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TALLADEGA, Ala. – Front Row Motorsports NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Zane Smith sat in his No. 38 Ford underneath a scorching Alabama sun as 30 other trucks thundered by mere feet away on Saturday (Sept. 30) afternoon.
With every lap that passed, his championship defense hopes dwindled. Despite the team working tirelessly – and successfully – to return the truck into racing condition, Smith left the Alabama racetrack a whopping 36 points below the Truck playoff cutline, a deficit that has him in what is nearly a must-win situation with only one race left before elimination.
It had started as a lackluster day for the defending Truck champion.
Smith qualified his FRM Ford 18th on the 2.66-mile circuit and had the tall task of finding a way to the front of the pack.
It was an order that was not fulfilled. His struggles began on pit road when he spun while entering his pit stall and hit his tire changer, Charles Plank.
Thankfully, Plank was able to walk away and even carried on his tire-carrying duties.
“I check my brake pedal,” Smith said postrace. “Then [I] rolled in my box once I had engaged the clutch. Just looped it. I felt terrible. I’m glad Charles sounds like he’s okay.
“I mean, not 100%. He just got hit by a truck, but I feel terrible on that side of things.”
Unfortunately, the crewman spent most of the race in the garage area on that hot Alabama afternoon, as Smith went behind the wall when his truck’s clutch failed shortly after.
“I’m not sure if we had like a clutch issue or what,” Smith said. “But I had checked my brake pedal and getting to the line [I] had plenty of brakes and then went to go in it again, and it had just traveled a bunch and engaged. Once I engaged the clutch, it had just spun around and then after that, the clutch was burnt out of it.
“I don’t really know all the details.”
The Californian sat in his fire suit with no air conditioning for what was a brutal 44 laps, with only the sounds of gears wrenching, crewman working and the Truck Series championship becoming more and more distant to keep him company.
It wasn’t until there were nearly 20 laps to go that Smith finally returned to the racetrack.
Despite all the madness that occurred on and off the track, Smith was only able to pick up another two spots as a result of his return. He finished 32nd, 44 laps down.
The team now heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway for what will be the penultimate race of the season and Smith’s last chance to keep his championship hopes alive.
The good news is Smith has two starts at the Miami-based circuit, and one of them resulted in a runner-up finish just last year.
In the other? He finished 37th.
But at least this isn’t unfamiliar territory for the future NASCAR Cup Series racer.
“I’ve been in this position before,” Smith said. “So [I’ll] just go try to execute at Homestead and go win.”
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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