Rookies aren’t usually expected to challenge for championships at the NASCAR level. Zane Smith knows it too.
“Probably not,” said Smith, when asked if he expected to be in the Truck Series playoffs this season, “but I am really not surprised at the same time with the speed we have had.”
The 21-year-old Smith is one of 10 drivers who are in the running for the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series championship, with the first of seven playoff races slated for tonight at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I feel like I fit in the Truck Series really well and I feel like it is just working out for us so far,” Smith said.
A native of Huntington Beach, Calif., Smith has become known for an aggressive style, having learned that is what it takes to win at a high level.
“Just the level of aggression that you need to have to compete for a win,” he said. I think that is really hitting me this year. I have to be aggressive to prove myself because this has been a year where I have had the opportunity to prove myself. I am just trying to make the most out of it and just kind of hang on.”
He has done just fine, having run 16 of 17 races this season for GMS Racing, picking up wins in August at Michigan and Dover.
“I feel like Michigan was just super special. That place has been pretty mean to me in the past so to go back there and to get a win in kind of a dramatic fashion with a final lap, final corner pass is pretty crazy,” he said. “Then a week or two later to back it up with kind of a dominant win was really cool as well.
“That first one is just the hardest to get. I swear it is like a monkey off your back and once you get it off your back it becomes a lot easier.”
He also has four top-5 finishes and nine stops in the top-10 this season.
“Obviously I have a great race team behind me,” said Smith, who has worked closely with crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion, spotter Josh Williams and has receive moral support from longtime NASCAR driver Josh Wise. “I think I just really clicked well with the guys on my team. I feel like we have done a really good job of just clicking. Hopefully we can keep it going and make our way down to Phoenix with a shot at it.
Bristol is the first of seven playoff races, with the season finale slated for Phoenix on Nov. 6. There is lots to do before then, but Smith likes how the schedule lines up.
“I just think the tracks that are on the schedule really fit into us good and Phoenix is a really good track for me, definitely one I have had circled all year,” said Smith, who ran 10 Xfinity races last season, picking up two top-5 and seven top-10 finishes. “It is up there with Dover and Bristol, it just gives out a bigger trophy. Hopefully we can just get down there and keep working.”
Smith is one of four GMS Racing drivers in the playoffs, along with
Brett Moffitt, Shelton Creed and Tyler Ankrum.
“It is really cool to see. I won’t be surprised at all if my biggest competition comes from my teammates,” he said. “I know they all have got competitive trucks, it is just whoever will be there at the end and continues to win. I think that would be really cool if we could get all four of them in the final four.”
Despite his success and that of his teammates, Smith still has a difficult proposition trying to attain sponsorships to race on a weekly basis.
“It is brutal, that is the word. It is not tough, it is simply brutal,” he said. “I feel for my race team as well. I don’t know what is going to be on the truck for coming races and I hate it. It affects the race team. These trucks are supposed to be wrapped and ready and I swear mine are being wrapped two days, the day before we leave.
“I wish I had a fulltime sponsor and the easy route, but that is not the case with me so I am doing everything in my power to prove that I feel like I deserve that.
“If I ever get that chance I will make the most out of it and work as hard as I can to keep it.”
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