Zane Smith literally burns it down, with Truck Series win in COTA

Zane Smith became the first repeat NASCAR winner at the famed Circuit of The Americas road course, the reigning series champion holding off veteran Kyle Busch to claim his second straight victory in Saturday’s XPEL 225 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race.

The 23-year-old Californian’s No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford led the final 15 laps – a race best 16 of the 42 laps in all – and crossed the finish line an impressive 5.451-seconds ahead of the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Busch. The win makes Smith’s Front Row Motorsports team a perfect 3-for-3 in CRAFTSMAN Truck Series races at COTA. Todd Gilliland won the 2021 inaugural here.

Ford driver Ty Majeski, Toyota’s Tyler Ankrum and last year’s NASCAR Cup Series COTA winner, Ross Chastain, in a Chevrolet rounded out the top-five.

It’s the second victory of the year for Smith, who won the season-opener at Daytona too – the same first two victories he earned in his 2022 championship season as well.

“Shout out to Chris Lawson for an amazing strategy,” said Smith, whose Ford F-150 had a small fire under it extinguished after his burnout.

“So cool for [sponsors] Speedco, Peak and all our partners. It was fast when it mattered. I just enjoy coming to all the road courses, especially here. So cool. Just a true testament to this team.”

“Once we got to that eight-to-go point and I was told Kyle [Busch] was in second, my heart rate went up a little bit, just because he’s so good at managing his stuff when it mattered,” Smith continued. “So, I just tried not to make any mistakes.”

Corey Heim, rookie Nick Sanchez, Tanner Gray, Kaz Grala and Ben Rhodes rounded out the top-10. NASCAR has eliminated stage breaks at road courses in 2023 but both Christian Eckes – who ultimately finished 30th after mechanical problems – won Stage 1 (his third stage win of the year) and Busch won Stage 2.

The win Saturday was Smith’s ninth in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series and puts him in the driver standings lead by two-points on ThorSport Racing’s Majeski heading into the next race, the 250 next Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Kligerman Caution Costs Busch The Win

The polesitter Chastain and Busch exchanged the lead for much of the early race – combining to lead 22 laps between them. Then came the Parker Kligerman caution on Lap 26. Smith was able to take the lead after pitting just before the final caution of the race then and getting track position as a result. Chastain’s truck actually fell back to 28th for the final restart and Busch’s was 17th yet they both rallied to top-five finishes.

But both of the NASCAR Cup Series full-timers wasted no time navigating upward through the field. On just the single restart lap, Busch had moved up 10 spots and ran seventh – picking off positions with ease. He moved into second place with six laps to go, but by that point Smith had already opened up more than a five-second advantage.

“Played the long game and unfortunately the long game didn’t work, they got lucky and beat us,” Busch said of gambling with a pit strategy that took the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Chevrolet into the pits two laps – and a caution flag – after Smith made his final stop.

Busch led 31 laps in last year’s race but finished third. He led 35 laps and won the 2021 Xfinity Series race here too.

His runner-up on Saturday was his 113th career top five in the Truck Series. That’s three shy of tying Johnny Sauter for fourth most. Ron Hornaday Jr.’s 158 is tops.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 25: Zane Smith, driver of the #38 Speedco/Peak Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225 at Circuit of The Americas on March 25, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Front Row Motorsports Winningest Team at COTA

In seven total NASCAR races at COTA – two each in the NASCAR Cup and the Xfinity Series and three in the CRAFTSMAN Truck series – the winningest team to date is Front Row Motorsports. The team is undefeated in NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series races with Todd Gilliland winning the COTA race in 2021 and Zane Smith earning the win last year en route to the season championship. He just won again on Saturday.

Gilliland will be driving the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race.

“I think just going into a place where you’ve won before definitely gives you a sort of higher expectations and kind of confidence in general,” said Gilliland, who was 27th fastest in opening practice. 

“Definitely different conditions that day, it was raining and kind of drying up, very challenging race but just really excited to come back here knowing I’ve won here.

