Zane Smith knows how to win because he proved it by doing it twice in his first full-time NASCAR Truck Series campaign a year ago. The future looked bright as the 22-year-old headed into his sophomore season alongside defending champion Sheldon Creed at GMS Racing. But building on that success was more challenging than he might have anticipated.
Despite a statistically tough 2021, Zane Smith still made the Camping World Truck Series playoffs on points, and then through the Round of 8. But back-to-back tail-end finishes, a P29 at Las Vegas and a crashed-out P33 at Talladega had pretty much snuffed out any hope of making the Championship 4 for the second year in a row.
As he entered the final elimination race of the Truck Series playoffs at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, advancing weighed heavily on his mind. For the Californian, a ticket to the unemployment line seemed imminent.
With no prospects for a regular ride next year and starting the United Rentals 200 mired in eighth place, 40 points out of the final transfer spot and three other drivers to climb over, his chances were slim, but not none. The obvious solution was to win, although the closest he had come all year was a P4 in Nashville back in June. He could also finish near the front and pray for tons of help, but that was a long shot at best.
Zane Smith had a kind of ace in the hole that some overlooked when he started from Row 5. His only trip to Martinsville last October resulted in a P3 finish, and this time around, he was hanging around in the latter stages to get a shot at keeping his title hopes alive.
Zane Smith needed help and he got it, just not the way he expected
It was a record-setting day for cautions in a Truck Series playoff race. On the final restart, after the yellow flag had flown for the 14th time, Smith got the help he needed and landed up in the winner’s circle for the first time since August 21, 2020, at Dover.
Todd Gilliland, who was not eligible to advance to the Championship 4, dominated all afternoon, including on restarts. That is, until the final one in overtime. It was three-wide heading for the white flag with Gilliland barely nudging ahead until Stewart Friesen hooked him into the wall as they slid past the flag stand. Zane Smith took the lead just as the yellow came out, and in overtime, that ended the race.
Obviously happy with the victory and a chance at a championship, Zane Smith clearly had his future in mind when he climbed out of his car and said:
“I’m looking for a job right now. I have nothing, so it’s a good day,” adding “I’ll do whatever it takes to win the damn thing (Truck Series title).”
GMS Racing announced on October 10 that the team would field a full-time Cup Series team next year, with Ty Dillon driving the No. 94 Camaro. It is unknown if that means the team will trim back the number of Truck entries, but if it remains the same, Sheldon Creed’s seat will be open as he heads to the Xfinity Series with Richard Childress Racing.
Now that Zane Smith has returned to the winner’s circle, should he pull off a championship at Phoenix Raceway next week, he could have some suitors wanting his phone number. Will GMS be the first one to call?
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