By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Avoiding the mayhem, Zane Smith clinched the final Championship 4 spot and 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
Despite a caution-filled final Stage for the NASCAR Hall of Fame 200, Smith stayed out of trouble. The GMS Racing driver kept his No. 21 LaPaz / MRC Chevrolet Silverado up front at Martinsville Speedway. While Smith stayed out of trouble, his inexperience saw Truck Series veterans Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton, and Brett Moffitt shuffle him out of the lead.
In the closing laps, Smith narrowly avoided getting collected when his GMS teammate Sheldon Creed and Raphael Lessard spun. The repetitive cautions saw the Huntington Beach, Calif. native’s NASCAR Playoffs rival Crafton slip down the running order.
As the 200-lap race came down to a natural green-white-checkered, Smith lined up ahead of Crafton. As both Grant Enfinger and Ben Rhodes battled for the win, he kept the defending Truck Series champion in his rearview mirror through some beating and banging. When the checkered flag waved, Smith was third, three points ahead of Crafton to earn the final spot in the Championship 4.
“That was my first time here (at Martinsville) and it was everything I expected and more,” admitted Smith. “I don’t know if this was Martinsville or Bowman Gray, pretty bad. I wasn’t expecting anything less. Don’t know if anybody was really trying to pass anybody or if we were all trying to wreck each other.
“My goal was to make the final four and get to Phoenix. It’s one of my top three best tracks of mine. I can’t wait to get there.”
Although Smith entered Martinsville ahead of Crafton on points, the ThorSport Racing driver gained ground through the two Stages. Crafton led the duo as they finished the first Stage in second and fourth respectively. However, Smith was outside of the top-10 in the second Stage while Crafton once again finished the Stage in second.
The third-place finish was the sixth top-five for Smith this season and the seventh of his Truck Series career. It also secured Rookie-of-the-Year honors for the 21-year-old. Smith was the only rookie to make the Championship 4 in the Truck Series.
Now Smith will attempt to become just the second rookie in Truck Series history to win the championship in the same year. Erik Jones was the first to accomplish the feat in 2015.
Smith joins his GMS teammates Creed and Moffitt, as well as Martinsville race winner Enfinger in the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.
Photo by NKP / NKP Photo