For Zane Smith, the third time was the magic.
After two second-place finishes in 2020 and 2021 and an inspired playoff run in 2022, the 23-year-old driver finally got the NASCAR Truck Series Championship win he was waiting for Friday at Phoenix Raceway.
It is the first Truck Series title of his young career.
“I wanted that (to win) more than anyone in the world, I don’t care what anyone says,” Smith told Fox Sports, seconds after just winning the biggest race of his life. “Thanks to all the racing fans, my whole team. Oh my god I cried the whole round.”
Smith swept all three stages (even starting from pole) on Friday night. But that doesn’t mean the victory came without a fight.
A caution with 13 laps to go changed the face of the race, sending all four Championship 4 drivers – Zane Smith, Chandler Smith, Ben Rhodes and Ty Majeski – into the pit lane.
Rhodes took two tires while the rest of the championship field took four, and that catapulted Rhodes to the front as the race turned green with about 10 laps to go. At one point in the final stretch of the race, the Championship 4 drivers were tied for 1-4th.
With three laps to go, while attempting to make a championship move, Majeski collided with Smith on a corner and spun out – resulting in a caution, burying Majeski in the field and starting an overtime run that would get any race fan’s heart racing could.
In the two-lap overtime, the newly tired Zane Smith somehow managed to maneuver around Rhodes and stop Chandler Smith – he crossed the start/finish line ahead of the rest of the field.
Then the celebration he had dreamed of for so long began.
“I wouldn’t let that happen,” said the winner. “Either I was devastated or I won this thing. There was no other option.”
Rhodes, last year’s Truck Series champion, finished second. Chandler Smith was third. And Majeski was 20.
“We didn’t have the pace all night to get up there and compete, so it was a great heads-up call from my crew chief (to run two tires on the final pit stop),” Rhodes told Fox Sports after the race. “Ultimately, we just didn’t need that last precaution. I think we could have stopped him in the last few laps. I gave as much dirty air as he could take, so that caution got us. I did everything I could to jump at the restart but two tires against four, I just didn’t have the grip I needed.”
Rhodes added with a disappointed but sporting smile: “We didn’t have the pace but we got up there and that’s what counts in the end. We just have to go back, do our homework, and yeah, the second one isn’t fun. I’ll fight my way all the way back to Kentucky.”
Unofficial Results of the Phoenix Raceway NASCAR Truck Series Championship
|4||John H Nemechek||4|
|24||Austin Wayne Himself||22|
This story was originally published Nov 5, 2022 12:49 am.