Zane Smith’s Run Toward Back-to-Back Truck Series Titles May Already Be Over
Zane Smith dominated the 2022 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season as much as a driver can in the current elimination playoff format. And he’s shown early-but-emphatic signs that the 2023 season could be a similar repeat.
Smith, 23, opened last season with a win at Daytona International Speedway and spent only two weeks outside the top five in the points standings. He held the top spot from the June 24 race at Nashville Superspeedway through the end of the season in November when he clinched his first career title with a win in his No. 38 Ford at Phoenix Raceway.
The Front Row Motorsports driver posted career highs in nearly every statistical category and led the series in every major category except pole awards and average starting position. He had the most wins of a Truck Series champion since Sheldon Creed two years prior, and Smith’s 14 top-five finishes were the most for a title-winner since Christopher Bell had 15 in 2017.
The championship has done nothing but help his career prospects as he dabbles in the Cup Series for a handful of races this season with FRM. But before Smith inevitably moves on to the Cup Series, however, he has a championship to defend in the Truck Series, and he has certainly set himself up to be the favorite again this year.
Zane Smith has started his championship defense with several stellar performances
Smith won the season opener at Daytona for the second consecutive season and then finished second at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a redemption race after he posted a runner-up finish at the 1.5-mile track in 2022 before NASCAR disqualified him because of a lugnut problem officials found after the race.
A 20th-place result in the superspeedway-style race at Atlanta Motor Speedway set him back to fifth in the points standings, but he regained the top spot in the standings with a win this past Saturday at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Daytona and COTA also happened to be the sites of Smith’s first of four victories a year ago as well. And his ability to adapt to tracks that vary greatly in size and shape is one of the keys that will likely keep him at the top of the points standings for the vast majority of this season.
Zane Smith has nine career Truck Series wins since he debuted in the series as a full-time driver in 2020. He has two superspeedway wins at Daytona, two road-course victories at COTA, a win each at the flat tracks of Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix, and three wins on intermediate tracks.
Aside from a win at the annual dirt race on the Truck Series schedule, Smith has spread his victories across as diverse of a slate of race tracks as possible. That ability also prevents any holes in his resume that fellow Truck Series competitors could try to exploit or potential future Cup Series bosses could use as reasons not to hire the up-and-coming prospect.
He showed hints of his wide-ranging strengths already in 2018 at age 19 in the ARCA Menards Series. Smith won four races that season but did so at a high-banked 0.596-mile oval at the Nashville Fairgrounds, the 2.66-mile behemoth of Talladega Superspeedway, a relatively flat half-mile track at Toledo Speedway, and the unique three-cornered, 2.5-mile triangle of Pocono Raceway.
Smith finished second in the championship standings that season to now-Xfinity Series driver and 2020 Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed.
Smith’s adaptability should help his future career prospects
Smith’s future is plenty bright. He has already shown he can run up front in the Xfinity Series when he posted seven top-10s in 10 races for JR Motorsports in 2019. He also filled in for Chris Buescher last year at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis and finished a respectable 17th in a last-minute Cup Series debut. He also finished 13th in the Daytona 500 to start the current season before a 31st-place run at Phoenix as part of what is expected to be a five-race Cup Series slate for Smith in 2023.
His competition on the Truck Series side will be much the same as it was last year. He is currently two points ahead of Ty Majeski, who also made the Championship 4 a year ago. Ben Rhodes is also back and currently third in the points standings after his runner-up finish in 2022. Chandler Smith is the only title contender not back in the series this season, as he graduated to the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing.
Perhaps other contenders will separate themselves along with Smith as the season progresses, but so far, Zane Smith’s path to back-to-back championships is well-paved.