The NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series serves as a driver development platform among NASCAR’s National Series and Zane Smith of Front Row Motorsports could serve as its poster child.
After bouncing around for a few years between ARCA and the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Smith has found an opulent home in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series. The 23-year-old Californian is in the midst of his fourth full season in the series – which makes a stop at Texas Motor Speedway for Saturday’s SPEEDYCASH.COM 250 – (3:30 p.m., CT TV: FS1. Radio: MRN, SiriusXM) – and he has built quite the resume.
After championship runner-up finishes in 2020 and ’21 with GMS Racing, Smith moved to Front Row Motorsports in the No. 38 Ford last season and cashed in with his first series championship. In 73 career starts, he has recorded nine wins, 28 top-five finishes and 50 top-10 efforts. His most recent win came this past Saturday at Circuit of The Americas in Austin and he will look to complete the unofficial “Texas Two Step” with a win in the SPEEDYCASH.COM 250.
“The Truck Series has been really good to me,” said Smith, who was named the series rookie of the year and most popular driver in 2020. “I’ve simply just enjoyed the time I’ve had in the Truck Series. They’re a ton of fun to drive. Either if I go do Xfinity racing or Cup racing in the future, I still want to be messing around some in the Truck Series.
“Like I said, I really just enjoy the series. I have a really good group behind me, the same group this year as I had last year. I’ve always had pretty fast trucks and, fortunately, have been able to collect some trophies in the process and the championship last year but we’re hungry for more.”
Smith is off to another strong campaign, kicking it off with a victory in the series opener at Daytona. His win at COTA moved him from fifth to first in the NCTS points standings, two ahead of second-place Ty Majeski of ThorSport Racing, heading into the SPEEDYCASH.COM 250.
“Awesome year so far, great to rebound from last week,” Smith said. “… Obviously, starting out our year with a win at Daytona has been the best way to start out the year. We went to Vegas, where we showed a lot of speed, and finished second to Kyle (Busch). Then, at Atlanta, we had another fast truck and ran well, collected some pretty good stage points and, unfortunately, got caught up in an accident on the last lap coming to the checkered in (Turns) 3 and 4. There wasn’t much we could do there, just the truck underneath us wrecked and, unfortunately, got collected in his mess.
“Other than that, it’s been good. We’ve been strong in a lot of areas. I feel like at the end of last year we knew where we needed to improve, and we improved there so I’m excited for these races coming up.”
One of those upcoming races is the SPEEDYCASH.COM 250, which is another 1.5-mile oval and where Smith and Front Row Motorsports have continued to show speed this season.
“We’re always excited for all of the mile-and-a-halfs,” Smith said. “We’ve shown a lot of speed on them in the past and in the present, lately, so just ready to get back on them. I’ve always wanted to win at Texas Motor Speedway, but it’s been a struggle to finish one off so, hopefully, this year is the year.”
Last season was one of those struggles, where he finished 32nd. In four career starts at TMS, he has a pair of top-10 finishes highlighted by a best of third in 2020.
“All of the mile-and-a-halfs are fast but Texas is a new kind of fast,” Smith said. “It’s just finding what you need in your truck … trying to find that happy medium in practice and qualifying, and then putting a good solid race together. You get huge runs down the front- and backstretch at Texas and (Turns) 1 and 2 are some of the toughest corners in all of the mile-and-a-halfs we go to. Like I said, trying to find that happy medium there is the key.”
With a solid start to the season, Smith is putting himself in position for a fourth consecutive appearance in the NCTS Playoffs and another opportunity at a series title.
“Consistency, especially through this little five-week stretch we got is so important,” Smith said. “We’ll keep at it. We’ve shown we can do it, so we’ll continue to grind it out, put some good races together, collect some good stage points and, hopefully, some more trophies in the process and, ultimately, find ourselves in the Round of 4.”
Smith also is getting a look in the NASCAR Cup Series with Front Row Motorsports. He is scheduled to run at least a half-dozen races with the next one being the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 28) and a return visit to Texas Motor Speedway for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 (Sept. 24).
“I’m a big believer in ‘the more things you race, the better race car driver you’re going to be,’” Smith said. “It’s as simple as that. That’s how I approach it, but the Cup car is so far apart from anything any race car driver coming up has ever driven. It’s been a learning process for me and I’m super fortunate to have those six or seven races. I think I have four left and I’m ready to make the most out of them.”
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Texas Motor Speedway’s 2023 events schedule consists of everything from the April 1-2 NTT INDYCAR SERIES/NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series doubleheader and the Sept. 23-24 NASCAR Playoffs weekend, car shows and competitions and the Ducks Unlimited Expo, the four-day Hwy 30 Music Fest and Bandas y Trocas Hispanic concert and truck show, and then wrapping up the year with the family-favorite and speedway tradition Gift of Lights holiday light show.
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