Phoenix Xfinity Series Recap: Zane Smith

(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

Start: 6th
Finish: 5th

Rookie Zane Smith ran a smart, fast race in Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200 for NASCAR Xfinity Series machines at ISM Raceway, earning his second top-five and seventh top-10 finish of the season with a fifth-place run on the 1-mile desert oval. Smith, making his 10th and final start of the season for JR Motorsports, earned both top-five finishes this season with sponsor La Paz Cocktail Mix on the side of his No. 8 Chevrolet.

The 20-year-old California driver fired off from sixth position on the initial start and, after the scramble to claim racing lines, moved into the top five by the time the first caution flag waved at lap 14. On the restart, Smith got caught up in the rush and dropped to ninth place by lap 25. He picked up a position to run eighth, and eventually told crew chief Taylor Moyer that his Chevrolet was beginning to get tight from the center of the corner off. After Stage One ended at lap 45, with Smith still in eighth, the young driver came down pit road for four tires, fuel and an adjustment. Smith said the car was tight at both ends, but did not want to be freed up for the next run.

Returning to the track in eighth place after a stellar stop from his pit crew, Smith soon reported that the changes made had turned his car from tight to loose on entry. As the laps wound down, Smith maintained his place in the order despite his car’s continued slide toward the loose side. He finished 10th in Stage Two, telling Moyer on the break that the right rear tire was chattering and the car was snappy loose in the center of the corners, especially in Turns 3 and 4. The chatter prevented him from getting to the bottom of the track. Moyer made another adjustment in addition to four tires and fuel on the Stage Two stop. Smith was scored 10th off pit road, but advanced two spots to eighth for the restart when two cars received pit-road speeding penalties.

Shortly after the restart at lap 99, Smith set to work improving his position. He was seventh on lap 117 when the caution waved for Christopher Bell’s spin in Turn 2, and Moyer called him back down pit road for his last set of tires and another adjustment. Smith had reported that he still had a chatter in the right rear tire in Turns 3 and 4, but it was better, and that his machine had fired off faster than the previous restarts. Restarting from 14th, Smith needed just three laps to gain seven positions, and continued to advance. By lap 140, Smith was sixth, and he advanced to fifth 16 laps after that. Racing with playoff contender Chase Briscoe, Smith kept working to move up. Briscoe got past in traffic at one point, but Smith regained the position a few laps later. He raced the final 19 laps in fifth place and finished there at the checkered.

JRM’s Justin Allgaier came through for his first victory of the season to qualify for the Championship 4, with Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick in second and third. Both drivers clinched a shot at the championship as well, along with Texas winner Bell. John Hunter Nemechek and Smith rounded out the top five while Austin Cindric, Justin Haley, Briscoe, Annett and JRM’s Noah Gragson completed the top 10.

Zane Smith, driver No. 8 La Paz Cocktail Mix Chevrolet team

“It was just really hard to fire off today. It was a strong day, and it’s good to have La Paz Cocktail Mix on the car. They were on the car for both of my top-five finishes this year. Thank you to JR Motorsports for giving me the opportunity to come here and run. They gave me a shot. I gave it everything I had. I don’t know what there is for me for 2020 but I’m happy as hell how we ended up here. It was my first time here, first time I’ve ever seen this place, and it turned out well.”