Carson Hocevar under pressure from NASCAR, peers after Nashville transgression

Fellow Cup Series drivers believe in the talent but wanted a message sent back via the penalty report

NASCAR: Goodyear 400 - Practice and Qualifying
Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Carson Hocevar is adamant that what happened with Harrison Burton last weekend at Nashville Superspeedway wasn’t a ‘red mist moment’ but also concedes he needs to be better.

Hocevar was fined $50,000 and issued a 25-point penalty for right rear hooking Burton under caution on Lap 244 of the Ally 400. There was an issue between them earlier in the race, a big block under green, and Burton brake checked him down the straightaway so Hocevar wanted to send a message.

NASCAR sent one back.

“You know, I didn’t go up there and plan to crash him,” Hocevar said on Saturday in Downtown Chicago. “I didn’t have the red mist as (Spire Racing president) Doug Duchardt would say. I just went up there to bump him and he wanted to brake check me and that was a case of two frustrated people and he spun around before I even knew it.”

The lesson Hocevar says he learned is that he likened the incident to a bar fight.

“You see on the news the person who hit the guy and knocked him down on the ground but never what initiated it, the person who threw the first punch who was the root of the cause. I shouldn’t go up to bump anyone regardless of if you saw your heroes do it and got it done to you.

“I have to be a little bit better than that and either go up next to them and wave at them or see them in the motor home lot.”

Hocevar says the SMT data shows a different picture of what caused Burton to ultimately spin out.

“It’s not my call but the people that know and have seen the SMT can show that I didn’t throttle up and I didn’t turn the wheel a whole lot,” Hocevar said. “The car in front of me used quite a lot of brake pressure but … I’m moving forward and ready for this Chicago race.”

His peers have been really critical of Hocevar this week. Denny Hamlin called for NASCAR for fine him before the decision was made because of the repeat instances over the years.

“Carson goes through these moments where he’ll be fine and then all of a sudden, he’ll just lose it,” Hamlin said. “Certainly, Harrison took exception to it as he should. The 77 crashed him under caution. You need to dig into his pocket. Points is whatever, I don’t really know if he cares about points. … You  have to do something.”

Reigning Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney offered really pointed commentary over the matter.

“Yeah, don’t hook anyone,” Blaney said. “You get penalized, pay money, pay points, park them if you have to. That’s something I’ve seen too many times out of that guy from different series and it’s not cool.”

He says he supports the punishment.

“That’s the only way you’ll get that stuff to stop,” Blaney said. “You have to make them pay a lot of money, fine them points, things like that. If it’s bad enough, make them sit out. There are a lot of no-nos you learn as a young driver and that’s one of them. You don’t do it.

“And I don’t care if it’s under caution or under green (because) both of them are bad. Obviously, under green is worse. I think NASCAR did the right thing of penalizing him because you have to. There has to be repercussions for what you do when it’s something like that and it recurring from him.”

Brad Keselowski once went through a well-documented rivalry with Carl Edwards as a young driver.

“I certainly understand how hard it is to break through in the Cup Series and that desire to make an immediate impact,” Keselowski said. “You have to be careful in my experience, to not allow that to be a negative to you, trying too hard.

“It’s a good and bad thing to try too hard sometimes. You certainly prefer a guy that tries too hard than one who doesn’t try at all. There’s a sweet spot that I think each driver has to find on their own. There’s a strong argument to me that (Carson) is on the wrong side of that right now and I hope for his own sake, he can find that spot.”

To Keselowski’s point, Hocevar concedes that his passion is something that occasionally controls him instead of the other way around.

“I feel like I have established myself over the past year with all the starts I made,” Hocevar said. “I’m still a rookie but I do feel like I’m good enough to take advantage of mistakes that drivers that have been here three or four years make, or guys that drive like they don’t care or are just slow.

“But I was never going to get pushed around. I am way more passionate than I probably should be about this and I’m running good.  I am very critical of myself but I’m going to race hard and I feel like I’m not running into people every week.

“And take a thing like Christopher Bell. We text back and forth and I use him as a sounding board and I feel like there’s respect that wasn’t there earlier in the season.”

Bell detailed that story of what happened between them at Texas.

“He was racing me in a way that I thought he was mad at me so I asked, ‘are you mad at me, do we have a problem’ and he said ‘no, why’ so I explained how the way we were racing each other gave me the vibe that we had a problem,” Bell said. “Ever since we had that communication, we’ve been good.

“I let him go when he has a run going and he’s given me that respect back. He’s been really good me.”

Ross Chastain has served as a friend and mentor to Hocevar over the years and urged everyone to remember that he’s a 20-year-old learning to race Cup in real time. It’s also something he went through once he started driving race winning Cup cars too.  

“I think back to what I was doing at 20 years old and I wasn’t that fast,” Chastain said. “I am constantly amazed at how he makes speed with these cars. And then off the track, he has a group around him that is there to help him grow and grow with him for the long haul. Because he’s so fast, they are invested in growing with him.”

That support group includes Spire co-owner Jeff Dickerson whose agency represented Chastain for years and agent Phil Smalley who also worked hand-in-hand with Chastain and now oversees Hocevar at Motorsports Management International.

“Cars and I talked yesterday and he has a good group of people here at the track so he doesn’t need me,” Chastain said. “He’s got Jeff Dickerson and he’s great. I talked to him earlier in the week. One of Jeff’s strong suits is that he’s very good at dealing with this and helped me get through some of my past mistakes.  

“It was really refreshing to hear from Jeff and what they went through and how they worked through it this week.”

And to Chastain’s point, Hocevar has shown real promise and was in the mix for Rookie of the Year until his points penalty dealt a setback to his points battle with Josh Berry.

“I wanted to say I’m happy with our speed but really, I’m happy with our progression,” Hocevar said. “We still want to get better. We get frustrated even running 8th to 10th. We would popping champagne bottles last year with those kind of runs but we want to be a front runner.

“We’re happy with the progression but want to be much better.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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