Race Weekend Central

MNR Review: Corey Heim Shines, Carson Hocevar Makes Presence Felt at Daytona Road Course

This MNR Review is presented by Monday Night Racing. 

The Interstate Batteries Monday Night Racing Pro Series ran its third race of season six on Monday (Nov. 21). NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Corey Heim took the checkered flag in the Tufco 80 Minutes at the Daytona International Speedway road course, driving Mazda MX-5s.

Check out the race recap from Frontstretch’s Joy Tomlinson here. Also, you can view the full race broadcast, along with the Frontstretch post-race show featuring Brandon Hauff and Michael Massie, on the Frontstretch YouTube page or the Podium eSports Twitch channel.  Here are five takeaways from Monday’s action:

1. Corey Heim Gets in Front of the Havoc

Heim’s win was the exclamation point on an eventful night of racing. The combination of the lower horsepower Mazda MX-5 sports cars on the technical, winding Daytona road course led to a race that featured both the precision of road courses and the pack racing and drafting of superspeedways. The juggling of both styles resulted in 10 different leaders, numerous lead changes and comers and goers throughout the 80-minute race.

See also
Corey Heim Wins on Last-Lap Pass at Daytona Road Course in MNR

Heim’s journey through the field perfectly embodied the complexion of the race. After starting out as one of the frontrunners, Heim got involved in an accident in turn 1 about 20 minutes into the race. Just a couple of minutes later, Heim played a minor role in another accident off of NASCAR turn 4.

It looked as though Heim’s chances at winning were shot, but he drove clean the rest of the way and capitalized on the mistakes of others. He eventually drafted his way past Joey Padgett to the lead on the final lap while holding off a pack through the tri-oval to win and clinch his spot in the Monday Night Racing playoffs.

The win is Heim’s third career Monday Night Racing victory, to go along with two checkered flags in NASCAR Xfinity Series cars at Legacy Texas Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. In his interview on the post-race show with Hauff and Massie, Heim was asked how this win compared to his two from last season.

“It’s kind of apples to oranges,” Heim said. “Those are completely different races and strategies where you are trying to save tires. Rather with this one, you’re just trying to save fuel, and it’s endurance racing with lower horsepower.”

2. Carson Hocevar’s Controversial Debut

The Tufco 80 Minutes saw multiple NASCAR figures make their MNR debut, perhaps none more anticipated than NASCAR Truck Series playoff driver Carson Hocevar. Hocevar came into the race with high expectations, having won a practice race the previous day and qualifying 11th in the massive 47-car field.

However, wrecks and bad fortune would hit the 19-year-old early and often throughout the evening. Just seven minutes in, Hocevar was shown spun out in the backstretch bus stop, though it was unclear what happened to him. He broke his rear suspension from the incident, and unable to move off course, Hocevar got hit again by an incoming Josh Slate. This forced Hocevar to tow to pit road for repairs and come out on the tail end of the lead lap.

For the rest of the night, Hocevar raced the leaders hard to stay on the lead lap, playing a role in the outcome. He was involved in the turn 1 wreck involving Heim and Josh Bilicki, though Heim took the blame for it. Then, just before halfway, Hocevar and then-leader Will Rodgers made contact in the bus stop. Finally, Hocevar was a key player in the finish, as Heim drafted with him to set up the winning pass off of NASCAR turn 4.

Hocevar’s aggressive driving with the leaders was a topic of discussion on the post-race show, as Massie asked both Padgett and Heim about it.

“I don’t know exactly what happened,” Heim said, “But I had a problem with him earlier in the race. It was all my fault. I overdrove the corner, my brakes had an issue and I wasn’t able to slow down enough. I think he was trying to prove a point that he could compete for the win. I think some people are mad, but I don’t blame him.”

Padgett was also unsure why Hocevar was racing the leaders so hard late in the race despite being lapped traffic.

“I don’t know, I guess he got into it with Corey [Heim] early and was proving a point,” Padgett said. “I thought if he could just hold Corey for a little bit [on the last lap] that we could maybe have a shot, but the draft was too strong.”

Race control never told Hocevar to move over during the race, but MNR leadership did speak to him about it after the race.

Will we see Hocevar in Monday Night Racing again? If so, will his actions at Daytona road course carry on to future MNR events?

3. A Silent Night for the Big 3 S’s

One of the early themes of this MNR season has been the performance of the big “S” drivers David Schildhouse, Presley Sorah and Garrett Smithley. That trend did not continue at Daytona, as all three drivers did not factor into the battle for the race win.

See also
MNR Review: Veterans Shine, Rookies Have Rude Awakening at Talladega

Schildhouse was a driver to watch, having won this race in MNR season 5. However, he started 18th in the field and made little headway as the 80-minute race progressed, finishing 16th.

Sorah came into the Daytona road course with a third-place finish last week at Twin Ring Montegi and a fourth-place showing in the season opener at Talladega Superspeedway. Unfortunately for him, Sorah succumbed to major damage from a wreck 22 minutes into the race, putting him in a gap that he could not overcome, placing 28th.

Smithley, the Talladega winner, was 16th when the green flag flew, making brief appearances in the back half of the top 10 before a late-race issue sent him plummeting to 36th in the final race results.

Will the “three S’s” be able to bounce back from these poor showings? Most likely, they will. Sorah is the defending MNR champion, Schildhouse went deep in last season’s playoffs and Smithley has already booked a spot in the season six postseason with his Talladega win. I expect this trio to come storming back next week in the Xfinity cars at Legacy Texas.

4. Format Changes Play a Factor

While MNR did run the Daytona road course in Mazda MX-5s lasts year, MNR leadership made some minor tweaks to the race format, which changed the strategy of the race. First, the race length was bumped up from 70 minutes to 80 minutes. Secondly, they slightly reduced the fuel load from 40% to 35%.

As a result of these changes, drivers were forced to make three pit stops as supposed to two in last year’s event. Also, many of the leaders made that third and final pit stop with about eight minutes left in the race; at that point last year, the race would have already been over.

In his postrace interview, Heim mentioned the format changes and made a point of complimenting the MNR crew for the changes.

“MNR does a really phenomenal job with how they set up the fuel strategies and tire strategies, and it makes it a really fun and strategic race,” Heim said.

It is great to see MNR constantly changing and innovating to keep the racing product fresh and drivers on their toes, and I look forward to seeing what else they have in store as season six progresses.

5. More Road Courses Please

In the first installment of MNR Review, my colleague Joy Tomlinson expressed a desire to see a wider variety of racetracks in the MNR schedule, specifically short tracks. I concur with Joy’s statement, but with more road courses instead.

The Daytona road course produced great racing this week, but the way it raced, it almost felt like a half-road course, half-superspeedway event. I would like to see the inclusion of a different road course without pack racing or high-banked turns like Daytona.

Keeping with the uniqueness of MNR, it should be a track/car combination that we have not seen or rarely seen in real life. My recommendation would be Road America with the NASCAR Trucks. It would be a great test of driver skill and versatility, which is what Monday Night Racing is all about.

About the author

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and the University of Richmond. He is a high school history teacher and cross country/track & field coach for his day job.

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