AVONDALE, Ariz. — Chandler Smith fought Zane Smith and Ben Rhodes for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in overtime but ultimately fell short in pursuit of his first title.
Chandler Smith led nine laps in the final stage but finished third after a wild two-lap dash.
“It just wasn’t meant to be for our group,” Chandler said after the race. “I feel like [Zane] may have been the most deserving out of anybody. We busted our butts and we made it here, but [Zane was] the best truck tonight for sure.”
Chandler, who won three times this season, entered Friday’s championship fight with a collected mindset. As much as he wanted to win the title, he was ready to accept the results regardless
Chandler qualified for Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 in 12th. He made it up to eighth by the end of Stage 1 and climbed into the top five by the end of Stage 2. Zane won both stages and seemingly had the car to beat.
After a fast pit stop during the stage break, Chandler had the lead to begin Stage 3. A crash in Turn 1 quickly brought the caution back out and Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate John Hunter Nemechek passed him during the next restart. After another caution, Zane Smith retook the lead.
But with 15 laps to go, Hailie Deegan crashed and brought out another yellow. Zane Smith’s sizeable lead vanished, and suddenly, Chandler was back in the game.
Each of the four Championship 4 drivers pitted, but Ben Rhodes elected for just two tires and restarted third. Chandler and Zane each took four tires but restarted eighth and 11th, respectively.
Chandler navigated up to the top five, but Zane quickly passed him and drove to second. Zane pressed on Rhodes for the lead but had to fight off Ty Majeski, the final championship driver. With four laps to go, Majeski spun on the backstretch, setting up NASCAR Overtime.
Chandler ran third, and coming to the choose, he decided to take the outside after Rhodes and Zane Smith picked the inside.
“I wish I could redo it because I got such a good launch [on the restart],” Chandler said. “I actually launched way better than him and I was about half a truck length at the start-finish, but I didn’t want for some reason for there to be a penalty, so I lifted a little to let him get back even with me.”
Chandler got to Zane in Turn 3, but Zane got a run exiting the corner and took the white flag. Chandler was passed by Rhodes in Turn 1 and lost pace down the backstretch.
“We both drove in super deep,” Chandler said of his battle with Zane. “He was already on my door, had no air on my side, and was just swatting flies in there, so there’s nothing to even use.
“If you drive in on somebody’s door in a super late model just as deep, they’re not going to be affected as much as a truck. In a truck, crap, I was next to spinning out getting into Turn 3, to be completely honest.
“I could have probably backed up my entry, but the reality is the 38 already had clean air on his nose and everything, and he’s been so good all day. My best shot was to try to wiggle him a little bit, stay side by side getting into [Turn] 1 and use him up again, which I almost did, but [Rhodes] was still behind him. They were able to line up, and he kind of had an air buffer and kind of pushed him away from me and I couldn’t stay on his quarter.”
Zane Smith held off Rhodes to win the championship after finishing runner-up the last two seasons. He showed respect to the other three championship drivers after the race.
“We had every opportunity to wreck each other, and we battled hard, hit each other, but didn’t wreck each other,” Zane said. “We were fighting for a championship, so a lot of respect goes out to them.”
Chandler Smith finished his second and final full-time Truck Series campaign with 16 top 10s and an average finish of 8.7. His wins at Las Vegas, Pocono and Richmond this season total five in his career.
But now it’s the end of an era. Chandler Smith is leaving Toyota Racing Development and making the jump to the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing.
Although he couldn’t win a Truck Series championship, Smith feels he made his mark.
“It’s really disappointing, but I can’t be too upset with second full-time season and racing for a championship,” he said. “Just wasn’t meant to be.”