Zane Smith knew what it took to lead Kansas Speedway. But that never translated into grabbing the last lap…until Saturday night.
Smith ended three years of frustration in Kansas by dominating the last 111 laps and after a tense restart, winning the Camping World Trucks Heart of America 200.
By Saturday, 22-year-old Smith had led 50 laps in the Spring 2020 race in Kansas and finished ninth. He drove 37 laps in the fall race and finished 11th. He drove 17 laps in 2019 and finished sixth.
But there was no catching Smith this time. Smith snatched the lead from Corey Heim on lap 38 and led the best 108 out of 134 laps of the season.
“I had to lose,” Smith said, in his first season driving the #38 Front Row Motorsports Ford. “These races look fun, but they really aren’t, mentally speaking.”
Smith had a five-second lead before taking off 13 laps when Chevrolet rookie Dean Thompson’s engine blew, forcing him to watch out late.
Leaders—Smith, born John Hunter Nemeczyk, Ty Majeske, and Chandler Smith—decided to stay on track to resume the final act. Smith, the only driver with multiple trucks to win this season, sprinted and beat Majeski by 1.653sec.
“I feel like I should get two of these since I’ve been here,” Smith said while holding his signature Kansas Speedway Trophy. “It’s hard to shut down anything in NASCAR. Truck racing is crazy. I’ve been on both sides of it. They never finish…Even with two left, I thought, ‘There will be a warning.'”
“The late race resumption scared me a little bit; good thing we didn’t have another one, because I was stuck in fourth. I really enjoy coming to this place. I’ve been looking for a 1.5 mile win for a while now, and it looks like it. It took me Some. I thought resuming the race late would probably be another.”
Majeske, who finished second in the #66 Toyota, was the best of his career, followed by Grant Infinger in the #23 Chevrolet and Chandler Smith in the #18 Toyota.
Smith, of Huntington Beach, California, has not only won three races this season, but the wins have come on three distinct tracks — the Daytona High Speedway, the Austin road track and the 1.5-mile intermediate oval triathlon in Kansas.
Smith thought he should have already won the 1.5-mile track, but was disqualified for an illegal loop during the second race of the season in Las Vegas.
“I told (crew chief) Chris Lawson after Vegas when I was really frustrated, because we have a good truck, but I told him, ‘If we bring what we have in Vegas, there’s no reason we can’t win in Kansas. I’m so excited that we came here in the qualifiers, and that’s even more important to win.”
Smith had an idea it would be a good night for him during the driver introductions when he chatted with Nemechek, who was taking a win in Darlington.
“People were asking him, ‘How was his truck,’ and they were asking me, and John Hunter said to me, ‘He’s just worried about me, and I could say the same about him,'” Smith said. “But you really don’t know, especially training in the heat of the day and racing at night.
“I feel like I’ve gone way better on the 1.5 mile trails in the last two years, and I enjoy going on them, and I really love coming to Kansas.”
Nemechek’s opinion of Smith has not changed after the race.
“The 38 was the dominant truck in the race,” said Nemechek.
This story was originally published May 14, 2022 8:57 PM.