AUSTIN, TX — Kyle Busch had Saturday’s XPEL 225 win in his grasps. Until he didn’t. Busch, took over the lead on Lap 28 and was well in control during the second overtime but was unfortunately pushed off track when Alex Bowman tried to make a late move into a braking zone for which Stewart Friesen drove his No. 52 Toyota in deep to counter.
Bowman, got in too hot and slid up into Friesen who in turn got up into Busch. That allowed Zane Smith to skate by all three and lead the final two laps en route to the chaotic victory in the fourth NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race of the season.
Both Bowman and Friesen had differing opinions on the incident.
It was Smith’s fifth career Truck Series win, two of which coming this season alone. In fact, three of his five wins have come in the last six races in general with he and Chandler Smith combining to give the surname 5 wins in the last 6 Truck races.
“Once I got back up there, I was doing my best to read how those guys were racing,” said Smith, who drives the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford.
“It happened like that in such dramatic fashion and had to come from the back, it’s just a huge statement for this team really. Every single race this year I’ve been in contention to win.
“This whole team, just awesome to see how it all worked out,” he added.
“Scored some awesome points today,” Smith said.
Smith also broke the curse of stage sweeps and bad luck in the final stages this season. John Hunter Nemechek swept both stages in Daytona but crashed in the end and finished 24th. Defending series champion Ben Rhodes did the same in Vegas but also crashed and finished 31st.
This was the third time in four races run this year that someone swept both stages as Smith did so in his No. 38 Ford. With him being sixth coming to overtime, he benefitted from the late race carnage to score the victory.
Nemechek, was second in his No. 4 Toyota for his 8th top two result in 26 starts at KBM. This one though, was much needed as his last three finishes on the season were 24th, 25th and 24th respectively. In saying that, he had 3 stage wins just not a top 10. Now he does.
Busch was third in his No. 51 Toyota despite leading a race-high 31 laps. He won the Xfinity Series race here in 2021 and was 10th in Cup. Busch, was also runner-up in his other Truck start this year in Vegas. This was his worst Truck Series finish since Atlanta in 2020 as he won twice and was runner-up in his five allotted starts in 2021. He was runner-up in his first Truck start in 2022. In his last 23 Truck Series starts, he has 21 top two’s. This and that Atlanta race are his only ones not.
“Felt like we deserved that one, but it doesn’t matter if you deserve it or not, you’ve got to be the first one to the checkered flag and we were not,” Busch said.
Rhodes was fourth in his No. 99 Toyota. He was third and second respectively in the two stages while Chandler Smith rounded out the top five in his No. 18 Toyota. Smith, has three straight top fives now on the season.
The race featured 10 lead changes among eight drivers and had eight caution periods.
“In races like this, you know it’s never over till it’s over and that [race] is the very definition of that,” Smith said.
The top-five effort keeps championship leaders Smith and Rhodes close. Smith now holds a 15-point edge over Rhodes.
The series takes a break before returning to competition April 7 in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 200 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Zane Smith A Championship Favorite
A lot of people wondered why Zane Smith and GMS Racing couldn’t work out a deal for 2022. He had finished second for them in the championship as a rookie in 2020 and had some bad luck prior to the playoffs a year ago. Still, he charged hard for a win in Martinsville to stamp his name into the Championship 4 again for a second straight year. He’d come away second in the final standings again.
Despite that, he wasn’t retained and would end up at Front Row Motorsports in their Truck Series team. This move, is paying off. Not returning to GMS is proving to be a blessing in disguise.
Smith, has won in half (2-for-4) of his starts with FRM including a season opening win in Daytona and now a victory in COTA. With 12 playoff points compared to 5 for second best, is Smith THE early championship favorite?
I don’t see how he isn’t.
Redemption Day For Several Drivers
4 drivers came away with top 10’s on Saturday that were badly needed. The most by John Hunter Nemechek. That’s because he was a championship contender entering the season but after how the first three races have gone, he needed a spark.
3 stage wins in 3 races but no finishes better than 24th. In fact, he’s finished 24th or worse in 5 of his last 6 starts entering this weekend. Last year, he had 5 wins in an 11 race span but over the last 13 races, he’s had none.
While watching Kyle Busch, Corey Heim and Chandler Smith all deliver for KBM, plus with how disappointing last season ended for Nemecheck, the pressure was on.
He was only 17th and 28th in the two stages on Saturday but rebounded to finish runner-up. It was his first top five in the last six races as he now hopes this could get him going in the right direction for the rest of the season.
Tyler Ankrum is hoping his 7th place run in COTA does too. He was only 28th, 16th and 11th in the first three races to 2022, so having a 10th place start and a 7th place finish is a momentum builder.
Carson Hocevar and Christian Eckes also got momentum changing finishes too. Hocevar, was 9th, 13th and 27th the last three races but now 8th on Saturday. Eckes, was third in Daytona but 28th and 16th the last two weeks. He’s sixth now in COTA.
On the flipside, a couple of drivers saw their hot starts come to an end. Ty Majeski was 7th, 10th and 3rd in the first three races but was only 30th on Saturday. Tanner Gray was 4th, 5th and 8th but 17th himself.
Struggles Continue For Crafton/Deegan
Matt Crafton hasn’t had the finishes lately. This season, he’s only finished 27th, 7th, 25th and now 13th in COTA. But, if you go back to COTA last year, the three-time series champion has just a pair of top fives in his last 18 starts. 5 of his last 7 finishes have been 12th or worse.
The same can be said for Hailie Deegan. Her rough season continues with a 34th place run. She was 17th in Daytona, 33rd in Vegas and also 36th last week in Atlanta. Her last 10 finishes have been outside the top 15 with 11 of the last 16 outside the top 20.
KBM Puts 3 Trucks In The Top 5
Kyle Busch Motorsports had three trucks in the top three at the end of last weeks race in Atlanta. However, one of them was a lap down in Nemechek. Still, he helped Corey Heim win and by him being up front still, ensured a KBM victory.
This time around, KBM led the most laps but didn’t win. Still, they had 3 Trucks in the top 5 which was a solid day for them.
Nemechek got a much needed top five while Chandler Smith now has 3 straight top fives heading to Martinsville.
38 Truck Goes Back-To-Back
Zane Smith is the second driver of the No. 38 Ford to win in COTA. The first was just last year in the inaugural race from Todd Gilliland. He’s now a Cup driver. Smith takes this seat over and is back in victory lane.