AVONDALE, Ariz. — Rear tire changer Ryan Zunk was just trying to send driver Sammy Smith off with a solid finish in the NASCAR Xfinity Series finale Saturday (Nov. 4) at Phoenix Raceway. Dodging fire was the last thing on his mind as he put fresh Goodyears on the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
But in a matter of seconds, he was fighting off flames, a scary moment after the second stage that left Zunk forced to change his firesuit after a visit to the infield care center.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Zunk told Frontstretch after the race. “I’ve got a slight burn on my face and my thighs, but other than that, I’m fine.
“Definitely scary. Always trying to finish the stop, but it got too hot for me, so … thankfully, the fire crew was there on time and sprayed me down pretty good.”
As the fire spread, Zunk even tried to complete the tire change, coming close before the fumes overwhelmed him as the safety crew jumped in to extinguish the blaze.
“I noticed it when the gas man unplugged,” Zunk said. “There was some spillage. So I knew there was a slight chance, but I was just focused on doing my job. Doing the pit stop. And then, all of a sudden, it just lit up on fire and I was just trying to finish but it got too hot for me.”
Luckily, not only did Zunk end up OK but Smith also recovered for a ninth-place finish, ending his tenure with JGR on a high note. Smith, who will move over to JR Motorsports in 2024, wound up with a sixth-place finish in the final points standings.
JGR also ended up with a second, smaller fire later in the race involving Myatt Snider. Both driver and crew wound up OK there, too.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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