Race Weekend Central

Chandler Smith Stepping Up to the Plate in First Xfinity Season with Kaulig, Chevrolet

Chandler Smith, a 21-year-old from Talking Rock, Ga., had been with Toyota since he first became known as a rising star in NASCAR circles.

He scored nine ARCA Menards Series wins with the manufacturer from 2018-20, and he had spent the past two seasons of his career competing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports when it was still a Toyota team. Smith scored his first two Truck wins in 2021 and added three more in 2022 en route to an appearance in the Championship 4.

KBM underwent a shakeup at the end of last season, as namesake Kyle Busch moved from Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota to Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet for the 2023 season.

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Smith graduated from the Truck Series following the end of KBM’s Toyota tenure, and he signed a two-year contract to drive for Chevrolet and Kaulig Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

“[The transition to Chevy and Xfinity] was definitely big,” Smith told Frontstretch. “I was in the Toyota camp for six-plus years under their wing. Wherever they wanted me to drive — it didn’t matter if it had four wheels, two wheels, one wheel — I went and did it for them no matter what. So there was definitely a big jump.

“But I have a wife and a kid, and I had to look out and examine what’s going to be best for my wife, myself and my son. And that’s what this [switch] was. So it was kind of a no-brainer on that aspect of things. But the transition has been really smooth. It’s been good — already got a win in our pocket as well.”

With a win at Richmond Raceway this spring, seven top-10 finishes and 279 laps led on the season, Smith currently sits fifth in points. He’s stepped up to the challenge in his rookie season, which is all the more impressive when considering that NASCAR’s two development series are polar opposites of each other.

“As far as drivability, [these cars] don’t drive anything similar at all,” Smith said. “[Xfinity] cars have no downforce and no side-force, while a truck has all the downforce and all the side-force in the world.

“The racing [in Xfinity] is a lot calmer than the Truck Series. The Truck Series is wild, and that’s why a lot of people — when I came to the Xfinity Series — were kind of griping, like, ‘Hey, man, you’re really aggressive.’

“Well, look what I just came from. If you weren’t aggressive in the Truck Series, especially on restarts, you went backwards or you would get wrecked.

“[Now I’m] just trying to acclimate to this series and how the racing is a little bit. It’s kind of been a work in progress per se. But as far as the drivability of the vehicle, it’s completely different. I actually prefer the Xfinity cars over a truck.”

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While navigating through his first NXS season, Smith has been able to look up to NASCAR Cup Series veterans in the form of Justin Haley, Austin Dillon, AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and his former boss Busch. All five drivers have made at least one start in Kaulig’s No. 10 Xfinity car this season.

“It’s been good [working with them],” Smith said. “Between all those guys, they got a lot of experience, a lot more than I have. So it’s always good to pick their brains and kind of use them as a tool.”

Smith is currently fifth in series points, 140 behind points leader John Hunter Nemechek. It would be a tall order for any driver to come back from that deficit in just over two months, but that’s exactly what Smith and the No. 16 team are trying to accomplish.

“I mean, our overall regular season goal is to get the regular season championship, because those 15 extra playoff points are huge,” Smith said. “Especially if you don’t rack up a bunch of stage wins throughout the season, which we have not.

“Our goal is to still recover from a few DNFs we had from Talladega and Atlanta. Those really hurt us. We were sitting third consistently in points all the way through the season till then.

“So we’re trying to recover from that still. And once we do, I feel like we just got to put in a good string of races. And if we could pick up a win or two, I think that’s going to help. But we got to get back to where we need to be to achieve that goal.”

With nearly half the Xfinity season over, Quick Tie Products, Inc., has adorned the No. 16 car for every race up to this point. That wasn’t looking to be at the start of the season, however, as Charge Me — which sponsored Smith in select Truck Series races in 2022 — was supposed to follow him for a part-time schedule in 2023.

So far, those plans have not come to fruition.

“Yeah, I’m not sure [what happened],” Smith said. “Like I said […] on a different interview, I have a whole group of guys that are on the business side of racing that’s been in it a lot longer than I have, and I’m a racecar driver. So I have one job, and that’s to make our racecars faster.”

And with that one job, Smith is set on closing out 2023 with more wins and, potentially, a championship.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Carl D.

As a fan of Allmendinger, I was curious to see how Smith would do driving Dinger’s old ride in the Xfinity series. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far. He has the talent, and shows a tenaciousness in the car that reminds me of Tyler Reddick. Time will tell, but things look promising.