Zane Smith dips in Truck Series playoff standings after pit-road incident at Talladega

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Zane Smith spent nearly half of Saturday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race sitting idle in the Talladega Superspeedway garage while the field whisked by, lap after lap. He sat in his No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford, which showed the battle scars of a scary pit-road incident and the underneath scattering of parts from a slipping clutch.

Smith’s title defense took a severe hit in Saturday’s Love’s RV Stop 250 with a 32nd-place finish on a day where multiple playoff drivers found conflict. Smith’s trouble was the most dramatic, as his truck skidded sideways on the entry to his pit stall during the Stage 1 break, sliding into the team’s tire carrier, Charlie Plank.

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“I watched in my mirror, and I saw Charles running, and I was just in a slide, and I couldn’t do anything about it,” said Smith, who said he had checked his brakes before making his stop. “Obviously hit him, and my heart just sunk. I felt terrible. … That’s one of a driver’s probably biggest fears.”

The contact sent Plank and the two Goodyear tires he had in hand flying, but the crew member was reported OK by the team before the race went back green. Plank conducted an interview with FS1 and said he intended to finish the race.

“When I looked and I saw him standing out there, I’m like, ‘Man, I hope he jumps,’ and luckily he did,” No. 38 crew chief Chris Lawson told “So it just, it lets your body take a lot more of the energy, and luckily, like I said, it kept him from getting hurt. So, honestly, I think he was tougher than the truck. Like, look at him. He doesn’t have nothing on him, and the truck’s tore all to pieces. So yeah, tough dude, and just thankful, honestly, that nobody did get hurt on that one, too.”

Smith failed to keep pace upon his return to the race, not because of the slight right-rear damage but because his truck was unable to stay in gear. He didn’t head back to the track until 21 laps remained in regulation.

The repairs and his return helped Smith gain three points, but his deficit stands at 36 points below the provisional elimination line with just the Oct. 21 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway remaining in the Round of 8. Four drivers will be trimmed from championship eligibility, and the other four will race for the Craftsman Trucks title in the Nov. 3 finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Smith could conceivably advance on the basis of points, but the most realistic route likely rests with winning at the 1.5-mile South Florida track.

“I’m gonna do everything I possibly can to go win the race,” said Smith, who is headed to the Cup Series next season. “My last two truck races, so I’ll give it my all, lay it all on the line and see what happens.”

Said Lawson: “We’re gonna go to Homestead and do what we were gonna go to do there anyway. We weren’t going there not to win, so now it’s just gonna mean a little more. So yeah, I don’t feel any different than I did coming into this one. I feel like we just got to go there and execute and no mistakes, and I feel like we’re gonna have a shot at it. So we’ll see.”

If there’s a silver lining, Brett Moffitt took a Front Row Motorsports truck to Victory Lane in a one-off start, denying other postseason contenders from locking in their Championship 4 spot. Tops among those was former series champ Ben Rhodes, who was unable to make a winning move down the stretch and was the Talladega runner-up by 0.089 seconds.

The next best bet among the remaining playoff drivers was Christian Eckes, who led the field under the white flag in his No. 19 Chevrolet. His victory hopes unraveled in the final lap of overtime when he scooted too far out front and was unable to block the onrushing pack through the second turn. He was shuffled out of line and faded to a 19th-place finish, last on the lead lap.

Eckes entered the race with a 29-point cushion but now sits just plus-9 headed to Homestead.

“I didn’t really want to do that, but I was told to do that,” Eckes told as he walked back to the garage. “So, not going to point fingers or do anything else, but we lost another one and killed our cushion, so less than thrilled.”