Zane Smith earns first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship at Phoenix

After finishing in the runner-up spot in the final standings during the previous two seasons, the third time was the lucky charm for Zane Smith as he prevailed in a late battle against his title rivals to win the 2022 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship along with the season-finale Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway on Friday, November 4.

In total, the 23-year-old Smith from Huntington Beach, California, led five times for a race-high 77 of 154 over-scheduled laps during the finale from pole position. Despite losing a combined five spots on pit road during the conclusion of both stages, which he won both, he remained within striking distance of the title fight and against his title rivals throughout the final stage. From executing a bold three-wide pass for the lead during a restart with 39 laps remaining to pitting for four fresh tires and restarting towards the top 10 with 10 laps remaining, Smith carved his way back to the runner-up spot and received another opportunity to reassume the lead after title rival Ty Majeski spun with four laps remaining, an incident that nearly collected Smith. Then during an overtime attempt, Smith prevailed in a late battle against Rhodes and Chandler Smith, including a final lap “bump-and-run” attempt from Rhodes, to assume the lead for good and proceed to win both the finale and claim his first elusive NASCAR national touring series championship.  

The 2022 Truck Series championship comes in Smith’s third full-time season in the series and his first with Front Row Motorsports, where he commenced the season by winning at Daytona International Speedway in February and notching two additional victories throughout the regular-season stretch before clinching the 2022 Truck Series regular-season title, entering the Playoffs with momentum and utilizing consistency to transfer all the way to the Championship 4 round.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, Zane Smith, a Championship 4 finalist, claimed the final pole position of the 2022 season and the first of his career after posting a pole-winning lap at 138.032 mph in 26.081 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Layne Riggs, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 137.825 mph in 26.120 seconds. Zane Smith’s other three championship rivals that included Ben Rhodes, Ty Majeski and Chandler Smith qualified sixth, eighth and 12th, respectively.

Prior to the event, Derek Kraus dropped to the rear of the field in a backup truck along with rookie Dean Thompson, who dropped back due to an engine change to his truck.

When the green flag waved and the race started, Zane Smith fended off an early charge from rookie Corey Heim to retain the lead through the first two turns and through the backstretch as he went on to lead the first lap. During the following lap, however, Layne Riggs mounted a charge through Turns 1 and 2 as he overtook Smith for the lead. Despite being challenged by Smith, Riggs retained the top spot as the field behind jostled for positions.

Through the first five scheduled laps, Riggs was leading by two-tenths of a second over Zane followed by Heim, Stewart Friesen and Ben Rhodes while Ty Majeski, Matt Crafton, John Hunter Nemechek, Tanner Gray and Christian Eckes were running in the top 10. Meanwhile, Chandler Smith, the fourth and final title contender, was in 12th while trying to march his way to the front.

Two laps later, the first caution flew when Keith McGee and Armani Williams, both of whom were battling at the rear of the field, wrecked in Turn 3. The two-truck wreck occurred a lap early after Zane Smith had reassumed the lead over Riggs.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 13, Zane Smith rocketed with a strong start to retain the lead as the field fanned out through the dogleg and entering Turn 2. Meanwhile, Heim moved up to second followed by Riggs, who soon after lost third place to teammate Friesen, while Rhodes retained fifth.

By Lap 20, Zane Smith’s No. 38 Michael Roberts Construction Ford F-150 was leading by more than a second over Heim’s No. 51 Crescent Tools Toyota Tundra TRD Pro followed by Friesen, Riggs and Rhodes while Grant Enfinger, Nemechek, Crafton, Eckes and Chandler Smith occupied the top 10. Meanwhile, Majeski, who was running within the top 10, was back in 11th ahead of brothers Tanner and Taylor Gray while Rajah Caruth and Matt DiBenedetto were running in the top 15.

Five laps later, Zane Smith stabilized his advantage to more than a second over Heim while Friesen, Riggs and Rhodes remained in the top five. By then, Nemchek moved up to sixth following a fierce battle against Enfinger, who fell back to seventh and was being pressured by Matt Crafton for more. Chandler Smith and Majeski were back in ninth and 11th, respectively.

Another 10 laps later, Zane Smith extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Heim followed by Friesen and a side-by-side battle for fourth place between Riggs and Nemechek. While Zane Smith remained as the top-running title contender with the race lead, his title rivals that included Rhodes, Chandler Smith and Majeski were back in seventh, ninth and 10th, respectively.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 45, Zane Smith struck first early in his championship bid by capturing his ninth stage victory of the 2022 season. Heim settled in second followed by Friesen, Nemechek and Crafton while Rhodes, Enfinger, Chandler Smith, Eckes and Riggs were scored in the top 10. By then, Majeski was scored in 11th after getting edged by Riggs at the start/finish line.

