Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Are You Concerned About Zane Smith’s Poor Cup Start?

Are you concerned about Zane Smith’s poor start to his NASCAR Cup Series season?

Josh Calloni: No. There are growing pains with any rookie season, and Zane Smith is still competing for a team that was lackluster last season. He’s shown solid speed but has definitely had some bad luck go his way, specifically at Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. There have certainly been some rookie mistakes mixed in, but that’s to be expected for a driver in the first six races of his first full-time season. His luck will even out soon enough.

Luken Glover: It’s not to panic, but there is a growing sense of concern early. The capability to run well should not be a concern, as his teammates at Spire Motorsports, Corey LaJoie and Carson Hocevar, have shown some speed in a couple of races. What is currently worrying is the issues he encounters early on in races. During Atlanta, Smith drove to the front early in stage two but made an aggressive move and hit the wall. The next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he showed speed in practice, yet he hit the wall on lap 3 and broke the toe link. Then there was this past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he got caught up in a crash during stage one after trying to avoid a spinning Tyler Reddick. For Smith, he just has to find ways to settle in early and find those times of when to push and when to back off. There is still a lot of time for a turnaround.

James Krause: Not really. There have definitely been some poor performances from both Smith and his team in the early part of the season, but I don’t think there should be high expectations for him this season. While LaJoie and Hocevar have done really well early in the year, I think it’s fair to say Spire is still pretty low in the pecking order in team strength. Being where his teammates are right now, floating around 20th in points, would be an outrageously successful season for Smith. This weekend at Circuit of the Americas, where he’s won twice in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, could be a chance for his potential to shine if he and his team don’t make any massive mistakes that have plagued them through five races.

See also
NASCAR TV Schedule This Weekend: March 22 - 24

Should the Cup Series race on a dirt track in 2025? If so, where?

Glover: Would I like a Cup race on dirt? Absolutely. However, there is no need to rush it until NASCAR can figure out the logistics of such an event. Because of that, it should visit a purpose-built dirt track. Eldora Speedway is the most viable and popular option, hosting some classic Truck Series races there during the 2010s. Plus, it would give Ohio a Cup race. The other option would be Knoxville Raceway, though NASCAR might have to decide whether it wants to go there or Iowa Speedway in the Hawkeye State. A wild card option would be to do something we haven’t seen in Cup in a while: have a dirt track built. Overall, it might have to wait at least a couple of years, but last year’s race at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track showed that dirt racing can put on a show and force drivers to adapt their skills to the surface.

Krause: Yes. To me, part of what’s made NASCAR grow like it has over recent years is how they aren’t afraid to challenge their drivers and themselves with events in all different venues and disciplines. Dirt racing can be as exciting as any racing in America, but it takes the right venues and NASCAR struck out with its run at Bristol dirt. Finding the right venue is an easy fix in my mind, go somewhere that can fit a bunch of people and somewhere that knows how to prepare a dirt track for fun, multi-lane racing. I loved the Eldora races in the Truck Series, maybe that’d work with the Cup Series.

Watson: Absolutely, and NASCAR should go to a purpose-built dirt track that it has run at in the past: Eldora. It put on fantastic races in the Truck Series in the past with the Mud-Summer Classic, and with some facility upgrades such as more grandstands, Cup would bring an entertaining show to a true dirt facility full of true dirt fans. Bristol dirt proved that these drivers can run on dirt and produce an exciting product, but let’s leave it to the facilities that were meant for that kind of racing to put on the spectacle.

Austin Bass: Cup should not race on dirt. Dirt races eliminate the drama of live pit stops and potential green flag pit cycles. They require repetitive track preparation with lengthy delays throughout the event. Apparently, there is an unwritten rule in dirt racing that you can’t have them without heat races beforehand, even if no cars will miss the race as in NASCAR’s case. Instead of 500 laps of heart-pounding excitement, NASCAR wastes everyone’s time by forcing drivers to tiptoe around the track to set the lineup for the main event, which is only about 30-40% of the laps that fans would experience at a normal short track race. It’s a hard pass on the soft surface for me.

Of the top 10 longest winless streaks, which Cup driver is most likely to end theirs the soonest?

Watson: It’s a toss-up between Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott. Keselowski has been on the cusp of ending his now-101-race winless streak multiple times in the past two seasons, and with how strong RFK Racing’s No. 6 Ford has been, it’s only a matter of time before the boss strikes gold as his teammate did three different times at three different styles of track. Finishing third and showing his veteran prowess in saving his tires continues to assure me that he will find himself winning any time now. My prediction would be at Richmond Raceway coming up. However, Elliott can never be counted out anywhere. He ran up front at Bristol for a little bit as well, and he has had consistently good finishes to open the year, sitting fifth in the standings. In the next two races of the season, Circuit of the Americas and Martinsville Speedway, he has a good opportunity to capture his first win in 37 races. One of these two will certainly find their way back to victory lane soon.

