Nobody has started the 2022 Camping World Truck Series season better than Zane Smith. But it almost didn’t come to fruition.
Last fall, Smith was searching for a ride after a “pretty realistic” shot of going Cup Series racing with Chip Ganassi Racing vanished. He also knew he wouldn’t return to GMS Racing for a third season in trucks. He said he was “pretty much committed” to joining Bill McAnally Racing before he was told Front Row Motorsports was interested in adding the California native to its driver lineup.
The rest is history.
“Todd Gilliland is a buddy of mine, so I asked him a couple of questions,” Smith told NASCAR.com last week about joining Front Row for 2022. “I knew I really liked the group, the team on the truck, so that’s what really caught my eye.
“The racing world is extremely cutthroat and scary at times. As I’m getting older, I’m finding it’s not fun at all not knowing when you don’t know what you’re going to do the next year when you have things to pay for, especially when you’re wanting to start life.”
Front Row wanted an established driver added to its truck lineup, with Gilliland departing for the Cup Series. For team officials, Smith was an easy candidate to move over to the Ford program.
“(Team owner) Bob Jenkins has really been keen on Zane for a little while,” Jerry Freeze, general manager of FRM, said in a statement. “Zane fit in perfectly the moment he came to the shop.”
Since joining Front Row, Smith has found near-instant success. In the season opener at Daytona, the No. 38 truck went to Victory Lane after making a pass for the lead in overtime.
That win was a sizable confidence boost for Smith, who won just once in 2021. It was also a shot in the arm for the No. 38 bunch, which won one race in its first two years as a Truck Series operation. It also allowed for the team to let loose, going solely after playoff points for the rest of the regular season.
“[We’re] making sure we were going to hit the ground running as fast as we could, and we’ve hit the ground sprinting,” Smith said. “I feel like that’s a product of starting [off the year] good at Daytona. Everyone wants to just be rolling at the end of Daytona and it’s like your year is good. When you win Daytona, the rest don’t come easy by no means, but winning is as contagious as losing is. I feel like the communication and confidence in the team, it’s a lot more fun.”
Smith followed up his Daytona win by taking the checkered flag in second place at Las Vegas, rebounding from an early incident that tore off the right-front fender. Unfortunately for the No. 38 team, it was disqualified in post-race inspection for a lug-nut violation.
In the series’ third race of the season at Atlanta, Smith rounded out the top five. But at Circuit of The Americas two weeks ago, the No. 38 team found itself in prime position late in the race.
During a green-white-checkered finish, Alex Bowman and Stewart Friesen charged hard into Turn 12. The two made contact and moved race leader Kyle Busch out of the way, allowing Smith to catapult to the lead.
“I saw those three get together and I got off the brake pedal as soon as I could and carried as much roll speed past them because I knew once I got past them, I could control it more,” he said. “I was expecting to have a bigger gap. Then, I tried not looking in my mirror and hitting my marks. I looked at it again on the frontstretch and probably had a 10, 12 truck-length gap and knew I had to manage that.”
Smith managed the gap, earning his second win in four races this season. With more than 80% of the season left, Smith has already tied his career-high total for wins in a single season (2020). It’s the best start to the season he’s ever had, he believes, even compared to the 2018 ARCA Menards Series season, when he won three of the first five races.
Without the DQ, Smith would have already bettered his top-five total from 2021, when he finished second in the championship standings. Even still, it’s been a solid stretch of races for the 22-year-old.
“We’re counting a first, second, fifth and a first,” Smith said of FRM’s outlook. “The points may not show it, but it’s been an awesome year so far.”
Team officials are pleased as well.
“Zane runs smart races, the team runs a smart race, and Zane has closed at the end of the races when it counts,” Freeze added. “You just can’t ask for a better start to the season.”
On a personal level, it was important for Smith to claim a checkered flag on a road course. Growing up, he raced karts all across the United States, originally competing for Top Kart USA. With his parents – who now live out of a motorhome in California – in attendance, the COTA win was reassurance that their investment paid off.
“All we had to pay for was plane tickets, but to a normal family, flying out every week is extremely expensive,” Smith recalled of his young racing career. “My parents sacrificed a ton to be able to see me do that. That’s all my road course background. I’ll have to give them a replica trophy or something.”
No matter what happens the rest of the year, Smith says he’s having fun so far in his first season at FRM. It’s a young team and Freeze noted that crew chief Chris Lawson has taken reins of the group, making it a formidable team that sits tied for fourth in the regular-season championship battle.
And while Smith had the aforementioned possibility of going Cup racing in 2022 before Chip Ganassi Racing’s sale to Trackhouse Racing last summer, Smith says he is content with where he’s at with FRM.
“I’m not in a huge rush to get to Cup by any means, especially hearing that my name is popping up there,” he said. “I think I can get there sometime, but I know when you do get there, you have to have all the right people, all the right everything and maybe you have a shot at winning.
“I’m having a ton of fun collecting trophies and racing for wins.”
And if Smith performs well enough for FRM, it has two potential landing spots in the Cup Series someday.