Zane Smith Gains Crucial Knowledge After Being Fed ‘To the Wolves’

Getty Zane Smith delivered a top-10 finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Zane Smith delivered his first top-10 finish in the Cup Series during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He achieved this after a major learning experience when he was “fed to the wolves.”

Following a caution for Kevin Harvick spinning on Lap 358, Smith stayed out on the track while everyone else on the lead lap headed down pit road. This put him at the front of the pack for the restart on Lap 363.

Smith lost the lead to William Byron on the restart, but he was able to keep the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford in contention while other drivers brought out more cautions with wrecks.

“I mean, talk about feeding me to the wolves,” Smith said during a May 31 media session. “I felt like we were definitely — from the start of the race — had a top 20 car and then the second half of the race we had a top 15 car and then that final half I felt like had a top 10 car.

“…I wasn’t too confident when — I don’t know how many there were to go. I think there was like 40 to go — and we stayed out and I was gonna be the leader on my first mile-and-a-half and sixth Cup start, holding off two Hendrick cars that have obviously been fast all year.

“I knew that was gonna be a handful and just didn’t want to embarrass myself of wrecking in front of the field or getting wrecked or wrecking myself or whatever it may be. Fortunately, I was able to hold onto that track position as much as I could.”

Smith ultimately pitted during a later caution, which dropped him to 22nd in the running order. Though he was able to recover and race his way to 10th before the checkered flag flew.

The Restart Was a Learning Experience

GettyZane Smith races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Staying out on old tires is a risky proposition. It will occasionally work out and help a driver put themselves in contention for the win, especially with the importance of track position in the Next Gen era. There are also other scenarios where the driver on older tires will lose control and crash from the front of the field.

Smith had only made five previous starts in the Cup Series before the Coca-Cola 600, so he still had a significant amount of knowledge and experience to gain. He needed to learn all of the intricacies of the Next Gen cars and how to maximize his opportunities each week.

This gamble to stay out on older tires only provided another opportunity for Smith to continue the learning process as he prepares for a future at NASCAR’s top level.

“Those cautions fell and we pitted with three others and started 22nd,” Smith added. “I was pretty frustrated then because we had a solid day and I knew we were better than 22nd. I didn’t want to get trapped back there, so I just went to the fence and I think I got eight guys in one lap.

“And then that built me some time to get a few more and just get us track position. That’s just so much of what the Cup side is. You really don’t know who is great until you get them out front, so I guess it was cool to experience, being on the front row for 500 to 1,000 feet maybe. It was short-lived, but really cool to run up there.”

Smith Has Set Himself Up for the Future

Zane Smith

GettyZane Smith (left) celebrated his championship win in Nashville.

Smith, the reigning Truck Series champion, has made five starts in the Cup Series during the 2023 season. Four have been with Front Row Motorsports as part of a set schedule while the fifth was with Rick Ware Racing as Smith replaced a suspended Cody Ware.

There are three races remaining on Smith’s Cup Series schedule, based on a previous announcement. He will take over the No. 38 Ford at Sonoma Raceway in June, Texas Motor Speedway in September, and the Charlotte Roval in October.

This part-time schedule sets up a scenario where Smith moves directly to the Cup Series for the 2024 season. After all, he signed a long-term contract with Front Row Motorsports in August 2022.

Smith told media members that he does not yet have any plans set in stone for the 2024 season, but he confirmed that he feels ready for the challenge of battling the top names in stock car racing.

“Yeah, I do. I kind of regret not going there this year in a way, but, yeah, I do think I am ready,” Smith said in response to a question from Racer’s Kelly Crandall.

“I feel like just putting myself racing on Sunday has taught me so much and has gotten me used to the longer races, but, no, I don’t have anything in place yet for next year.”

Read More
Comment Here
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments