PHOENIX—Before the 2021 Camping World Truck Series season began, Zane Smith’s future was set.
The 22-year-old racer would finally realize his dream in stock car’s premier series—NASCAR Cup—with Ganassi Racing.
That was before Chip Ganassi sold his team to Trackhouse Racing in June.
“I was signed by them—and that’s where that is,” Smith said. “I was just kind of a backup plan, you could say, the replacement. But I don’t think anybody in NASCAR saw them selling their race team. I had a lot to look forward to this year—and now you kind of see where I’m at.
“So, it’s wild how things change.”
Since Smith was already locked into a contract, he wasn’t able to entertain other offers. While other drivers secured seats for next season, Smith stayed the course in the No. 21 GMS Silverado with his eyes on the truck title—before he discovered there was no deal for next year at all. That was the day Justin Marks announced the acquisition of Ganassi Racing.
“I’m not complaining by any means,” Smith said. “I was super fortunate to be in that situation. I could only imagine what it would be like to be over there and drive for them, but it is what it is.
“There’s no bad blood there by any means. They are really good people. And it sounded like it happened really fast. I had been racing all weekend and then was told that Monday or Tuesday when we were all together. There was no guarantee, like, ‘You’re going to be in this.’ It was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to sign you and we have your rights.’”
On the eve of the truck series title battle, Smith is in the same place he was last season—among the Championship 4. While his deal for 2022 might not be set in stone, the affable driver has tremendous momentum coming into the season finale following a must-win situation at Martinsville where he was victorious.
That same pressure he felt at Martinsville to have to win to qualify for the Championship 4 is the same pressure he’s feeling entering Friday’s final at Phoenix Raceway.
“I feel like that stuff fuels my fire, really,” Smith said. “It’s not fun, not knowing what you’re going to do next year. But I feel like, when you play mad, you play your best. That’s how I go about it.”
Smith ran a partial season with JR Motorsports in 2019 with a solid average finish of 10.3. In his first full season in trucks last year, he had a similar result of 10.5. Under the direction of veteran crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion, Smith finished second to Sheldon Creed in last year’s truck championship. After finishes of 29th at Las Vegas and 33rd at Talladega, Saturday’s win bolstered Smith's confidence.
“This year I have more momentum, last year after Dover, I couldn’t win,” said Smith, who had two wins in the first 13 races of 2020. “I just couldn’t put one together. This year, I’ve been so close, been so close, something happens and then I win at Martinsville—the race before Phoenix.
“Winning is as contagious as losing is, so I hope that’s the case (Friday) night.”
With the weight of auditioning for a job again, Smith admits to feeling the pressure.
“There’s a lot on my shoulders, for sure,” Smith said. “But after tomorrow night, it will be figured out. All I can do is work my hardest, do everything I can do within my power and see where the cards fall.
“If I’m being completely honest with you, I really don’t know (his 2022 plans). One, I really don’t know and two, I’m not sure I want to know. I have a team around me that kind of communicates with people and I told them I don’t want to know. All I want to do is go and win on Friday night. Hopefully, that will fix a lot of problems.”