Bass: Of the 10 drivers on this futile list, only four of them have a reasonable shot at victory weekly. The other six drivers would be absolute shockers if they were to win a race based on pure speed and performance. Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Bubba Wallace and Elliott are the only drivers on the list with a realistic shot to win on any given Sunday. Of these four racers, Bowman has the best shot at winning the soonest because of the slate of tracks coming up on the schedule. Coming off a top-five finish last week, the Hendrick Motorsports driver almost won at COTA two years ago and has claimed recent victories at Richmond Raceway, Martinsville and Dover Motor Speedway — all of which are on the docket over the next month or so.

Krause: In an attempt to zig when others zag, I’m going to throw out the name Bowman. After suffering a concussion late in 2022, the guy who backs his way into every single win that he gets literally broke his back last season and never really got comfortable after his return. This year, two top-five finishes and a 12th-place points standing show he’s back on the right track. On top of that strong start, the coming stretch of races might be his best shot at getting a win under his belt. Bowman has been surprisingly consistent on road courses and has two top-three finishes at COTA. After this weekend, the Cup Series hits three tracks — Richmond, Martinsville and Dover — in five weeks where Bowman has previously won. After rotten luck the last 18 months, maybe it’s almost showtime for the showman.

Calloni: Keselowski. He’s been on the cusp of a win for a while now, it’s just a matter of time. RFK as a whole has been vastly improved, with Chris Buescher becoming a threat most weeks, and Keselowski typically being one of the most consistent drivers in the series week in and week out. All things considered, Keselowski’s next win should be just around the corner.

What do you expect from Connor Zilisch in his Truck debut?

Bass: Expect Connor Zilisch to be the latest to add his name to the list of drivers who won in their Truck debuts. With long straights, tight corners, heavy braking, and lots of passing zones, COTA is the type of track that rewards experienced road racers and fast race trucks. Though he is a teenager with minimal NASCAR exposure, he is fast in everything he races and has experience performing on the biggest stage, having raced for a winning team in this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona. Road courses are Zilisch’s forte and he is driving for an organization that is undefeated this year in Spire. There is no reason he can’t win in Austin.

Watson: Call me crazy, but I think he can win the race. This 17-year-old has impressed in his limited showings across motorsports, and he is building a good representation as a road course ace already. Hoping into a truck that has already won this year with Kyle Busch at Atlanta and with a team that (including its affiliate in Rev Racing) has won three of four races this season gives Zilisch the perfect opportunity to steal a race from the Truck Series regulars in his first career start. I expect him to run well at COTA and to fight at the top, continuing to write an impressive road course racing resume.

Calloni: Given that it’s a road course, it’s plausible to have top-10 expectations for Zilisch. The 17-year-old’s bread and butter tracks are clearly the road courses, and debuting on one in a top-tier ride should spell success. A win certainly isn’t out of the question, but with it being his debut, I think those expectations might be a little too high right out of the gate.

Glover: In 2024, Zilisch contributed to Era Motorsport winning the LMP2 class at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Then he won the 12 Hours of Sebring this past weekend. Even before those triumphs, he had already built up a proven background at road course racing. That makes him very capable of not only running up front this weekend but also competing for the win. Zilisch is a star in the making, and paired with a strong Spire truck, he could shine even brighter on the young season.

About the author

Josh joined Frontstretch in 2023 and currently covers the ARCA Menards Series. Born and raised in Missouri, Josh has been watching motorsports since 2005. He currently is studying for a Mass Communication degree at Lindenwood University

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

James Krause joined Frontstretch in March 2024 as a contributor. Krause was born and raised in Illinois and graduated from Northern Illinois University. He currently works in La Crosse, Wisconsin as a local sports reporter, including short track racing. Krause is a fan of football, auto racing, music, anime and video games.

Austin Bass joined Frontstretch in 2024 as a contributor to combine his passion for racing and writing. Born in Wilson, NC, he developed a passion for racing at an early age while attending local short tracks on Saturday nights with his dad and watching the stars of the sport from their living room on Sunday afternoons.

Bass is a graduate of UNC-Wilmington with a degree in Communication Studies where he developed a deep understanding, appreciation, and love for the Oxford comma. He is an industrial degreaser salesman for Cox Industries whenever he is not writing or talking about racing.

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