Carson Hocevar’s race started in the pits with a flat tire even before the green flag for Saturday night’s Worldwide Express 250 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway and ended with a celebration in Victory Lane.

The 20-year-old driver of the No. 42 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet passed the night’s most dominant driver, Ty Majeski, with only three laps remaining thanks to pit road strategy and a fast Chevy Silverado to claim his third win of the season by 2.308s.

“We didn’t come here to run second,’’ Hocevar said, adding, “I knew we had to do something different and new tires prevailed.’’

Corey Heim officially secured the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series 2023 regular season championship with a third-place finish in the opening stage. The 21-year old driver of the No. 11 TRICON Garage Toyota will start the seven-race Playoff portion of the season with an important 15-point bonus thanks to an incredible run to the regular season title that included a pair of wins. He finished sixth on Saturday – his series best 13th top-10 finish in 16 races.

“It really means a lot,’’ Heim said. “With TRICON Garage and Toyota Racing coming such a long way from the beginning of the year, I really felt like we had a lot of progress to make in the first four or five weeks and we’ve really been improving ever since.

“Tonight, it was a rough night at Richmond. It is kind of a unique race track. On the normal tracks, we’ve been really consistent. Still a good finish for us, but definitely want to do better leading into the Playoffs.”

After earning his second pole position of the season, Majeski absolutely dominated much of the race, sweeping both stage wins for the first time in his career and leading a dominating 168 of the 250 laps in the No. 98 ThorSport Racing Ford. His truck was so good Saturday that he even overcame a mid-race pit stop speeding penalty to regain the lead late race and try to hold off Hocevar. Majeski stayed out while Hocevar pitted for tires with 40 laps remaining, however, and was ultimately unable to hold off the fresh tires in the closing laps.

“Just didn’t have enough there,’’ a frustrated Majeski said. “Obviously made a mistake there, speeding on pit road, but we had a chance to win even with the penalty. It’s just so disappointing. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a dominant vehicle that much faster than the field and to not win with it is so hard.

“But we have fast race trucks and we’ll make a run at the Playoffs,’’he added.

The Playoff field – in points order – includes Heim, the 2022 series champion Zane Smith, who finished third at Richmond, Hocevar, Christian Eckes, Grant Enfinger, Majeski, 2021 series champion Ben Rhodes, rookie Nick Sanchez, Matt DiBenedetto and three-time series champion Matt Crafton.

Stewart Friesen came into the race ranked 11th, trailing Crafton by nine points, but Friesen’s No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet had a disappointing qualifying run – 23rd – and never really mounted a challenge forward on Saturday. He finished 27th.

“We brought a dull knife to a gunfight tonight,’’ a disappointed Friesen said.

Hocevar led 64 laps on the evening – moving into the lead position while Majeski was recovering from his pit road penalty.

“We passed every single truck here. The No. 98 (Majeski) was the class of the field but I thought we were second and won with the second best truck because I have the first best pit crew and first best crew chief on the box,’’ Hocevar said.

“I just love it,’’ he added.

Rookie Jake Garcia and Matt Mills rounded out the top five. Heim finished sixth, followed by Crafton, Sanchez, Enfinger and 16-year old William Sawalich making only his third series start.

The 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Playoffs begin on Aug. 11 with the TSport 200 at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park (9 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Enfinger is the defending race winner.