NASCAR Cup Series
By John Crane
3 Minute Read
Nothing short of an upward trajectory has defined Zane Smith through his first three seasons as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Smith — the Rookie of the Year in 2020 and a two-time Championship 4 driver heading into 2022 — certainly brought a winning pedigree to the table. After all, Smith had already amassed three wins, 10 top-five and 27 top-10 finishes before the 2022 calendar season was a forethought.
But that pedigree was missing one thing, and a big one at that.
Not to worry, however. This pedigree soared to new heights following the season’s 2022 title race in Phoenix as the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford driver toppled the triple-Toyota threat of Ty Majeski, Ben Rhodes and Chandler Smith to net the 23-year-old his first truck title in his already-blossomed racing career.
RELATED: Full race recap, results | Zane Smith driver page
Rewinding the clocks to 2020 might have established Smith’s precedent right away, considering he concluded his rookie year spectacle with three straight top-three finishes, branching between the Round of 8 and Championship 4 (third at Texas, third at Martinsville and second at Phoenix). But his 2021 campaign would have painted the picture more succinctly, considering how close Smith came to claiming the title that season. After finishing outside the top 25 through the first two Round of 8 playoff races (29th at Las Vegas and 33rd at Talladega), Smith needed to win if he wished to keep fate in his own hands. And he did just that. After winning a frantic overtime finish at Martinsville in late October, Smith’s 2021 Championship 4 berth was set in stone. But while his top-five finish at Phoenix a week later certainly wasn’t too shabby of a result, Smith finished runner-up in the championship behind Rhodes.
Oh, so close. Yet so far, still.
For Smith, 2022 would be different. While his first and second Championship 4 appearances certainly brought some glamour, 2022 needed to take another step forward toward a potential title. Third time’s the charm, so the saying goes.
Winning the 2022 season-opener on Feb. 18 at Daytona established the tone, and while a second place finish a week later at Vegas was disqualified following post-race inspection, Smith didn’t falter.
Instead, he continued to drive and thrive.
Winning three races (Daytona, Circuit of The Americas and Kansas) and finishing inside the top 10 in all but the disqualification within the first eight races to begin the season cemented Smith’s place as a title contender. Having a career season certainly helped his case, too — heading into the title race at Phoenix, Smith’s 2022 season included three wins, 13 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes, with the latter two marks leading the field. Maintaining a net-positive average finish (8.0) compared to his average start (10.1) only made the resume that much more impressive.
But a strong regular season — and a just-as-sturdy playoff run, where Smith finished inside the top 10 in five of six postseason races heading into the championship — would be almost all for naught without that championship trophy. Sure, the campaign would have arguably still been a success, but falling just short once again would have left a sour taste in the mouth of an otherwise sweet season.
But not this time. Instead of falling just short of the title mark, Smith soared above the rest and delivered what he was oh, so close to achieving almost a year to the day.
Moving the clocks back to 2020 and 2021 might have shown Smith’s talent in racing an entire season. But his 2022 emphasized tenacity in starting strong and building momentum toward the truck circuit’s premier prize. And so, claiming the championship came into being.
Smith’s trajectory has again leaped forward. And consider the pedigree enhanced, too.