Iowa Xfinity Recap: Zane Smith

(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

Start: 12th
Finish: 9th

Rookie Zane Smith turned in another veteran performance Saturday at Iowa Speedway, driving his No. 8 PatientPop Chevrolet Camaro to a ninth-place finish in the U.S. Cellular 250 for NASCAR Xfinity Series machines. The result was Smith’s fourth top-10 finish in seven starts with JR Motorsports and third with the green-and-white PatientPop colors on his machine.

Rolling off 12th for the initial start of the 250-lap event, the 20-year-old Californian stayed just outside the top 10 for the first 30 laps before radioing crew chief Taylor Moyer that the handling on his Chevrolet had swung from quite loose at the start to a tight condition. Running 15th at lap 40, Smith was having to wait on the front end to turn. Five laps later, the caution flag waved and Moyer elected to keep Smith on the track, advising his driver to take care of his tires and battle through the 60-lap Stage One before coming to pit road for changes. The rest of the field, however, came to pit road and that left Smith with the lead, which he held for two laps.

Firing off from the top spot, Smith knew his car was going to be handful against cars with fresher tires, and it was. He was 11th the first time under the flag stand under the green flag and finished Stage One in 13th position. On the stage break, Smith told Moyer that his car was inconsistent in its handling, and Moyer called him down pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments. He returned to the track in 15th position. Firing off for Stage Two at lap 67, Smith needed just eight laps to gain three positions to 12th when the caution flag waved again at lap 75. Smith told Moyer that his PatientPop Chevrolet fired off better and that it handled better in Turns 3 and 4, but he was still waiting on the front end to turn to get back to the gas.

When the race returned to green-flag conditions, Smith put his head down and started gaining positions. He was 11th by lap 81 and cracked the top 10 two laps later, battling with JR Motorsports teammate Michael Annett as the pair rose up the running order. Smith was 10th at lap 100 and finished Stage Two in ninth position, earning a pair of stage points along the way. Telling Moyer that his car was over-rotating and warning of a potential problem under the hood, Smith came back to the attention of the pit crew for four tires, fuel and further adjustments to help his lateral grip. He returned to the track in 11th position for the final stage.

After quickly gaining a position to 10th, Smith stayed there until lap 152, when the caution waved again. The loose-then-tight handling condition had returned, so Moyer brought him down pit road for more tires, fuel and adjustments and Smith restarted 14th on lap 158. The changes appeared to solve much of the handling issue as Smith was in seventh position when the caution waved again four laps later, prompting Moyer to warn Smith to take care of his tires. Smith was sixth on lap 171 and reached the top five four laps later. He was still there at lap 198, when the young driver switched to the top lane to take advantage of building shade at the top of Turn 4.

A caution slowed the action again at lap 202 and Smith stayed out. On the restart at lap 208, Smith had cars with fresher tires behind him and dropped to 10th in just two laps. The caution waved again at lap 218 for Brandon Brown’s blown engine, and Moyer brought Smith to pit road from 11th place for scuffed tires, fuel to the end and a fresh water bottle. Restarting 12th, at lap 229, Smith again got up on the wheel and drove to ninth place over the next 16 laps, finishing the race there five circuits later.

Chase Briscoe won the race, followed by Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, JRM’s Noah Gragson and Tyler Reddick. JRM teammate Justin Allgaier was sixth, followed by Shane Lee, Justin Haley, Smith and Annett. The finish was the 13th top-10 result for JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet in 19 races so far this season, and the team is currently 11th in car owner points.

Zane Smith, driver No. 8 PatientPop Chevrolet team

“I made a few mistakes, on pit road mostly, and we sort of struggled all weekend, but it definitely wasn’t from a lack of effort. We threw everything at it. In the late middle part of the race, I think we were definitely going the right direction, but we were on a strategy where we had to put on scuffs and hang on from there. Those guys who got tires at the end were really good. Overall it was another top-10 day for us and the PatientPop Chevrolet, and I’m looking forward to my next race with JRM, Taylor and the No. 8 team.”