AVONDALE, Ariz. – Sammy Smith may have made a lot of folks feel a bit older after Saturday’s United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway.
Namely, Smith, who is only 18 years old, looked more like a polished, seasoned stock car champion in his No. 18 Pilot Flying J Toyota Supra. Although the path toward victory seemed a bit daunting with an 11th place starting position, the pride of Johnston, Iowa was more than up to the task.
By the conclusion of Stage 1, Smith placed third, netting eight stage points. He nearly backed up his opening stanza result with a fourth in Stage 2, earning seven stage points.
Once Stage 3 was underway, Smith was like a high school senior who aced his final exams. In this case, the NASCAR Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year candidate took the lead from Kyle Busch on Lap 103.
Aside from some late race cautions that shuffled up the running order, Smith focused onward toward tallying his first career Xfinity Series victory. He worked his way past Busch for the number one spot once more on Lap 149.
This time, Smith held onto the lead for good, staving off Busch, Ryan Truex and John Hunter Nemechek, his chief rivals in the later portions of the race.
When all was said and done, Smith bested Truex by 0.641 seconds, securing a 1-2 Joe Gibbs Racing finish at the renowned 1-mile speedway.
“It is amazing,” Smith said. “It’s a dream come true. Just thanks to Pilot Flying J, TMC, Allstate Peterbuilt Group, Renda Group, Toyota… all of the guys on the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) team for giving me this opportunity. It is awesome.”
While Smith has yet to graduate from his high school, he held a steady wheel with his mature, smooth approach throughout the season’s fourth race. That was evident especially with those late race restarts against some heavy competition.
“It was tough with all of these restarts,” he said. “I just got to thank everyone on this Pilot Flying J team, TMC, Allstate Peterbuilt, Renda Group, Sinclair, Toyota, JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) guys. Everybody on this (No.) 18 team that gave me an awesome car.”
As Smith enjoyed his first career victory, Truex, competing in a partial schedule, was gracious with his latest runner-up result.
“I think the track just changed a lot more than I expected it to,” Truex said. “That long run, we were really bad. I was just hanging on. Jason (Ratcliff) and these guys let me complain on the radio and we made the right adjustments. That was a good restart at the end; I’m glad at least I could try to make it exciting.
“Congrats to Sammy (Smith) and I think he was the class of the field all day. His car looked so good, and he could do what he wanted. Just thankful to be here. Thank you to Toyota Genuine Parts, it was as fast as Xfinity 10 G, but I think that Sammy was just a little bit faster. I’ll try again next time.”
Truex will have another shot at his first career Xfinity victory in next Saturday’s Raptor King of Tough 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (5 p.m. ET on FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). On the other hand, Smith cherished his maiden trip to an Xfinity Series’ winner’s circle.
“A lot of hard work and a lot of great people behind me,” Smith said in regards to what it took to become an Xfinity Series race winner. “Without all these guys and Pilot Flying J, TMC and Toyota, I wouldn’t be here.”
Stage 1 Top 10 Finishers
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Stage 2 Top 10 Finishers
United Rentals 200 Top 10 Finishers at Phoenix
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