Zane Smith Continues Championship Momentum By Winning At Daytonaby Hunter Thomas February 18, 2023 1 comment
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, Zane Smith picked up right where he left off on Friday night by kicking off the 2023 season with a win in the rain-shortened NextEra Energy 250 at Daytona International Speedway.
Smith hadn’t been a top truck all weekend, practicing 29th and qualifying 15th, but he entered the weekend as the defending race winner, so the California native knew that he just needed to be in the right place at the right time. When the red flag flew that eventually ended the race due to weather, Smith has been out in front of the pack for 15 laps. The victory marked the 23-year-olds eighth career victory in the series.
“I mean, really from the final half of the year last year and then rolling into this year, I just felt like we just had so much momentum,” Smith said. “I knew our trucks were going to be good, and firing off practices yesterday was probably the best speedway truck I’ve had. I wasn’t too worried about qualifying much as just worried about getting caught up in someone else’s mess. Sure enough, they were not too smart in the beginning, and I just kind of hung around right behind them and waited for their mistakes, and obviously I didn’t know the rain was going to come and shorten the race, but I knew that how we kept coming in and topping off that we were setting ourselves up to lead that final stage. That’s what we did.”
Not only did Smith win last year’s championship, but he ended 2022 with a win at Phoenix Raceway, so carrying the momentum into this season bodes well for the Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Love’s/Speedco Ford team that’s led by crew chief Chris Lawson.
“Super excited for my whole team,” Smith said. “They put in such an effort this off-season, worked their guts out like usual, and I’m just happy to see it pay off for them. Obviously we’re carrying this momentum that we ended our year last year. It’s the same group, same people and same goal. We’re off to a good start.”
Tanner Gray finished second on Friday, earning his best-ever finish in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Gray came from deep in the pack, overcoming a 19th-place starting spot and two crashes to bring the No. 15 Dead On Tools Toyota home in the runner-up position. At one point, he was even a lap down.
“Yeah, so tonight’s race was obviously a little bit chaotic for us,” Gray said. “Got caught up in a couple wrecks there and got some damage early, and at one point was a lap down. Just really had to focus on getting it fixed, then trying to get our lap back.
“Overall with the rain, going back green there, I was a little bit nervous just because I didn’t feel like I was going to be able to push as well as what I probably needed to to be in contention to win, but with that being said, these speedway races, there’s a lot of things that happen, and everything kind of gets wild at the end.”
Christian Eckes finished third on Friday night. He won Stage 1 and led a race high of 19 laps throughout the shortened 79-lap race.
“Yeah, I mean, listen, the saying for the year is “brick by brick,” and I felt like we let a couple of them down tonight. It was cool to win a stage and lead laps, and I had a really good points day. I don’t know where we’re at in the points. We might be the leader, we might not be.
“It’s a good start for sure, but in the same aspect, we came here wanting to win, and yeah, a thousand ways to lose a speedway race.”
Colby Howard and Grant Enfinger rounded out the top-five. Ty Majeski finished sixth, followed by Tyler Ankrum, Corey Heim, Matt Crafton and NASCAR Cup Series champion, Chase Elliott.
Throughout the night, there were seven cautions for 41 laps.
The largest accident occurred on Lap 30, and it included eight trucks. The crash occurred, when Clay Greenfield spun mid-pack while the drivers were making their way through the tri-oval on the frontstretch. With nowhere to go, the accident also collected Hailie Deegan, Matt DiBenedetto, Gray and more.
On Lap 59, the caution flew again after Stewart Friesen tried to block the pack behind him. Ben Rhodes had a run on Friesen and was going to pass by on the outside, but Friesen pulled in front to block and was turned into the outside wall. The accident collected a total of six drivers. Rhodes went on to finish 11th.
A few laps later on Lap 59, the finial caution for a crash was thrown. Rajah Caruth was racing towards the front, when contact sent his truck spinning through Turn 3. Five other trucks were caught up in the accident as well, including some of the top finishers, like Gray and Majeski and Heim.
Up next on the schedule for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is the Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, March 3. Live coverage will broadcast on FS1 at 9 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Mitchell White Photography
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