Under the stage break, the field led by Zane Smith pitted for fresh tires, fuel and adjustments. Following the pit stops, Heim exited first followed by teammate Nemechek, Zane Smith, teammate Chandler Smith, Enfinger, Majeski and Crafton. Following the pit stops, trouble struck for Eckes, who initially exited ninth but limped back to his pit stall with the left-front tire on his No. 98 CMR Toyota Tundra TRD Pro locked up and igniting sparks around the circuit.

The second stage started on Lap 53 as teammates Heim and Nemechek occupied the front row. At the start and as the field fanned out through the dogleg, Heim retained the lead ahead of teammates Nemechek and Chandler Smith followed by Zane Smith. During the following lap, however, Nemechek assumed the lead in his No. 4 Pye-Barker Fire & Safety Toyota Tundra TRD Pro followed by Heim, Chandler Smith and Zane Smith as the field behind continued to jostle for positions. By then, Carson Hocevar was assessed a pass-through penalty for a restart violation.

By Lap 60, Nemechek was leading by a second over title contender Zane Smith followed by Chandler Smith, Heim and Majeski while Friesen, Enfinger, Crafton, Taylor Gray and Rhodes were in the top 10.

At the halfway mark on Lap 75, Nemechek retained the lead by six-tenths of a second over Zane Smith followed by Chandler Smith, Heim and Friesen while Majeski, Crafton, Enfinger, Taylor Gray and Rhodes were scored in the top 10 ahead of Caruth, Tyler Ankrum, Riggs, DiBenedetto, Tanner Gray and Eckes. By then, 22 of 35 competitors were scored on the lead lap.

Nearly five laps later, the battle for the lead ignited between Nemechek and Zane Smith as Smith tried to overtake Nemechek through the backstretch. Nemechek, however, retained the top spot through Turns 3 and 4 and continued to lead ahead of a hard-charging Smith.

Then with four laps remaining in the second stage and following his late battle against Nemechek, Zane Smith emerged out in front with the lead despite Nemechek fighting back through every turn and straightaway. Despite being drawn against Nemechek during the following three laps, Zane Smith was able to fend off Nemechek as he went on to capture his series-leading 10th stage victory of the 2022 season and second of the night on Lap 90 as he struck yet again in his bid to claim his first NASCAR championship. Nemechek settled in second while Chandler Smith, Heim, Majeski, Crafton, Enfinger, Friesen, Taylor Gray and Rhodes were scored in the top 10. 

Under the stage break, the field led by Zane Smith returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Nemechek exited with the top spot followed by Chandler Smith, Heim, Zane Smith, Majeski and Rhodes. In the midst of the pit stops, DiBenedetto was penalized for speeding on pit road.

With 52 laps remaining, the final stage started as teammates Nemechek and Chandler Smith occupied the front row. At the start and as the field fanned out through the dogleg again, Chandler Smith retained the lead ahead of teammate Nemechek, Zane Smith and Heim. Then the caution quickly returned when Eckes spun and backed his truck against the Turn 1 outside wall after getting hit by Tyler Ankrum entering the turn and in the midst of the field fanning out to multiple lanes.

When the race restarted with 45 laps remaining, Chandler Smith briefly retained the lead ahead of the field through the dogleg and the first two turns until teammate Nemechek challenged and overtook Smith on the outside lane for the top spot. The caution, however, quickly returned once again due to a multi-truck wreck in Turn 1 that involved Taylor Gray, Rajah Caruth, Riggs and Kraus.

During the following restart with 39 laps remaining, Zane Smith, who restarted on the inside lane behind Nemechek, used the dogleg to his advantage as he launched a three-wide challenge and drew himself in a bid for the lead alongside Chandler Smith. He then managed to overtake and clear Chandler Smith for the lead exiting the backstretch and entering Turn 3 while Nemechek settled in third. 

With 30 laps remaining, Zane Smith was leading both the race and the championship by seven-tenths of a second over Chandler Smith’s No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Toyota Tundra TRD Pro while Nemechek, Enfinger and Majeski and Rhodes were in the top six ahead of Heim, Crafton, Kaden Honeycutt and Ankrum.

Ten laps later, Zane Smith continued to lead by nine-tenths of a second over Chandler Smith while Nemechek, Enfinger and Majeski remained in the top five on the track. Meanwhile, the fourth and final Playoff competitor, Rhodes, was back in seventh behind Heim.

