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Zane Smith Hopeful for Much Needed Silver Lining at COTA

Zane Smith

Zane Smith hopes that Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA is a competitive race for his No. 71 Spire Motorsports team. (Photo: Jared Bokanoski | The Podium Finish)

DEL VALLE, Texas — For a driver of Zane Smith’s pedigree and experience, adversity is sometimes the name of the game in the competitive landscape of NASCAR Cup Series racing.

Smith made a name for himself in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series from 2020 to 2023, with a championship in 2022 showcasing his might and prowess as a young, rising superstar. Although the 24-year-old Huntington Beach, California, native, missed out on the Championship 4 last year, he won at Daytona and Circuit of the Americas, or COTA, en route to a seventh place points finish.

Graduating this year to the Cup series with Spire Motorsports’ No. 71 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 entry, it has been a challenging start for the mild mannered racer. After a respectable 13th in the DAYTONA 500, Smith has been collected in accidents that have curtailed his efforts.

Prior to Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA, Smith acknowledged the difficulties he and his No. 71 team have faced in the opening five races.

“It’s definitely a rough start. Our DAYTONA 500 was good. And then going to Atlanta, we actually had really good speed and [had] a mistake on my end,” Smith said. “We went to Vegas and had even better speed in practice and where we ranked on lap averages and whatnot and how our car felt. And then again, just to put myself in a bad spot aero wise and had another mistake there. Phoenix was a struggle.

“At Bristol, we got caught up in a wreck from getting hit from behind and then getting put into some marbles and not being able to stop. So, it’s been, like I said, a rough start, but I guess we’re learning and that’s what makes the Cup series great. We get a little reset for the next week. And our focus now is towards COTA and COTA has been good to me in the past, so hopefully, we continue that streak.”

Smith has a remarkable track record at COTA. In three starts, all in the Truck series, Smith has two wins and three top 10 finishes, including the past two XPEL 225 victories. While he is not entered for Saturday’s race, he will focus his sights on the big dance on Sunday afternoon.

Naturally, Smith, whose best Cup race finish is 10th in last year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, is hopeful about a good performance at the 3.426-mile, 20-turn FIA Grade 1 course. In a manner of speaking, he always look forward to a race weekend at a road course.

Zane Smith

Zane Smith takes to COTA in his No. 71 Focused Health Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. (Phoot: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

“I sure hope so,” he said. “Whenever we’re on a road course week, for me, I’m always a little bit more just excited just because the road courses are a lot of fun. So hopefully, we could just have a good reset and just a good run. We know — myself and my team really need it. Hope to have that. But we’ll keep grinding and hopefully just getting better each and every week.”

If there is a track where opportunities can knock for Smith, it is COTA. The constant variety of raw speed and technical, attacking points makes for an interesting experience for a driver like Smith, particularly when it comes to maximizing points.

“I think COTA is just a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a little bit of everything. Like it’s a huge road course and I feel like one of, if not, the most proper road course we go to. And so, it’s always a lot of fun going there. You start out the first half of the lap where it’s high speed, pretty windy, few big brake zones. And then on the back half, it’s super technical and also a couple big brake zones and it’s just crazy. And so, I don’t know, I’ve just always liked going to COTA. Always loved being in Austin, Texas, and always enjoyed my time there.”

Aside from enjoying the sights and cuisines of Texas’ capital, Austin, Smith enjoys the physical fitness program with a familiar mentor.

Zane Smith

Zane Smith rolls off from the 34th starting position for Sunday’s race at COTA. (Photo: John Arndt | The Podium Finish)

“My weeks are full from the training on Josh Wise’s side of things. So [I’m] back with him,” Smith shared. “It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been a part of his program. It’s really cool to see how far that’s come.

“And I feel like it definitely just improves you off the track, but I feel like your performance inside the car definitely elevates. So, it’s great having that, but it’s nice to have a little something else. Whether it’s running, cycling, or just inside the gym to take your mind off of a bad weekend.”

The time spent working out at the gym or outdoors provides a clear, mental slate for Smith to clamber into the driver’s seat each weekend. Even with the tough stretch of races in recent weeks, the Spire Motorsports racer knows all those reps in a car have paid dividends with the ebbs and flows of racing.

Namely, Smith looks forward to applying the lessons he has learned to soak in the successes and keep his head up during the difficult times.

“It’s crazy whatever career path I feel like you have,” he observed. “But the ups and downs, just keeping a level head and I think just thinking on how you built yourself to when you have a successful moment is important to remember how to get back there.

“And if you choose racing, race as much as you can, whenever you can, whatever it may be. And I feel like that will really show down the road in your racing career.”

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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