Zane Smith Media Conference Transcript

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series
Zane Smith Cup Schedule | Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Front Row Motorsports announced this morning that Zane Smith will be competing in five NASCAR Cup Series races with Centene Corporation as a partner in the No. 38 Mustang. Smith, who is attempting to make next week’s Daytona 500 as a third FRM entry, spoke about this newest opportunity with members of the media.

ZANE SMITH, No. 38 Ambetter Health/Wellcare Ford Mustang – THOUGHTS ON TODAY’S ANNOUNCEMENT. “First off, I just want to say thank you to Front Row Motorsports and everyone involved that made this possible. Wellcare and Ambetter being welcomed into the, Obviously, Boot Barn being on for the Coke 600 and obviously all of the other partners through Front Row Motorsports. Without them, none of this would be possible. It’s exciting stuff. I expressed at the beginning of the year that I just wanted to race more and a few things were up in the air, but I knew that I wanted to go truck racing again next year and defend our title and, like I said, race as much as possible no matter what it’s in. These six, hopefully seven Cup races will do so. I’m excited for them.”

HOW MUCH WORK ARE YOU PUTTING INTO THESE SEVEN RACES IN TERMS OF SIMULATION TIME OR PREPARATION TIME WITH BEING IN THE CUP CAR? AND HOW MUCH ARE YOU GOING TO BE TAPPING INTO YOUR TEAMMATES? “There’s only so much simulation you can really do for Daytona. I plan on going actually this week, not so much for the track but to practice my launch for qualifying since that will be my first laps. Looking back, that Cup race I ran for RFK last year at Gateway – that 300 and something mile race – I feel like went so far for me, just comparing to other people’s situation that are going to be making their debut and their first lap will be qualifying. So, I at least have some laps and some experience. I don’t remember a ton of it, but I’ve at least driven a Cup car. That went a long way, but relying on teammates, obviously, Michael does a really good job, especially on the superspeedway racing. As we get closer to the 500, I’ll lean on him some on whatever there is to learn and you’ll just kind of learn things. My second lap will be in the Duels, so you’ll learn pretty quick there. Then my races are kind of scattered, Phoenix being soon after Daytona. It’ll be cool to kind of get that one going just because I enjoy Phoenix a lot and I feel that the group on this 38 Cup car is a good group and I plan on running some simulation stuff through everyone at Ford Performance and whatever time I get there is valuable, and so I’m ready for all of them.”

WHAT CAN YOU TAKE FROM THAT ONE RACE LAST YEAR INTO THIS SEASON? “Obviously just racing on Sunday. I’ll start out there. It’s something that every driver works for and hopefully gets the opportunity to do. I just felt like that was a really last-minute deal, obviously, but I really wanted to finish that race because I knew how much I’d learn if I was able to do so. Everyone in the Cup Series is good at everything. The guys that you don’t hear mentioned as much have multiple championships and multiple race wins and have been around in this sport for a long time. These guys are no joke, so just when you race around them you can mess up here and there and still get away with a thing or two in Trucks or Xfinity. On the Cup side, you have to be perfect and obviously the big things on the pie chart gone, so being perfect in all those small areas, whether it’s on pit road or certain things on restarts are huge and that’s the difference between first and 15th in the Cup Series. So, these races that I have I hope I can learn as much as I can and kind of just improve on all these little things that I’ll look for.”

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO FINALLY WIN THE TRUCK TITLE AND HAVE THAT PATCH ON YOUR UNIFORM? “It’s very cool. I just feel like it’s a massive weight off your shoulders. The people that win races stick around in this sport for a while. The ones that are able to capture championships stick around a little bit longer, so that’s at least how I’ve always thought before I won a championship and with that I feel like I just had a big weight on our shoulders. To finally capture that has just been huge. I just feel like I’m in a little bit of a different spot mentally, but I have the same group at Front Row Motorsports and pretty much every single guy, so that was a critical thing that I wanted to go defend our title. It’s just a great group that I have around me and I’m ready to defend it.”

THE TRUCKS HAVE RACED AT NORTH WILKESBORO A COUPLE OF TIMES. HAVE YOU WATCHED PAST RACES THERE AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’VE LEARNED? “No, I haven’t. I haven’t gotten into the film of North Wilkesboro yet. I’m obviously excited about it. It was pretty cool to see that late model show that they put on and see the amount of people that went there. I can’t imagine how it’s gonna be for the NASCAR weekend there. It’ll be exciting. I don’t know how the race will be, so that’s exciting. I feel like that will be a good place for us. My crew chief, Chris Lawson, is super excited for it, as am I, but all of my attention now is on the Daytona Duels and the Daytona Truck race and obviously paying attention to the Daytona 500 if we qualify.”

