150. Another argument could be made for Enfinger that the retaliation cost him his first career championship in the final season of GMS Racing before shutting down their operation. Ben Rhodes was able to survive the ensuing chaos and edge out Enfinger by mere truck lengths to claim his second career Truck Series championship.
And Hocevar understood that not one but two were victims of pure larceny on Friday night.
I didn’t even want to run the last few laps. I just wanted to go crawl into a hole.
“They should win the championship,” Hocevar continued dejectedly. “I didn’t want to do that at all, and with my track record, it’s just going to kill me. I can’t sit here and say I didn’t mean to. I just fucked up. Honestly, I just messed up and I was just trying really hard. I was blocking and doing everything I could. I just tried to slow him up and messed up.
“I’m just more mad right now that I cost them a shot to win the championship. I don’t care about my reputation right now. Now I just feel bad that I robbed them of that, and I just feel sorry for them. I can’t say that was by accident. I just messed up.”
Hocevar would be credited with a 29th place result as he graduates to the NASCAR Cup Series level, driving the No. 77 Chevrolet Camaro for Spire Motorsports next year.
He’ll have to learn how to put this behind him before February.
“I’ll have three months to figure it out.”