After a 12-race slate in 2020, Kyle Busch Motorsports handed the keys of the No. 18 Toyota Tundra to Chandler Smith for the 2021 Camping World Truck Series season. Smith rode off two victories in the ARCA Menards Series and five top-fives a year before and had heightened expectations to live up to in 2021.
Top-five finishes: 6
Top-10 finishes: 9
DNFs: 4 (Bristol dirt, Darlington-1, Watkins Glen, Las Vegas-2)
Average running position: 14.78 (11th)
Quality passes: 538 (10th)
Driver rating: 89.8 (9th)
LATE SEASON SURGE – Although short of a Championship 4 bid, Smith finished 2021 on a high note, winning two of the last five races including the finale at Phoenix Raceway. He secured his first NASCAR victory just weeks earlier at Bristol Motor Speedway after surviving a late-race restart to punch his ticket into the Round of 8 of the playoffs.
While Smith led just five laps at Bristol, his Phoenix win was much more dominant. He ran the table, sweeping the stages and winning the race on a perfect 60-point night.
GETTIN’ DIRTY – At Knoxville Raceway, Smith finished second and secured 37 points to maintain his buffer of 40 points in the playoff standings over 11th place Derek Kraus. He led 71 laps, the most of any driver, but secured just two stage points.
His strong night at Knoxville paid off as a disqualification in the regular-season finale at Watkins Glen threatened his playoff hopes. Without a second-place finish the race prior, Smith may have fallen short of a Round of 10 berth.
SPEEDWAY MOTORSPORTS LOVE – Following inconsistencies to open the season, Smith secured a sixth-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway and a fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, consecutively, to rise to 10th in the playoff standings from 12th. Despite just one top-10 in the final four races of the regular season, Smith held on to make the playoffs.
TOUGH START – After contending for a win and finishing ninth in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, Smith dropped 10 spots in the points standings over four races with exponentially worse results. He finished a respectable 12th at the Daytona road course and followed with a 19th place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. However, 35th and 34th place finishes at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Bristol (dirt), respectively, dropped Smith to 13th in the playoff standings.
Later in the spring, Smith finished 27th and 33rd in consecutive races at Darlington Raceway and Circuit of the Americas, respectively, to fall back to 12th in the playoff standings after briefly cracking the top 10.
ROUND OF 8 – Off the highest of highs — a victory at Bristol, Smith hit the lowest of lows of his season. He was involved in a five-truck crash on Lap 72 at Las Vegas, taking him out of the race and placing 35th with just 11 points on the night.
At Talladega Superspeedway a week later, Smith suffered damage in ‘the big one’ on Lap 59 and fell seven laps behind. He finished in 19th place, positioning himself in a must-win situation at Martinsville Speedway in the Round of 8 finale. Smith contended but ultimately finished fourth and fell short of a championship appearance.
Smith enters, quite possibly, the most important year of his career. He’ll return to the KBM No. 18 truck for a second season where he’ll expect to contend for a title.
Certainly, it won’t be easy for Smith to finish on top in 2022. Defending champion Ben Rhodes returns to the series, as well as John Hunter Nemechek, a five-time winner in 2021 and Smith’s teammate.
But, a strong year for Smith will show teams will show the 19-year-old is ready for the next level. If he can maintain a consistent season, all signs point to Smith becoming a championship contender.
NOTE: Chandler Smith finished 11th in regular-season points, behind Grant Enfinger. But, because Enfinger did not compete in every race, NASCAR deemed Enfinger eligible for the playoffs and Smith claimed the final playoff spot.