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Chandler Smith dominated the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway Thursday night (Sept. 15) and seemed like he was on his way to clinching a spot in the Championship 4.
Instead, one bad pit call changed everything.
Smith won the first two stages of the Camping World Truck Series Round of 8 opener, leading 89 straight laps in the process. He passed polesitter Derek Kraus on lap 28 and looked like he was going to cruise off into the sunset … or, rather, the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.
That’s when strategy got the best of Smith. As he pitted for fuel and tires during the stage two break, 14 other trucks who had previously pitted stayed out, each with enough fuel to make it to the end.
In an instant, Smith had lost all track position. Stuck in traffic, he could only claw back up to ninth place.
“Us, as a group, we were just a little too tight coming back through the field,” Smith said. “I felt like if we were a little freer, we would’ve had something for them. But I mean, we ran so many caution laps as well, like we probably would’ve ran out of time no matter what.”
With Smith out of the picture, the win slipped away to playoff rival Ty Majeski. Still, Smith scored the most points on the day, earning 48 thanks to the stage wins. The result leaves him leading the playoff standings over those remaining winless, holding a 24-point edge over Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate John Hunter Nemechek.
“I guess it’s an OK day, right?” Smith said. “I don’t know how much stage points really matter. Every little bit counts, especially if it comes down to two drivers win these next two races and they’re playoff drivers. It’s always good so we can point our way in … But obviously we want to go to Talladega [Superspeedway] or Miami [Homestead-Miami Speedway] and win it so we don’t have to worry about it.
“… It always helps, but it would’ve helped if we were in victory lane more.”
Instead of having his Championship 4 locked up, Smith has to fret about points the next two races. It’s a missed opportunity, as Smith is especially strong on short tracks. Three of his five Truck Series wins have come on ovals one mile and under in size. In contrast, Talladega is next up, where Smith only has one career top five in four superspeedway starts.
“We had this one circled for us to possibly win,” Smith said of Bristol. “I felt like we had a dominant truck. … Once we went stage racing and them guys played track position at the very end and the [Nos.] 66 and the 38 were able to get up front. Me and the [No.] 52 were the only people who passed all night. I don’t know how to fix that. It wasn’t good, fun racing, I can promise you that.”
Smith credited the track’s use of PJ1 to provide more grip to the track’s bottom lane as the reason why passing was so much harder.
“I don’t know because you look at how much PJ1 is on the racetrack and you go back to 2019, 2020, and this thing was cooked in PJ1, and it was really, really bad then,” Smith said. “I don’t know. I’m a fan of taking it all away and letting us go back to old Bristol racing, where you can run the bottom, you can run the middle, you can run the wall.
“I remember in 2019, I came here and tested, and I ran 100 laps straight on the fence, and I was able to run the same lap time on the fence and on the bottom. There was no PJ1 then. … I wish they’d fix it, but at the end of the day, we had a solid points day. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be racing cars for a living.”
Smith now enters what could be his final three races with KBM. His future with the team is unknown as the team will switch to Chevrolet given owner Kyle Busch‘s signing with Richard Childress Racing and David Wilson, President of Toyota Racing Development, saying Toyota will keep its current crop of drivers.
💭“I'll suggest that the drivers that are a part of our program […] guys like @CoreyHeim_ & @JHNemechek will remain part of the @ToyotaRacing family."
⁰🗣 @DavidWilsonTRD revealed that the current crop of @KBMteam Truck Series drivers will remain with the manufacturer in 2023. pic.twitter.com/BpvXLCOGJ1
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) September 14, 2022
“It’s not [a distraction],” Smith said of the news. “People above my paygrade deal with that. I just race cars.”
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.
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