“The race is going to be different this weekend with no stages,” Gilliland said. “It really has the potential to not be that different if we have a lot of cautions, but there’s the potential for the whole race going green.

“I think just knowing the race track really well – that [win] was the first time anyone had raced here at all,” he added. “And I don’t really come from a lot of road course racing background so to get a road course win was huge for me and I don’t think there’s a reason I can’t be good at road courses. It gives me a lot of confidence in general.”

Rough Start To Season For Hocevar/Crafton

Matt Crafton has yet to score a top five finish in four races run this season. He was 9th, 11th and 9th respectively in the opening three races though. However, a DNF in 33rd on Saturday wasn’t ideal.

Similar for Carson Hocevar. He also was a DNF in 34th with an axle. His three other finishes are 12th, 7th and 31st this season.

Top Moment

NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Race – XPEL 225

Circuit of The Americas

Austin, Texas

Saturday, March 25, 2023

                1. (7)  Zane Smith, Ford, 42.

                2. (2)  Kyle Busch(i), Chevrolet, 42.

                3. (3)  Ty Majeski, Ford, 42.

                4. (12)  Tyler Ankrum, Toyota, 42.

                5. (1)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 42.

                6. (11)  Corey Heim, Toyota, 42.

                7. (4)  Nick Sanchez #, Chevrolet, 42.

                8. (9)  Tanner Gray, Toyota, 42.

                9. (10)  Kaz Grala(i), Toyota, 42.

                10. (13)  Ben Rhodes, Ford, 42.

                11. (19)  Taylor Gray, Toyota, 42.

                12. (8)  Grant Enfinger, Chevrolet, 42.

                13. (20)  Rajah Caruth #, Chevrolet, 42.

                14. (15)  Stewart Friesen, Toyota, 42.

                15. (24)  Kaden Honeycutt, Ford, 42.

                16. (16)  Hailie Deegan, Ford, 42.

                17. (18)  Lawless Alan, Chevrolet, 42.

                18. (36)  Daniel Dye #, Chevrolet, 42.

                19. (32)  Jake Garcia #, Chevrolet, 42.

                20. (25)  Colin Garrett, Toyota, 42.

                21. (35)  Kris Wright, Chevrolet, 42.

                22. (14)  Logan Bearden, Ford, 42.

                23. (31)  Bret Holmes #, Chevrolet, 42.

                24. (27)  Colby Howard, Chevrolet, 42.

                25. (29)  Timmy Hill, Toyota, 42.

                26. (30)  Mason Filippi, Ford, 42.

                27. (21)  Chase Purdy, Chevrolet, 42.

                28. (33)  Dale Quarterley, Toyota, 42.

                29. (28)  Matt DiBenedetto, Chevrolet, 41.

                30. (5)  Christian Eckes, Chevrolet, Suspension, 31.

                31. (17)  Parker Kligerman(i), Chevrolet, Electrical, 26.

                32. (26)  Spencer Boyd, Chevrolet, Electrical, 12.

                33. (34)  Matt Crafton, Ford, Accident, 11.

                34. (6)  Carson Hocevar, Chevrolet, Axle, 8.

                35. (22)  Dean Thompson, Toyota, Accident, 4.

                36. (23)  Ed Jones, Chevrolet, Suspension, 0.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  77 mph.

Time of Race:  1 Hrs, 51 Mins, 36 Secs. Margin of Victory:  5.451 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  3 for 5 laps.

Lead Changes:  9 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   R. Chastain(i) 1-2;K. Busch(i) 3;R. Chastain(i) 4-8;Z. Smith 9;C. Eckes 10-12;T. Majeski 13;K. Busch(i) 14-19;R. Chastain(i) 20-22;K. Busch(i) 23-27;Z. Smith 28-42.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Zane Smith 2 times for 16 laps; Kyle Busch(i) 3 times for 12 laps; Ross Chastain(i) 3 times for 10 laps; Christian Eckes 1 time for 3 laps; Ty Majeski 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 19,98,11,1,51,41,16,38,99,25

Stage #2 Top Ten: 51,38,45,52,75,13,41,04,99,2

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