WHAT IS THE MINDSET GOING INTO THE DUELS, WHERE YOU HAVE TO POSSIBLY RACE YOUR WAY IN? “I guess it starts with me enjoying film and past notes and reaching out to people who have had success on this superspeedway racing. I feel like the trucks I don’t have to have so much film on that side of things. I feel like pretty much the things I’m studying on the Cup side will correlate to the truck side, so that helps things. I’ll be able to narrow that down. These are new cars for everyone, but the guys that ran last year have a full year of experience versus my one race. There’s only so much I can do in qualifying, but it is up to me in the Duels. It’ll be tough to qualify in on time. There are some really good cars that are trying to get in, so I feel like a lot of our attention right now is seeing how we can make our car race as good as possible. I’m all on board on that. I’ve re-watched the Duels a few times and they’re pretty unpredictable, especially I feel like this year they will be as well. Last year, pretty much every manufacturer kind of spreads out into their own group, so that’s how I hope it goes so I can stick around some other Fords and hopefully an FRM teammate is in one of mine. Another concern of mine is I hope I’m in the second Duel because I think I’ll be the last to qualify in the truck and I’ll pretty much have to sprint over to the Cup car to make it in time. It’ll be a busy week, for sure.”

WHAT’S THE BALANCE BETWEEN WANTING TO IMPRESS VERSUS NOT TRYING TO DO TOO MUCH WHEN YOU GET IN THE CUP CAR? “There’s definitely a fine line that you need to be smart about out there. You don’t want to be the guy wrecking all the time or wrecking other people, but you want to show what you’ve got. I try to measure that out the best I can, but I feel like it’ll be a fun time in these seven races. I feel like it’s a set of different racetracks and they’re all places that I like. It’ll be a fun time.”

DID YOU TELL YOURSELF AT GATEWAY LAST YEAR TO BE PATIENT AND BE SMART? “I really didn’t know how to go into that weekend filling in for Chris. I was super excited, but the car was already at Gateway. I had gotten fitted in his 600 car. It was crazy just how fast things were being put together. I was fortunate enough to have Brad pull me aside when I actually got to go meet Jack Roush. We were just in a small meeting and I’m sure people have heard the story of what Jack told me – that his money was on me not finishing with how hard these cars are to drive – so that was a real confidence-booster, but Brad gave me a really good tip in saying that there’s nothing for me to go out there and prove. I had already proved it by him calling me, so that went a long way for me. I approached that weekend just with wanting to get to the end of that thing and wanting to prove Jack wrong, but to listen to Brad. That’s what we did and I just kind of settled in for that first stage and I got the hang of it and started picking them off one by one. I don’t know how far I got up to – 13th or 14th – and then we had a great opportunity to do some strategy, but my crew chief and I were on the same page and decided to stick to the game plan and try to finish the thing and not try to get a few more spots. I had a ton of fun that weekend. It was just such a cool opportunity to race on Sunday. You’ll never forget your debut and I was happy with it.”

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO GET OUT OF THOSE SEVEN CUP RACES? “Just learn as much as I can. I don’t really have a set number. Obviously, we’re gonna run the best we can. I don’t know where that will be. I feel like we’ll know where we’re gonna stack up at Phoenix and I like how the people race on the Cup side. Everyone races really, really hard, but everything is just perfectly executed and it’s a lot of fun when, in a way, you can trust people around you and that a move you’re gonna make they’re not gonna wreck around you doing so. I’ll start out with my first one of just trying to learn as much as possible and hopefully get a really good finish.”

WHAT HAS CHANGED WITH ZANE SMITH ENTERING DAYTONA THIS YEAR VERSUS LAST? “I don’t know what the right word for it is, but probably I don’t want to say less pressure because I feel like, if anything, it’s more pressure trying to defend this title. I’m just ready to get racing. I feel like I’ve done so much talking about it and I’m just ready to get back going. Like I said, just with that championship being captured is a huge weight off my shoulders and I’m ready to get back going again and hopefully capturing some more wins.”

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