By Holly Cain
NASCAR Wire Service
AUSTIN, Texas – Zane Smith became the first repeat NASCAR winner at the famed Circuit of The Americas road course, the reigning series champion holding off veteran Kyle Busch to claim his second straight victory in Saturday’s XPEL 225 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race.
The 23-year-old Californian’s No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford led the final 15 laps – a race best 16 of the 42 laps in all – and crossed the finish line an impressive 5.451-seconds ahead of the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Busch. The win makes Smith’s Front Row Motorsports team a perfect 3-for-3 in CRAFTSMAN Truck Series races at COTA. Todd Gilliland won the 2021 inaugural here.
Ford driver Ty Majeski, Toyota’s Tyler Ankrum and last year’s NASCAR Cup Series COTA winner, Ross Chastain, in a Chevrolet rounded out the top-five.
It’s the second victory of the year for Smith, who won the season-opener at Daytona too – the same first two victories he earned in his 2022 championship season as well.
“Shout out to Chris Lawson for an amazing strategy,” said Smith, whose Ford F-150 had a small fire under it extinguished after his burnout.
“So cool for [sponsors] Speedco, Peak and all our partners. It was fast when it mattered. I just enjoy coming to all the road courses, especially here. So cool. Just a true testament to this team.”
“Once we got to that eight-to-go point and I was told Kyle [Busch] was in second, my heart rate went up a little bit, just because he’s so good at managing his stuff when it mattered,” Smith continued. “So, I just tried not to make any mistakes.”
The polesitter Chastain and Busch exchanged the lead for much of the early race – combining to lead 22 laps between them. Smith was able to take the lead after pitting just before the final caution and getting track position. Chastain’s truck actually fell back to 28th for the final restart and Busch’s was 17th yet they both rallied to top-five finishes.
But both of the NASCAR Cup Series full-timers wasted no time navigating upward through the field. On just the single restart lap, Busch had moved up 10 spots and ran seventh – picking off positions with ease. He moved into second place with six laps to go, but by that point Smith had already opened up more than a five-second advantage.
“Played the long game and unfortunately the long game didn’t work, they got lucky and beat us,” Busch said of gambling with a pit strategy that took the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Chevrolet into the pits two laps – and a caution flag – after Smith made his final stop.
Corey Heim, rookie Nick Sanchez, Tanner Gray, Kaz Grala and Ben Rhodes rounded out the top-10. NASCAR has eliminated stage breaks at road courses in 2023 but both Christian Eckes – who ultimately finished 30th after mechanical problems – won Stage 1 (his third stage win of the year) and Busch won Stage 2.
The win Saturday was Smith’s ninth in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series and puts him in the driver standings lead by two-points on ThorSport Racing’s Majeski heading into the next race, the SpeedyCash.com 250 next Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Categories: NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, Race Recap
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