Zane Smith improves his Championship 4 chances by starting on the pole

Zane Smith improves his Championship 4 chances by starting on the pole
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Gaining experience racing in the Championship 4 should offer a driver an advantage, right?

Yet the top NASCAR tours have perennial contenders with multiple starts in their series’ season finales without emerging with the trophy after the dust has settled. Denny Hamlin and Justin Allgaier have made multiple trips to the final round only to leave heads in hands.

In the Camping World Truck Series, Zane Smith has been the tour’s bridesmaid the last two years. Since moving to the truck series full-time in 2020, he finished second twice and sits in the same position heading into Friday night’s title bout.

“I’d say like mentally I’m probably the best place I’ve been just with everything I feel like I’ve been through the past couple years,” Smith said. “I’m excited about that. The only pressure I feel like I have is—and you’re always gonna have pressure in the final four—but I know my time in the truck series is running out. 

“I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in it, but I’m missing one big thing and it’s sitting right next to me (as he pointed to the trophy).”

In 2016, NASCAR introduced the Playoff system in the truck and Xfinity series following a two-year run in Cup. Hamlin has four appearances in the Championship 4 sans win. This weekend marks Allgaier’s fifth attempt at the title under the current format—following four unsuccessful runs.

By winning the pole for the Lucas Oil 150, Smith took a pivotal step in upping his chances on Friday afternoon. Topping time trials was a first for Smith, who accomplished the feat in his 69th start.

His fellow Championship 4 contenders—Ben Rhodes, Ty Majeski and Chandler Smith—start sixth, eighth and 12th, respectively. Rhodes is the defending truck champion, Chandler Smith (no relation) is the defending race winner.

So how does Smith avoid not being the next Allgaier or Hamlin of the truck series?

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a championship of its own getting here, so you can’t forget that. It’s just whoever is the best that one day is all that matters, so putting some attention on that is where I’m at, but I feel like the effort level is always the same of 110 percent.  It’s just executing that day.”

Smith, 23, finished second to Sheldon Creed in the 2020 race after leading 48 laps. He lost the title by three points. The Huntington Beach, Californian finished fifth last year. Since moving to Front Row Motorsports this season, he’s been able to establish consistency with the No. 38 Ford team—something he hasn’t always experienced in the past.

“Clicking off the wins that we had right away is just super special with a new group and all of us learning about each other,” Smith said. “I feel like that’s probably the biggest thing. Obviously, we always want more wins, but to be competing for a championship in our first year together is something to be proud of.

“We’ve just shown speed everywhere we’ve went. When you have a year like that, it brings a lot of confidence. I definitely believe in a lot of momentum, but we’ve been crazy consistent. I think that’s what will get you to the final four. I just feel like we have a good shot Friday night and the best shot I probably have had.”

And should Smith finally pull off the win?

“You will find me at, I think there’s a bar outside the track,” he said with a laugh. “I will be there.”

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