Then another four laps later, the caution flew when Hailie Deegan cut a left-tire tire and went dead straight into the outside wall in Turn 3 as her final race with David Gilliland Racing came to a late end. During the caution period, Friesen and Hocevar remained on the track while the rest led by Zane Smith pitted. Following the pit stops, Rhodes exited pit road first after opting for a two-tire pit strategy followed by DiBenedetto, Honeycutt and the Gray brothers, all of whom opted for just two fresh tires. Meanwhile, Chandler Smith was the first competitor to exit pit road with four fresh tires in sixth place followed by Majeski, Nemechek and Zane Smith.

With the race restarting with 10 laps remaining, the field fanned out as Friesen retained the lead ahead of Rhodes and Hocevar. As both Zane and Chandler Smith were trying to carve their way back towards the front, teammates Rhodes and Majeski battled for second and for the title, with the former trying to overtake Friesen for the race lead. 

With seven laps remaining, Rhodes overtook Friesen for the lead on two fresh tires entering the backstretch as he commenced his late charge to defend his series title. By then, however, Zane Smith carved his way back into the runner-up spot while both Majeski and Chandler Smith were were trying to overtake Friesen to maintain their title hopes.

Down to the final five laps of the event, the final four title contenders were first through fourth on the track, with Rhodes leading ahead of Zane Smith, Majeksi and Chandler Smith. 

Then during the following lap, Majeski’s championship hopes evaporated after the Wisconsin native made contact with Zane Smith entering the backstretch while battling for the runner-up spot, which caused Majeski’s No. 66 Road Ranger Toyota Tundra TRD Pro to get loose as he spun and made light contact against the inside wall. Majeski’s incident was also enough to send the event into overtime as the event exceeded past its scheduled distance.

During the first overtime attempt, Zane Smith, who opted to restart behind Rhodes on the inside lane, used the dogleg to his advantage as he managed to overtake both Chandler Smith and Rhodes through the first two turns to reassume the lead. Chandler Smith then crossed over to Zane’s Ford on the inside lane as he tried to stall Zane’s run while drawing even with Zane through the backstretch. Chandler, however, slightly slid up the track through Turn 3, which allowed Zane Smith to pull ahead while Rhodes rejoined the battle for the lead and the championship.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Zane Smith was out in front by a mere margin over Chandler Smith and Rhodes. Through the first two turns, Zane Smith pulled ahead followed by a hard-charging Rhodes while Chandler Smith fell back to third. With Rhodes setting up a final attempt on Zane Smith for the victory and the title, he then got to Zane’s rear bumper in an attempt to bump and move him up the track to overtake him. The bump, however, was not enough to stall Smith’s momentum as the Californian managed to remain ahead of Rhodes and beat him to the finish line by two-tenths of a second to win the finale and clinch his first series championship.

With his accomplishment, Zane Smith, who ended up as the championship runner-up during the previous two seasons while competing for GMS Racing, became the 20th different competitor to win the Truck Series championship along with becoming the first Ford competitor to win a Truck title since Matt Crafton made the last accomplishment in 2019. He also recorded the first NASCAR drivers’ and owners’ championships to Front Row Motorsports in the team’s third season in the series with crew chief Chris Lawson also achieving his first NASCAR Truck title. With the champion Zane Smith winning the finale, this marks the third time since the series’ Playoff elimination-style format was incepted in 2016 where the championship-winning competitor won the finale.

“Oh my god,” Smith, who will be remaining in the Truck Series with Front Row Motorsports for 2023, said on FS1. “Third time’s a charm. I wanted this [championship] more than anyone in the world. I don’t care what anyone says. Thank you, all your race fans. My whole team, man. I was crying that whole lap. My fiancé, McCall, stuck to me with all the brutal times. I’ve wanted this championship for so long. I’ve wanted this moment all my whole life. Thank you, everyone. That’s all I got. I wasn’t gonna let it go down like that. I was either wrecked or I was winning this [championship]. There was no other option. Last year and the year before, we showed so much speed and should’ve won a lot more races than we did, but [team owner] Bob Jenkins is the only reason why I’m here right now. Without him, none of this would be possible. When I came [to Front Row Motorsports], all I cared about was the guys that were on this team and I had seen their work ethics. I’ve seen the effort they put in and I know they wanted it as bad as I do. I didn’t care what the trucks looked like. All I knew was their work ethic was there and we could make a championship out of this team.”

While Smith celebrated a championship on the championship stage, Rhodes was left disappointed with his runner-up result both in the event and in the final standings as he came one position shy of defending his series crown.

“Two tires versus four. That was the name of the game,” Rhodes said. “We didn’t have the pace all night that we needed to be up there and compete, so it was a great heads-up call by my crew chief. Ultimately, we just didn’t need that last caution. I think we could’ve held [the field] off for the final few laps. I was giving [Zane Smith] all the dirty air he could handle. I think we were gonna be fine until that caution just got us. I did what I could on the restart to try to get a jump, but with two tires versus four, I just didn’t have the grip I needed. I tried to hold him off the best I could. [I] Threw a move on him at the very end and just didn’t have enough grip to make it stick. All in all, I am proud of my Kubota Toyota Tundra team, ThorSport Racing. We didn’t have the pace, but we got up there. That’s what matters at the end. We just got to go back, do our homework. Second is not fun. I’m gonna mope my way all the way back to Kentucky…I’d like to not be coming to clutch all the time.”

