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Truckin’ Thursdays: Zane Smith’s Successful Cup Debut Means a Bright Future

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Third-year NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Zane Smith has a series-leading three victories this season, and he currently leads the series in laps led (269) and top 10s (nine). Sitting third in the championship standings, Smith currently holds the top seed in the playoffs with five regular season races remaining.

The 23-year-old made the move from GMS Racing to Front Row Motorsports at the end of the 2021 season in a move that came about a month after the season ended. Interestingly enough, Smith had initially planned to make the jump to the NASCAR Cup Series this year in a deal that ultimately fell through when Chip Ganassi Racing shuttered its Cup operations and sold the assets to Trackhouse Racing Team.

“The beginning of last year, I had gotten signed by Ganassi,” Smith told Frontstretch last month. “I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be doing. It seemed obvious in a way that it was most likely going to be the No. 1 with Kurt [Busch] leaving or whatever it may be.

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“I was looking forward to that. I felt like I was, at the time, I wanted some more experience. But I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason. I was just so fortunate to really have those people reaching out and them wanting me to race for them. I think that’s just super cool.”

But as we know, the Cup ride didn’t end up happening since Ganassi ended its NASCAR program.

“Super unfortunate it didn’t work out. I was obviously pretty bummed out when that had happened. And then it gets followed up with, I don’t know where I’m gonna be going at all or if I’m going to be racing at all.

“But I took a risk on that, signed my name on that paper to hopefully see if it would work out. Unfortunately, it didn’t. But I go about my life and my racing life rolling with the punches, dealing with what it gives me and doing the best I can at it, and that’s what we’re doing today.”

But fast forward to last weekend and Smith got the chance to make his Cup Series debut at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

Chris Buescher, who normally pilots the No. 17 RFK Racing Ford in the Cup Series, tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to sit out.

 

 

For Smith, an ideal race would’ve been running all of the laps, staying out of trouble and just finish the race. He did that, for the most part, and ended up 17th.

There was a minor incident on pit road that sent him sliding, but Smith was able to recover and none of the crew members ready to service those who pitted around him were injured.

“It was fun. I learned a ton all around,” Smith told Frontstretch after the race. “It’s crazy just how hard and how good all these guys are. I feel like this will help me in the truck and all around.

“At the end of the day, just a huge day. I was just aiming to complete all the laps and hopefully end up for a shot at a top 25. We got our car more comfortable for my liking, track position was everything. We probably could have been more aggressive on calls if I had more experience but I definitely think we took the smarter route. I’m super happy with how I raced today.”

Now, there are plenty of people who would look at a 17th-place finish and scoff, saying that’s not all that impressive. But consider how little track time Smith had in the Cup car prior to that race, and don’t forget to compare it to what Buescher has done, with several years of experience, behind the wheel of the No. 17.

In 14 starts this season, Buescher has just three top 10s and an average finish of 19.1. When you consider Smith finished a full two positions ahead of Buescher’s average, I’d call that a pretty successful debut, and it could certainly turn out to have been an audition for a Cup ride in the near future.

Obviously, right now Smith remains committed to the Truck Series and will continue the fight to win the championship that he’s come so close to snagging the past couple of seasons, but a successful Cup debut last weekend opens up a lot of possibilities.

Of course, one race doesn’t equate to what might become of a full-time season, and there will be an almost-guaranteed learning curve when Smith’s time does come in the Cup Series. But one thing is for sure: he won’t make the leap if he doesn’t believe he’s capable of fighting for the win and a shot at the championship.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • After scoring an impressive 11th-place finish in his Truck Series debut, Rajah Caruth told SiriusXM NASCAR’s Dave Moody earlier this week that he’ll make three more starts this season for Spire Motorsports.

  • During post-race inspection at WWT last weekend, Johnny Sauter‘s No. 13 Toyota was found with one loose lug nut. Crew Chief Carl Joiner Jr. was fined $2,500 under section 8.8.10.4a (Lug nut(s) not properly installed) of the NASCAR Rule Book.
  • Carson Hocevar suffered an injury last weekend at WWT in a brutal last-lap crash. After days of speculation and very little news about his injury, the driver of the No. 42 team broke his near-silence. Hocevar does plan to race this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, though Niece Motorsports has Daniel Suarez on standby just in case he needs to get out of the truck.

About the author

Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 15-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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