Zane Smith finished the 2021 season in a somewhat despondent state. He had lost his ride with GMS Racing despite finishing second in points for what is now the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and seemingly had nowhere to go. He thought he had lost his career.
Late in the 2021-22 offseason, he was hired to drive the No. 38 Ford for Front Row Motorsports in the Truck Series to replace Todd Gilliland, who had been promoted to the NASCAR Cup Series. It did not take long for Smith to show his strength, winning the season opener in Daytona.
He won three more times in 2022, including the season finale Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway to win the championship. Now, he’s back for more in the Trucks while looking towards his future.
Prior to that future, Smith signed up for some fun in Daytona, racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season opener with Harrison Burton in a Ford Mustang GT4. While in Daytona, our own Phil Allaway sat down with Smith to talk about 2022, his love of road racing and his future with Front Row Motorsports.
Phil Allaway, Frontstretch: Is this going to be your only race in Pilot Challenge this year?
Zane Smith, No. 42 Ford Mustang GT4: I don’t know. I got offered to come [down] and run this race. Road course racing is where my heart’s at, so I was all about it. I made the trip out here and I’m having fun with this whole PF Racing group. Any chance you get to race some good Mustangs is always an awesome time.
Hopefully, [there will be] more starts in the future for me. I run full-time over in the [NASCAR Craftsman] Truck Series, and I have about seven races on the Cup side this year. I definitely have time to, so I would love to.
Allaway: How easy was it to adjust to this Mustang GT4?
Smith: Road course racing is where my heart’s at. Opportunities like this are low pressure and the car is a lot of fun to drive. I’ve definitely adapted well.
Allaway: Will those seven races be with Front Row Motorsports?
Smith: Yes, they will be … in a third entry.
Things have changed since this interview was conducted. Yes, Smith will be making seven starts in the NASCAR Cup Series with Front Row Motorsports in 2023. The team announced Tuesday that Smith will run the Daytona 500 in a third entry, No. 36. However, the other scheduled races will be in the No. 38 normally occupied by Gilliland.
Allaway: Is [the Daytona 500] one of your scheduled starts?
Smith: Yeah. We’ll have to make our way into the Daytona 500. Hopefully, we have a good qualifying run and [a good run in the] Duels to advance our way into the Daytona 500.
Allaway: How confident are you in those races coming up?
Smith: Very. It should be a fun time and I plan to learn a lot in the experience that I get there. The new Cup car is so different in […] really everything, so I’m really looking forward to it.
Allaway: How does racing in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge compare, team-wise, to being in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series?
Smith: It’s definitely a lot different out there, communication-wise. There’s a lot more people that are communicating, and you have to keep up with things like driver changes.
Allaway: It’s a little more than just the crew chief and the spotter out there [in your ear]. You’ve also got engineers giving you feedback based on what they’re seeing on telemetry, [and] typically, you can’t use telemetry during NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series weekends.
Smith: That might be a new thing for this year. I heard that we may have some SMT [data] available. I love using the data that Ford provides us. I always learn a thing or two off of Joey Hand. It’s cool to run something new for once.
Allaway: Last year, you were given the late call-up to drive at [World Wide Technology Raceway] in place of Chris Buescher. You ended up finishing 17th that weekend. First off, what was going through your mind when you got that call?
Smith: That was super exciting, once I found out that it was for RFK [Racing] filling in for Buescher at the time.
It was as last-minute as it gets, which is pretty crazy looking back. That was where I [made] my first Truck Series start [in 2018 for Kyle Busch Motorsports]. That was also extremely last-minute.
I got a top piece of [seat] mold poured and I used the bottom half of Brad [Keselowski’s,] seat-wise. The car was already in Gateway by that point.
I sat in it for the first time at the track after getting fitted in the [Coca-Cola 600] car that Buescher ran and went through a roll.
It was just a crazy time. Amazing how everything falls into place.
I learned so much throughout that weekend and I was so happy with my debut.
Allaway: 17th is not bad for your debut and Gateway is not the easiest place to pass. You moved up from 32nd on the grid to get there.
Smith: The new Cup car is super challenging. If I was told that I was going to finish 17th [in my Cup debut], I would have been pretty dang happy. I know that everyone around us was very happy with that. Just to finish was my goal. It was a good debut.
Allaway: Last year was a career year for you, scoring four victories and winning the championship in Phoenix, but that year started with you thinking that your career was over. How did the deal that ultimately brought you to Front Row Motorsports come together?
Smith: [In] motorsports in general, these are the typical ups and downs that you go through. I didn’t know what was next after my time at GMS Racing ended.
Then, the opportunity came about with Front Row Motorsports and joining Ford Performance. I wanted to go that route and we fired off with a bang with our win here.
I’ve always loved coming here [to Daytona], but especially once you’re able to capture a win, it means that much more. That was super cool.
The rest of the year was one that I will never forget. Phoenix was as good as it gets. Hopefully, we can go back it up this year.
Allaway: Some of the faces have changed in the Craftsman Truck Series this year. You’re still going to have quite a lot of competition this season. How is the No. 38 looking for this season?
Smith: We are good. I feel like we have a lot of room to go grab more race wins. Getting into the Championship 4 is a championship run of its own.
First step is to make the playoffs. Gotta get there. The [Craftsman] Truck Series, for the past few years, has been stacked. I also feel that the Truck is more relatable to the Cup car.
Hopefully, we’ll have another good year, give Ford Performance more wins and win another championship.
Allaway: You mentioned that the Truck Series is more applicable to the Cup Series of now. How is that so?
Smith: In my time running in the [NASCAR] Xfinity Series, running the Truck, and now running in Cup, I feel that that’s the case. A lot of people that haven’t really [run] Xfinity or Trucks like to speak on that a bit, but my opinion fits differently.
A few of the other Cup drivers agree for sure. It’s cool to know that […] since this is probably the car that we’re going to have for a bit, my time in the Truck Series is valuable.
It’s great to see the amount of attention that my year [in the Truck Series] has gotten. It’s definitely motivation to go and back it up.
Allaway: The goal for you is obviously to get to Cup full-time. Is that something that could happen as soon as 2024?
Smith: I sure hope so. My job is to go collect as many trophies as I can for Bob Jenkins and for Ford. Just have to win as much as possible and let the cards fall as they may. Everything else will figure itself out.
Allaway: Is there anything coming up this year in the Xfinity Series for you?
Smith: Not that I know of yet. As of right now, it’s just the Truck Series and the Cup starts. All my attention is there, but hopefully, there’ll be some more races for PF Racing, which would be a lot of fun. We’ll see. We’re at the start of the year and there’s a long way to go.
Allaway: Earlier, you mentioned about Joey Hand and how he helps you out with your road racing. How extensive is that coaching?
Smith: The coaching extends outside of [this weekend]. Joey is always a great help on the stock car side with his experience in stock cars. His feedback correlates a lot better than others. He’s a great asset to Ford with all the help that he provides.
Smith and Burton were one of the favorites entering the weekend in Daytona, having topped a session in practice. Smith then qualified third and put himself out front early and often.
While Burton ran the brakes off of the Ford Mustang GT4 late in the race, he was able to hold off BGB Motorsports’ Spencer Pumpelly to win the BMW M Endurance Challenge at Daytona. For Smith, it was his first career IMSA victory in his first career start.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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