After winning three of the first eight NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races of the season, things have quieted down for Zane Smith. He’s still remained consistent — finishing top 10 in all but three races — but he’s on a 12-race mini-drought since his last win.
Smith’s trio of victories helped pave the way to his first Truck Series regular-season championship, which he secured by finishing 13th at Pocono Raceway in July. He cruised into the second round with finishes of third, ninth and fourth at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, Richmond Raceway and Kansas Speedway, respectively.
Ty Majeski outdueled Smith in the Round of 8 opener at Bristol Motor Speedway, punching his ticket into the Championship 4. Though he finished second, Chandler Smith jumped Zane Smith in points by winning two stages and earning 48 points.
Going into the middle race of the second round, Zane Smith is third in driver points — 12 points above Stewart Friesen and 21 points above the cutline.
But, Saturday’s race is arguably the most unpredictable race of the season. It’s Talladega, the third and final superspeedway-style event of the season.
And while a lot can happen, that won’t change Smith’s mindset as one of the championship contenders.
“I’ve been gung ho on just racing the whole time,” Smith said in a media availability Wednesday. “I’ve been involved in a wreck everywhere at Talladega. I feel like I’ve been wrecked riding and I’ve been wrecked leading, so I wanted to race but a few guys on my team are saying that they think we should ride, but I don’t know. I feel like it’s one of those deals where I want to race and if you’re gonna be up there, then I feel like you take advantage of some stage points.”
Smith has found success at superspeedways this season. He won the season opener at Daytona in February in finished fifth at the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Previously, Smith won an ARCA race at Talladega and crashed in his prior two Truck Series starts at the 2.66-mile speedway.
“I’m just super confident in the group I have around me and I now have more experience,” Smith said. “I’ve just been on every side of situations on a superspeedway in a truck, so I don’t know what Talladega will bring. I don’t think anyone knows, but we’ll do our best and hopefully come out OK.
“There is manufacturer help that people work together with, but towards the end, I feel like it just becomes all for themselves and whoever lines up behind you on restarts, especially now that it’s in the Round of 8, and if you win you get into the Round of 4.
“I just got a glimpse of what I had at Daytona and I was happy with my truck for the most part. It played out really good for us, so obviously we’re bringing back that same truck and hopefully do the same thing.”
As unpredictable as Talladega already is, remnants of Hurricane Ian could hit the track this weekend. Recent models are showing the storm’s path has shifted toward the east — which is favorable for the race — and the track has also opened a portion of its campgrounds for evacuees.
If rain hits, the weekend schedule could get altered.
“I had seen that we were most likely gonna have rain and I was kind of excited about that qualifying-wise because I think I would start second and my qualifying efforts at Daytona weren’t great,” Smith said. “I kind of approach it just like any race weekend to say the least… I guess time will tell. There’s no doubt I think we’ll race good and that’s what matters.”
After Saturday’s Chevy Silverado 250 at Talladega, Round of 8 drivers will have one more opportunity to punch their tickets into the championship. The series heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Baptist Health Cancer Care 200. It’s the first time Homestead is in the Playoffs since 2019 when it had served as the championship race for 18 seasons.
Saturday’s Talladega race is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET on FS1.