Zane Smith said yesterday, before he made his first start for JR Motorsports, that “to be there at the end” was what the driver wanted to achieve in his first Xfinity race.
Smith accomplished just that, even if the ending wasn’t what he hoped for. Running just outside the top 10 for nearly the entirety of Saturday’s race in Las Vegas, Smith was running 12th in the first overtime when Tyler Reddick, battling for the lead with Kyle Busch, spun entering turn 4 and came up the track. A massive wreck unfolded, and Smith had nowhere to put his No. 8 Chevrolet, plowing into the side of Reddick’s machine and ending the race in 24th.
That finish was not representative of how the 2018 ARCA Racing Series Rookie of the Year ran. On a day where JR Motorsports was not up to their usual standard (Justin Allgaier DNF’d with engine trouble), Smith ran among and even alongside full-time teammates Michael Annett and Noah Gragson, navigating multiple three-wide scenarios with a steady hand. Minus a lap 60 incident where Smith spun Austin Cindric correcting his car in turn 2, his debut was quiet and uneventful…exactly what a driver making his first start for any team is looking for.
For Smith, the importance of such a result can’t be undervalued…as the organization he ran with last year in the ARCA ranks, winning four races and finishing second in points, doesn’t exist anymore. And he’s found his new home to be somewhere he wants to be.
“Me and Noah [Gragson] are good buddies,” said Smith of the JRM stable. “[But] Allgaier is awesome.”
“It’s hard to explain,” Smith said of his veteran teammate. “He’s so intimidating. He’s the nicest guy off the track, but on the track, he’s really good and races you super hard.”
“[But] on the plane, Allgaier walks around with a trash bag collecting other people’s trash.”
With such praise for JRM’s flagship driver, Smith was asked whether being around such figures made him a better driver or person. He said both but leaned more towards person.
Based on the results of Saturday’s race, they’re making him a better driver as well.