A bridesmaid no more, Zane Smith finally secures the Camping World Truck Championship

A bridesmaid no more, Zane Smith finally secures the Camping World Truck Championship
Jim Fluharty/HHP

AVONDALE, Ariz.—Zane Smith wanted the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series trophy “really bad”—and on Friday at Phoenix Raceway, all of his hard work and determination paid off with the 2022 title.

After advancing to the last two Championship 4 Rounds, Smith had to settle for second. This time, he made the most of every opportunity on the one-mile track in the desert. He was second in practice, won the pole and both stages, then held off defending champion Ben Rhodes and defending race winner Chandler Smith in overtime for the biggest victory of his career.

“Oh, (expletive), man, I love you,” Smith exclaimed after taking the checkered flag.

“You earned every bit of that,” crew chief Chris Lawson replied.

Winning the Lucas Oil 150 gave both Zane Smith and Front Row Motorsports their first NASCAR championship.

“I didn’t think it was gonna be that dramatic, but the third time is the charm,” Smith said. “Last year and the year before we showed so much speed and should have won a lot more races than we did, but Bob Jenkins is the only reason why I’m here right now. Without him, none of this would be possible.

“When I came here all I cared about were the guys that were on this team. I had seen their work ethic and I knew the effort they put in and I know they want it as bad as I do. I didn’t care what the trucks or anything looked like all I knew is the work ethic was there and we could make a championship out of this team.”

Rhodes finished 0.326-seconds behind the No. 38 Ford F150. Chandler Smith, John Hunter Nemechek and Stewart Friesen rounded out the top five.

Zane Smith made the first two stage wins appear easy. The cautions occurred more frequently during the final segment. Just after the race returned to green, Christian Eckes went around in Turn 1. Nemechek took the lead but before the race could get up to full speed, Taylor Gray spun in Turn 1 on Lap 106. Rajah Caruth, was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was caught up in the mess along with Layne Riggs and Derek Kraus.

Nemechek lost the lead to Zane Smith on the Lap 112 restart—and checked out until Hailie Deegan spun in Turn 3 on lap 134. Friesen and Carson Hocevar remained on the track while the leaders pitted. With a two-tire pitstop, Rhodes lined up third followed by Matt DiBenedetto. Chandler Smith restarted eighth followed by Majeski, Nemechek and Zane Smith in 11th.

The race restarted on Lap 141 and coming out of Turn 3, Zane Smith went four wide into Turn 4 and come out eighth. By Lap 142, he had climbed to fourth behind Majeski. Rhodes took the lead two laps later and Smith passed Majeski then pulled to within 0.306-seconds of the No. 99 Toyota. In an effort to regain his position, Majeski went to the inside of the No. 38 truck on the backstretch and spun himself out in the process.

“I was being aggressive there,” said Majeski, who finished 20th. “We wanted to bring a championship home for Duke and Rhonda (Thorson) and everybody at ThorSport. I thought the best opportunity there for us was to try to wiggle the 38 (Zane Smith) a little bit and try to get underneath him and try to set up the race between Ben and I. I was just trying to be aggressive underneath him and lost it off of (turn) two.

“All you can ask for is the chance to win the championship with five to go and we had that tonight, and it just didn’t pan out. I’m proud of our season and proud of what we accomplished as a 66 bunch. Joe (Shear, Jr., crew chief) and the team have been great to work with. It just stings to be that close and see it in front of you and just come up a little bit short. We will come back next year and come back stronger.”

The seventh and final caution sent the race into overtime. Rhodes maintained the lead with Chandler Smith alongside in second. Zane Smith, who had been solid on the low line all night, restarted third behind Rhodes. When the race returned to green on Lap 153, the drivers fanned out three-wide and Zane Smith went low and grabbed the lead off of Turn 2 entering the backstretch.

While two tires provided Rhodes the lead with 10 laps remaining, it wasn’t enough to hold off Smith’s Ford F150 at the finish.

“I don’t know, two tires versus four, that was the name of the game,” Rhodes said. “We didn’t have the pace all night that we needed to be up there and repeat so it was a great heads-up call by my crew chief. Ultimately, we just didn’t need that last caution. I think we could have held them off for the final few laps. I was giving him (Zane) all the dirty air he could handle. I think we were going to be fine until that caution got us.

“On that last restart, I tried to get a jump, but two tires versus four, I just didn’t have the grip I needed. I did the best I could and threw a move on him, but didn’t have enough grip to make it stick. All in all, I’m proud of my Kubota Toyota Tundra team and everyone at ThorSport Racing. We just need to go back and do our homework and second is not fun. I’m going to mope my way back to Kentucky.”

Not Zane Smith. He vowed to reward the people who had believed in him and gave him a chance. And despite a rough night by his pit crew, Smith refused to go down without a fight.

“I’m gonna win this,” Smith told himself before the final restart. “There was no other option. I was either backing it in the fence wrecking, or I was leaving tonight with a championship trophy.  There were no other options. When I saw the 18 get underneath me I was worried that I got him too loose underneath me.

“Fortunately, he stayed off of me.  I have a lot of respect for all three of them.  It’s pretty impressive for some of the racing we’ve seen lately for us three to go at it that hard and that clean.”

First, he took his fiancee McCall Gaulding for a ride around the track in the winning truck. Then Smith celebrated with the No. 38 team. Before the race, Smith swore if he won the title, he would party at The Barn—the fan bar outside of the track.

Let the celebration begin. 

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