With Zane Smith and Rhodes finishing first and second both on the track and in the final standings, Chandler Smith ended up in third place while Majeski, who settled in 20th place during the finale, ended up in fourth place in the final standings. Despite ending up in third place in his final event with Kyle Busch Motorsports, Chandler Smith remained optimistic approaching next season as he will be moving up to the Xfinity Series to drive for Kaulig Racing.

“It just wasn’t meant to be,” Smith said. “We were mistake free. The pit crew was on top of it. [We] Gained positions every time on pit road. Had a shot at the end. I’m at peace with that because at the end of the day, it’s all part of the bigger plan. It was fun racing with [Zane Smith]. I appreciate the opportunity [from] Safelite,[Kyle Busch Motorsports], Toyota Racing Development’s given me for the past six-plus years. It sucks that it’s ending, but onwards to bigger and better things over at Kaulig Racing. Really looking forward to starting next year already.”

Like Smith, Ty Majeski, who clinched his spot for the Championship 4 on the strength of Playoff victories at Bristol Motor Speedway and at Talladega Superspeedway, remained positive over his attempted run for the title as he looks ahead to next season.

“I was being aggressive there,” Majeski said. “We wanted to bring a championship home for Duke and Rhonda [Thorson] and everybody at ThorSport [Racing]. I thought the best opportunity there for us was to try to wiggle [Smith] a little bit and try to get underneath him and try to set up the race between Ben [Rhodes] and I. I was just trying to be aggressive underneath him and lost it off of [Turn] 2. All you can ask for is the chance to win the championship with five to go and we had that tonight, and it just didn’t pan out. I’m proud of our season and proud of what we accomplished as a 66 bunch. [Crew chief] Joe [Shear Jr.] and the team have been great to work with. It just stings to be that close and see it in front of you and just come up a little bit short. We will come back next year and come back stronger.”

John Hunter Nemechek finished fourth in the finale and fifth in the final standings in his second and final campaign with Kyle Busch Motorsports while Friesen wrapped up the season in fifth place on the track and in sixth place in the standings. Enfinger, Heim, Tanner Gray, Kaden Honeycutt and Carson Hocevar completed the top 10 on the track.

With his seventh-place result, Heim clinched the 2022 Truck Series Rookie-of-the-Year title. With 12 victories to this season, Toyota was awarded their 13th manufacturer’s title in the Truck circuit.

The 2022 NASCAR Truck Series season marks the 14th and final season under title sponsorship from Camping World as Craftsman Tools will be filling in the role and returning as a title sponsor for the series since 2008.

There were 15 lead changes for seven different leaders. The finale featured five cautions for 42 laps.

Results.

1. Zane Smith, 77 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

2. Ben Rhodes, eight laps led

3. Chandler Smith, nine laps led

4. John Hunter Nemechek, 44 laps led

5. Stewart Friesen, six laps led

6. Grant Enfinger

7. Corey Heim, five laps led

8. Tanner Gray

9. Kaden Honeycutt

10. Carson Hocevar 

11. Derek Kraus

12. Matt Crafton

13. Layne Riggs, five laps led

14. Tyler Ankrum

15. Colby Howard

16. Jake Garcia

17. Taylor Gray

18. Lawlesss Alan

19. Chase Purdy

20. Ty Majeski 

21. Dean Thompson

22. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap down

23. Tyler Hill, two laps down

24. Austin Wayne Self, two laps down

25. Blaine Perkins, two laps down

26. Chris Hacker, two laps down

27. Timmy Hill, two laps down

28. Johnny Sauter, two laps down

29. Jack Wood, three laps down

30. Christian Eckes, three laps down

31. Hailie Deegan – OUT, Accident

32. Rajah Caruth – OUT, Accident

33. Spencer Boyd – OUT, Too slow

34. Keith McGee – OUT, Dvp

35. Armami Williams – OUT, Accident

*Bold indicates Championship finalists

Final standings

1. Zane Smith 

2. Ben Rhodes

3. Chandler Smith

4. Ty Majeski

5. John Hunter Nemechek

6. Stewart Friesen

7. Grant Enfinger

8. Christian Eckess

9. Matt Crafton

10. Carson Hocevar

The NASCAR Truck Series competitors and teams enter an off-season period before returning to action at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2023, to commence a new season of racing.

 



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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