Zane Smith didn’t think he would be racing in 2019
Instead, here he is, entering his ninth and final race of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season for JR Motorsports this weekend at Dover International Speedway.
Smith, 20, won four races in 2018, his rookie campaign in the ARCA Menards Series. Driving for MDM Motorsports, he also posted 12 top-five finishes and 13 top 10s with one pole.
Despite finishing runner-up in the championship standings to MDM teammate Sheldon Creed, Smith didn’t have many options for 2019. His original plan was to run the full Gander Outdoors Truck Series schedule with GMS Racing.
When that deal fell through, Smith was just hoping to race again, as MDM shut its doors following the conclusion of the 2018 season finale.
“I would have liked to done the deal where it’s a year in K&N [Pro Series], year in ARCA, one or two years in Trucks and then Xfinity,” Smith recently told Frontstretch. “I only have a year of ARCA, which wasn’t even supposed to be a year — we just ran well and kept selling races.
“After last year, I thought I was going to be done, and somehow, we just made this year work. It’s been fun, and I’ve learned a ton – probably the most I’ve learned in all my years of racing.”
Smith’s racing career began at three years old on a BMX bike before getting into a go-kart, a Trophy car, a Legend car and a Super Late Model. His racing is funded off investors, with his top investors consisting of Roy Debhan of ProAm Racing, Tim Casey of La Paz Margarita Mix and La Paz Racing, and Jimmy Smith, former Truck Series team owner.
In his fifth race of the season at Iowa Speedway, La Paz Margarita Mix was even the primary sponsor on the No. 8 car. However, the company was “pretty maxed out with an Xfinity race.”
The goal of the investors is to one day push Smith all the way to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but if that doesn’t work, the California native just wants to race … anything.
“They have invested in me since I was 12 or 13 years old, and that’s to get me to the Cup level,” Smith said. “Pretty much for the rest of my life, I’ll be paying them back. The guys that I’ve always had are maxed out.
“My dad [Mike Smith] runs that off-road race team [Terrible Herbst Motorsports], so I thought, ‘Maybe I could just run one of those every once in a while.’ I just wanted to be racing and I thought I was going to be done. My apartment lease was just about up, and I was almost ready to move back to California. Then, we went to Vegas to have a couple of meetings, and somehow, it came to plan.”
Instead of running the full Truck schedule, Smith’s investors gathered together enough money for seven Xfinity Series races. Since announcing he would be driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, the investors and Smith have acquired money to sell two additional races.
And though Smith didn’t think he was necessarily ready for Xfinity, it was his only choice.
“I didn’t really have an option,” Smith added. “I knew I was ready for Trucks. We just couldn’t make it work to do a full year, so we said, ‘Let’s try to pick some short tracks or places the K&N guys go, it’s just going to be a lot harder field and harder cars to drive.’
“I would have liked to add more [races], but next year, I don’t know if I’d like to go back down – I really wouldn’t. I’d like to stay with JR Motorsports at the Xfinity level and go try to chase a championship. I feel like we can.”
Through his first eight races in the No. 8 car, Smith has five top-10 finishes, the highest total of the nine drivers splitting the ride. His best finish of the year came at the first Iowa race, taking the checkered flag in fifth.
Despite the success, Smith’s mentality is to always improve.
“I’d like to run better,” Smith stated. “You don’t want to look like an idiot out there, send the thing and hope for the best. I feel like if you do that, you’re just going to have a bad image with the team, so I try not to.
“I feel like we’ve raced well. I try to give 110% every single lap so I can easily go to bed every night knowing that I gave everything I had.”
The downside of splitting a ride nine different ways is the lack of time behind the wheel. NASCAR veterans Jeb Burton and Ryan Truex have both competed in five races in the No. 8 ride, while Cup drivers Chase Elliott and Ryan Preece have also competed in races. Even team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. wheeled the Chevrolet to a fifth-place finish at Darlington Raceway on Labor Day Weekend.
Smith says it’s been hard being in the car for what seems like once per month.
“It’s brutal,” he added. “Jeb and Ryan have been racing Xfinity and damn Cup cars for a while, I come from an ARCA car. They think it’s tough, and I think it’s pretty tough also. It’s brutal.”
With an uncertain future, the amount of races Smith runs at any level of motorsports comes down to money. And he says that with the investors he currently has, “It is just so damn cool to see people want me to make it as bad as I do.”
- The Xfinity Series heads to Dover International Speedway this weekend for the final race in the Round of 12. Christopher Bell and Cole Custer are locked into the next round. Austin Cindric and Tyler Reddick are near-locks and will advance barring an unexpected catastrophe. Justin Allgaier, ranked fifth, is 40 points to the good, with Chase Briscoe +35 and Noah Gragson +26. Michael Annett sits on the bubble, 11 points ahead of ninth. Brandon Jones and John Hunter Nemechek enter Dover tied for ninth, while Ryan Sieg and Justin Haley are in must-win scenarios in order to advance.
- As reported last week by Frontstretch, Garrett Smithley and team owner Johnny Davis confirmed the two sides are in discussion of running the full Xfinity season in 2020. Smithley is hoping to run full-time in both Cup and Xfinity. In 127 career Xfinity starts, the Georgia native has a best effort of fifth, with three additional top-10 finishes.
- It was also reported last week that NASCAR is considering eliminating pit stops in the lower series in the coming years. With many teams running off prize money, some of those teams believe cutting costs (not hiring a Cup pit crew) would be the best option to better its business model.