In the closing portion of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season finale at the Phoenix Raceway, it was up to Zane Smith to get up on the wheel and put an end to his two-year streak of finishing runner-up in the NCWTS Championship Standings.
Smith, driving the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford F-150, was up to the challenge and captured his first-career championship as he pulled it off in a nerve-racking overtime finish to the checkers.
Despite dominating the event and sweeping Stages 1 and 2, Smith found himself mired in the pack late in Friday night’s race due to varying pit strategies.
On the second-to-last restart during the Lucas Oil 150, the 23-year-old was able to power from 12th to the top five with a daring move to make it four-wide off Turn 2.
Over the next couple of laps, Smith nearly was swept up in a fellow Championship 4 driver’s desperate move as Ty Majeski attempted to grab second from the eventual champion.
Smith had his left rear quarter panel crowded by the No. 66 ThorSport Racing Toyota Tundra, which led to a spin by Majeski, which brought out the final caution of the night.
The following overtime restart set up the finish of the event and teed up a probable win for Smith as he had four fresh tires against race leader and Championship 4 contender, Ben Rhodes, who only took two tires on his final pit stop.
For Smith, he was going to either bring back the checkered flag or the steering wheel. Second place wasn’t an option.
“I just wasn’t going to let it go down like that,” Smith said. “I was either wrecked or I was winning this thing. There was no other option.”
The No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford F-150 restarted on the inside line behind Rhodes and after the restart, Smith was contested by Championship 4 competitor, Chandler Smith. In the final run to the finish, the bridesmaid of the last two seasons finally accomplished the ultimate goal of being crowned champion in an epic duel between him, Rhodes, and Chandler Smith.
The end result was the culmination of a lifelong dream for the driver of the No. 38 truck.
“Third time’s a charm,” Smith exclaimed. “I want this […..] more than anyone in the world. I don’t care what anyone says. Thank you to all you race fans. My whole team, man. I was crying that whole lap, thank you MRC Construction, Mike Gallows, such a special paint scheme. My fiancée recalls, tough to me, with all the brutal times I’ve wanted this championship for so long. I wanted this moment all my life.”
After a partial season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports in 2019, Smith was able to put together a full-time effort with GMS Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for two campaigns. In 2020 and 2021, both of those years resulted in runner-up points finishes.
This time around, Smith headed to Daytona International Speedway to start the 2022 NCWTS season with a whole new squad in Front Row Motorsports, which had moved their previous driver Todd Gilliland to their NASCAR Cup Series program. Smith won on his debut with his new team.
From there, he and FRM won two races in the next seven starts.
After the hot start, Smith’s white-hot winning record had cooled. However, being winless all the way to the championship race didn’t prove to be an issue for Smith. Consistency was the name of the game for the young driver, as he only recorded a total of five finishes outside the top 10 in all 23 starts in 2022.
“Last year and the year before, we showed so much speed and should have won a lot more races than we did,” said Smith. “Bob Jenkins [Front Row Motorsports team owner] is the reason I am here right now. Without him, none of this would be possible. When I came here, all I cared about was the guys that were on this team and I had seen their work ethic. I had seen the effort they put in and I know they want it as bad as I do.
“I didn’t care what the trucks looked like, what anything looked like, all I knew is their work ethic was there and we could make a championship with this team.”
Not always typical for the NCWTS champion, but in Smith’s case, he has already been announced to return to FRM’s No. 38 Ford F-150 program for 2023. On top of the chance at scoring consecutive titles, he will pilot a third car for the organization in the Daytona 500, which will be his first NASCAR Cup Series race.