He was wrong.
Two races after his victory, Hocevar wrecked himself when he tried to turn Taylor Gray after they made contact at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Not only did Hocevar suffer a cut a tire, but NASCAR parked him for two laps.
That incident resulted in heat, including criticism from the likes of Hamlin, who tweeted “What’s wrong with this kid?” That led Hocevar to drop out of his own podcast after only a few episodes.
Hocevar found himself having more awkward conversations.
“I’m like, ‘Why are these conversations still happening?’” Hocevar said on “Door. Bumper. Clear.”
It also led to a “big piece of humble pie” with one of his childhood idols: Dale Earnhardt Jr. It happened during a conversation at JR Motorsports.
“The first thing out of his mouth, he said, ‘Hey, man, like when are going you stop tearing (shit) up?’” Hocevar recalled. “He’s like, ‘You ain’t gonna do that with one these (Xfinity Series) cars are you? … You’re better than that.’”
Hocevar’s response was to think, “Man, I gotta fix this really fast.”
Whatever he did has worked.
Following his Texas victory and after the Martinsville fiasco, the Niece Motorsports driver earned two more Truck Series wins — at Nashville Superspeedway and Richmond (Va.) Raceway — before the playoffs began in August.
He also made five Xfinity Series starts, four with Spire Motorsports, and turned heads with top-10 finishes at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
A week after Charlotte, he made his Cup Series debut. It came three years after he was earning super late model wins at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway, Anderson (Ind.) Speedway, Michigan’s Berlin Raceway and I-44 Speedway in Missouri.
It was seven years after he earned the Berlin track championship as a 14-year-old.
Thanks to Chase Elliott’s suspension for intentionally wrecking Hamlin and Spire Motorsports’ Corey LaJoie subbing for him, Hocevar was entrusted with LaJoie’s No. 7 car at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Hocevar impressed, as he outran LaJoie in Hendrick Motorsports equipment and raced among the top 20 before he wrecked due brake failure.
“Never thought I’d be driving a Cup car and the fact I got to do it this year was huge,” Hocevar said. “Just having speed at the Xfinity and Cup Series levels reassures I’m doing the right things.”
Chastain noted Hocevar’s growth.
“When we talk, we’re not that different, just different levels, ages, chapters of our life,” Chastain said after he won the June 25 Cup Series race at Nashville Superspeedway. “We’re kind of fighting the same things. We make mistakes when we’re really fast. Should probably just let it play out. I’ve been open with him about the things he needs to improve on. I’m looking at him as 30 years old, but he’s so much younger; mentally we’re trying to get through this with a lot of criticism on him.
“I criticized him when I thought he needed it. I thought I explained my view of it. Yeah, we’ve seen obviously a 2.0 version of him.”
You could say he’s undergone a metamorphosis.
“What does metamorphosis mean?” Hocevar asked during the Truck Series playoff media day.
A big change.
“That’s what I was kind of figuring. But I didn’t want to assume,” Hocevar said.
Hocevar doesn’t view the drastically different stages of his season as having taken place in the same year.
“Such a disconnect for me that it feels like it was two different years, it doesn’t even feel like it was just a few months ago,” he concluded.
This story appeared in the Sept 6, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.