NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series

Playoff Bound, Smith, Manion Praise Choose Rule

By Cole Cusumano

 

The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race from Michigan International Speedway would go on to become a day of reckoning for Zane Smith, who scored his first-career National Series victory. For the 21-year-old, this felt like a long-time coming after feeling he’d let three wins slip away due to “dumb luck” and inexperience.

 

Although seemingly long overdue, it only took Smith a collective 22 attempts between the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Truck Series to add that elusive “one” to the win column of his already impressive racing resume. You now get the sense this has opened up the floodgates for the California-kid, who’s now locked into the Playoffs in his first full-time bid for GMS Racing.

 

“I for sure think they’re going to come a lot easier now,” Smith admitted. “The first one is always the hardest. That feeling of knowing you’re in the Playoffs — you don’t gotta worry about it anymore is the biggest weight taken off your shoulders. We’re in, we just need to keep winning.”

 

The driver of the No. 21 expressed his excitement in being able to mix it up from a strategic standpoint in the events leading up to the playoffs. He feels his team now has the luxury of being more aggressive in going for wins without having to worry about stage points.

 

One strategy to focus on is the choose rule, which made its debut for the Truck Series at Michigan. Given an all-around eventful day for Smith and his fellow competitors in the caution-ridden race, there was no shortage in experimenting with this new standard.

 

Crew Chief, Kevin “Bono” Manion and his young driver both praised the ruling and credited it for playing a large role in their victory.

 

“We spent a lot of time coming from the back,” Manion said in reference to a pit penalty as well as a flat tire while leading. “We opted to take the bottom on that last restart and our truck was extremely good on the bottom. We were one of the later trucks to pit for left-side tires and I think that’s what helped us wrap the bottom so good and get a good run down the backstretch.”

 

Whether it was cooler track temperatures or fresher tires, the No. 21 team made the right call and they were one of the only teams throughout the entire weekend to have success on the inside lane for both the Trucks Series and the NASCAR Cup Series.

 

In notching this impressive victory, Manion also noted while Smith has his eyes set on the Championship, he’s also auditioning for a seat in the Xfinity Series. With seven top-10s through 11 races and a spot in the postseason, the product of Huntington Beach should all but be a lock to receive a promotion in 2021.

 

Logic says Smith will return to JR Motorsports, an affiliate to Hendrick Motorsports in conjunction with GMS Racing, where he piloted the iconic No. 88 car for 10 races last season and got seven top-10s including two top-fives. To make things even more interesting, there will be no shortage of vacancies at the team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., as all four driver contracts expire at the end of 2020.

 

For now, it’s all about the Truck Series for Smith and gaining valuable experience necessary to grow in NASCAR. Expect the rookie of the year contender to be a force in the playoffs, as he’s finished inside the top-10 at four of the nine postseason tracks — most notably, he placed fifth at Phoenix Raceway, which will be the site of the Championship for 2020.

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