Ask around the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series garage and you’d get the same answer that Chandler Smith has to be the championship favorite in Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 (10 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN). Smith may be backing his way into the final round of the playoffs, but it’s not like he’s not performed well in Phoenix or even like tracks this season either.
His last win came at Richmond, a track most would say is most similar to the 1-mile Arizona oval. He also won the last time we were at Phoenix for the championship race a year ago. Smith has 3 Top-3 finishes in 3 Phoenix starts.
“Yes and no. As crazy as this sounds, but it is reality, these trucks – I can’t control what goes on other than I drive race cars,” Smith said on if he’s excited tonight’s championship race is at a track that he’s thrived on. “I drive them. I can’t control if bolt gets less loose leaving the race shop and we go into turn one at Phoenix and we stuff it in the fence. I can’t control that and that can dictate the rest of the weekend. I know we should have a fast truck, but I wouldn’t say it necessarily – if we get to Phoenix, we are going to win. Definitely not. There are way too many variables in making everything go full circle than just that.
“It’s just another race. I don’t see the pressure being added because I’m just treating this like any other weekend and there is a bigger prize to be had in victory lane if we were to get it.””
Smith says that he feels like last year, the last three quarters of last year in general, he showed what they were going to have in store for this year.
“We were really good at the end of last year—started getting wins and running up front every single week and were the truck to beat almost every other week—where the year before we were hit-or-miss.
“We ended up getting our stuff together, we were more consistent, winning races and I told the guys next year we are out for blood—we’re going to go get them next year. And look, we’re sitting here talking about running for a championship, and it has just been an amazing experience.”
Kyle Busch Motorsports hasn’t won a title since Christopher Bell in 2017, so even with Smith leaving KBM and Toyota for Kaulig Racing and Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2023, he’s not letting his focus wane as he’d love nothing more to go out a champion.
“Bittersweet, because they have done so much for me,” Smith says of his emotions of Friday night being his last Toyota/KBM start. “I’ve been a TRD driver for six plus years now. They have gotten me to where I am and have supported me in everything – my highs and lows, for sure. They have been really supportive, but I got the opportunity of a lifetime that I couldn’t turn down. They said we will support you in that and that gives me even more respect for them. At the end of the day, they are always going to be family regardless of if they are Toyota, Chevy and Ford. They are always going to be family to me all of those individuals.
“All of the memories and the great people that I have met that have come and gone. I’ve learned so much from all of these great people at KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports). They’ve taught me a lot about life lessons, racing lessons, whatever it may be. I think that is the biggest thing that will stick out to me.”
As far as what he takes the most away from his time with KBM is most of all, the people.
“Just the people here. I’ve made so many good memories with these people and learned so much,” he says. “I’ve made so many good lifetime long friends in this organization. They have taught me so much. They are the ones that introduced me to the NASCAR world and helped me learn the ropes. I’ll forever be grateful for all of the opportunities that were available for me.”
He says it would be amazing to win the final race with KBM and that it caps the moment of them both trusting the process from being at the bottom two years ago to a championship in a short time later.
“Trusting the process – a whole two years from being at the bottom and kind of stairsteps to the top a little bit and that was just by faith. If that is what the case is tomorrow, what a testimony. That’s what having faith in the Lord – that’s the outcome. That alone would mean more to me than winning the championship – being a testimony and an example.”