NASCAR’s Corey Heim shifts gears to win Heart of America 200 at Kansas Speedway

NASCAR’s Corey Heim would not be distracted from his day job.

Heim, a 21-year-old from Marietta, Ga., dominated the Craftsman Trucks Series Heart of America 200 on a chilly Saturday night at Kansas Speedway for his second win of the season.

And as soon as he took the checkered flag, Heim shifted his attention to the biggest opportunity of his young career, filling in as a substitute for injured Erik Jones in the NASCAR Cup AdventHealth 400 on Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

Heim spent Saturday afternoon practicing and qualifying 20th for the Cup race. A couple of hours later, Heim led 79 of the 134 laps in the No. 11 Toyota and held off Zane Smith by 1.088 seconds for his seventh career win.

“The mental switch I had to do between the Cup car and the truck was pretty tough,” Heim said. “But I’ve started enough trucks series races, especially at Kansas, I was able to flip that switch and transfer what I needed to after I got out of the Cup car.”

Heim, Christian Eckes, who won last fall’s trucks race at Kansas and Smith, the 2022 winner at Kansas and 2022 trucks champion, traded the lead for most of the race until Smith’s No. 91 Chevrolet had a botched pit stop, causing him to lose eight positions.

Smith, who had led 29 laps, kept closing in on Heim but couldn’t overcome the pit-stop debacle.

“You can’t lose eight spots on pit road,” said Smith, the only Cup regular entered in the race. “I felt like we had the winning truck, but you can’t do anything about that.”

Heim, meanwhile, continued to show why Legacy Motor Club tapped him to step into the legendary No. 43 made famous by Richard Petty until Jones can return from a back injury.

In addition to his two wins this season, Heim has finished in the top 10 in all eight trucks races this season, posting second-place finishes in the season-opener at Daytona and in the previous race at Fort Worth. And he has been in the top 10 in 23 of his last 24 starts, including second- and fourth-place finishes in last year’s races at Kansas.

“Yeah, I feel like we’ve definitely given some away at Kansas,” Heim said. “So, to finally close this one out, and the first intermediate track win, because we’ve been so solid on the intermediate tracks, ever since I started trucks racing, to finally get that win is so special to me.”

The victory also vaulted Heim into first place in the trucks standings, seven points ahead of Eckes.

“We keep getting better and keeping the gap between the second-place guys,” said Heim. “I knew we would be capable of winning today. It’s about getting more consistency the rest of the year and going for the championship.”

In Heim’s first Cup start in place of Jones last week at Dover, he started 32nd and finished 25th, giving him much-needed experience and confidence to race at that level.

“Anytime you race against the Cup guys, they’re, of course, the best in NASCAR, you’re going to learn a thing or two; the tendences, and how they block and how the restarts are,” Heim said. “Having that mindset of having to perform at the best of your ability, and you can’t overstep it or you’ll put yourself in a bad spot. When you race the Cup guys, that elevates a little bit, and you have to drive the (crap) out of the race car and hope it sticks.”

Back and forth

Nick Sanchez had the wildest ride of the night. Sanchez, a two-time ARCA winner at Kansas, failed pre-race inspection three times before passing.

He began the race at the rear of the field and worked his way from 31st to first on the 68th lap. But he lost eight spots to ninth after a shaky pit stop.

The race had one scary moment when Lawless Allen collided with his front tire changer during a pit stop. The tire changer was taken to the medical center where he was evaluated and released and returned to pit lane.

The trucks of Cam Waters and Lane Riggs got tangled up while battling for 18th position on the final lap, and they confronted each other on pit road after the race. But no fisticuffs ensued.

Jennifer Jo Cobb of Kansas City, Kansas, made her 19th career trucks start at Kansas and finished 32nd.