Carson Hocevar heads to Daytona for his first attempt at the Daytona 500 (Feb. 18, 2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) as one of three Cup Series rookies who will compete full-time in the 2024 season. The magnitude and weight of the upcoming Speedweeks and season are not lost on the driver of the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet as he embarks on all the new challenges he will face.
“I haven’t really thought about (Daytona) yet,” Hocevar said in a virtual teleconference with the media Wednesday. “The bigger thing for me is just being in this field, even having a Cup car, period, let alone racing in the Daytona 500. It all just seems so big. I’m just enjoying it. It’s how I was able to go into last year and not be so nervous. I thought it was a win just to be in the field, let alone focusing on performance or expectations.”
Hocevar made nine Cup Series starts in 2023, with his first coming with his now full-time home — Spire Motorsports — when he filled the seat in the No. 7 as Corey LaJoie stepped in for Chase Elliott at World Wide Technology Raceway. Hocevar turned heads that day, racing his way inside the top 15 before a brake issue ended his race early. Hocevar’s best finish of the year came in the No. 42 for Legacy Motor Club at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he finished 11th.
When it comes to racing full-time at NASCAR’s highest level, Hocevar wants to manage expectations for himself and his No. 77 group.
“The goal on our whiteboard is definitely win Rookie of the Year,” Hocevar said. “Spire has two shots at it, but the No. 77 team definitely wants to be that one to get it. We just kind of have the top 20 in mind, really. Whether it is top 20 in points this year or next year, that is sort of my benchmark, at least. I just want to focus on being above a top 20 average in finish or points, which would be a huge gain from last year.
“I don’t really have, you know, ‘I wanna get this many top fives’ or ‘I wanna win the race.’ I don’t have a top-10 goal; I don’t have anything like that. You know, it’s just top 20 in points, then I can look at the end of the year and see if we could’ve gotten to that goal. If we do hit that goal, then we just erase it and move on to the next one.”
When it comes to the aforementioned Rookie of the Year battle, Hocevar will be taking on the new driver of the No. 4 for Stewart-Haas Racing, Josh Berry, but it also comes with some friendly competition between himself and teammate and driver of the No. 71, Zane Smith — a pairing that Hocevar is more apt to take advantage of than speak down on.
“There’s not any trash talk yet,” Hocevar chuckled. “If anything, we’re both putting more pressure our Truck Series guys to perform, you know, I was able to win some races and race in the Championship 4, and (Zane) obviously won a championship and made many Championship 4 appearances. So, we’re more harder on Rajah (Caruth) and (Chase) Purdy, which is fun.
“It’s super cool, you know, I think we’re both benefiting from being with each other, right? We’re both experiencing this for the first time, we’ve both raced against each other. We would laugh about it all the time when we raced trucks, I knew his deal was signed before the public knew, so we would laugh about it all the time. We trash-talked each other more last year because we were competing in the trucks. This year, I think we’re both leaning on each other to be like, ‘Hey, you’re experiencing this too, right?’ I think it has been really beneficial on both ends.”
When it’s all said and done and the dust settles on his rookie campaign, all Hocevar really hopes for at the end of the 2024 Cup Series season is consistency and to get the field talking about the No. 77 team on a more regular basis.
“I plan on racing people pretty hard, but at the same time I know there is that fine line to balance,” Hocevar said. “Luckily, I’ve ran anywhere from fifth to 35th last year. So, I think everyone will kinda know what to expect and have to race the No. 77 a little bit more than they did last year.”