The third time was the charm for Front Row Motorsports’ Zane Smith on Friday night in the Arizona desert.
After consecutive runner-up finishes in the final series standings the last two years, Smith was finally able to summit the mountain and claim the Truck Series championship.
“Oh my God. Third time’s the charm,” Smith said. “I want this sh-t more than anyone in the world. I don’t care what anyone says. … I was crying that whole (last) lap.”
Though he dominated the first two stages after winning the pole for the race, leading 77 laps, it wasn’t all easy for Smith. The caution flag flew on Lap 134 of 150 when Hailie Deegan made hard contact with the frontstretch wall, setting up the final “money stop” for the Championship 4 contenders.
Championship contender Ben Rhodes, who had been running the worst of the four for most of the night, played the strategy game by taking only two tires on the stop. Several non-Playoff drivers also took just two, leaving Rhodes a buffer to fellow championship hopefuls Chandler Smith, Ty Majeski and Zane Smith, who all re-started in the back-half of the top 10 with four fresh tires.
Zane Smith had the worst stop of the four, but was able to drive up to the second position with less than five laps remaining behind Rhodes. It was on Lap 147, though, that Majeski made a bold attempt to pass Zane Smith coming off of Turn 2, spinning himself out and bringing out the yellow flag once again. The move ruined any chance for Majeski to win the title in his first full-time Truck season.
Up to that point, Rhodes’ two tires had held serve, leaving last year’s champion disappointed to see the caution flag displayed.
“Two tires versus four, that was the name of the game,” Rhodes said. “We didn’t have the pace all night that we needed to be up there and compete, so it was a great heads-up call by my crew chief (Rich Lushes).
“Ultimately, we just didn’t need that last caution. I think we could’ve held them off for the final few laps.”
Zane Smith, who re-started on the inside of the second row in Overtime, was able to get to Rhodes’ inside almost immediately while Chandler Smith ran the high lane through Turns 1 and 2.
Zane Smith completed the pass on both of his fellow championship contenders, and was able to fend them off for the final lap-and-a-half en route to his fourth win of the season, and first since Kansas in May.
“I wasn’t gonna let it go down like that. I was either wrecked or I was winning this thing – there was no other option,” he said.
Rhodes crossed the stripe in second after getting to Zane Smith’s rear bumper in the final corner. Last year’s Phoenix winner Chandler Smith – who will move to Kaulig Racing’s Xfinity program next season – was just behind Rhodes in third, while John Hunter Nemechek came home fourth, followed by 2019 Phoenix winner Stewart Friesen.
Grant Enfinger, Corey Heim, Tanner Gray, Kayden Honeycutt and Carson Hocevar completed the top 10. Majeski came home a disappointing 20th.
The race also marked the end of the current iteration of Kyle Busch Motorsports, as the team will switch from Toyota to Chevrolet next season with Busch’s move to Richard Childress Racing.
The newly-minted Craftsman Truck Series is off until February, where it will return to action in Daytona for the NextEra Energy 250 on Friday, Feb. 17.