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What if Zane Smith Went to Rick Ware Racing?

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Joshua Lipowski

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Zane Smith was the odd man out at Front Row Motorsports when Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland were signed to contract extensions. Jerry Freeze, GM of Front Row Motorsports, told Danielle Trotta and Larry McReynolds that Smith was offered a full-time Truck Series ride and some Cup starts in an open car, but Smith has yet to sign the deal.

This means that Smith could easily be shopping around for his next team, but there is a race team that may be a bit of a dark horse. What if Zane Smith went to Rick Ware Racing?

Why It Could Make Sense

Rick Ware Racing showed themselves to be a Silly Season Player after they nabbed Justin Haley from Kaulig Racing. This is a move that surprised a lot of people at first, but it does highlight that Rick Ware Racing is trying to take steps forward as a race team. Neither of their cars currently field full-time drivers, even though they are both chartered.

That means, theoretically speaking, that there is a seat open at Rick Ware if they want to fill the car full-time. There is also an already existing relationship between Front Row Motorsports and Rick Ware Racing.

Todd Gilliland has not run full-time for Front Row this season. In three races, he has piloted an entry for Rick Ware Racing, while Smith takes the second Front Row car for those races. With those connections already existing, Smith would not have to work too hard to get into contact with Rick Ware Racing.

Rick Ware Racing is also a Ford team. Smith is a Ford driver in the Craftsman Truck Series, and Front Row is a Ford team in Cup as well. If Ford values Smith and wants him in the Cup Series, that may be the easiest seat for him to get into should Aric Almirola not retire.

Rick Ware could also be bringing in another young driver to build their team around, but they are not as raw as other rookies. Haley is going to enter his third full-time Cup Series season with the team, and Smith has been in the Truck Series full-time for the last four seasons.

It could be a move that makes sense for both sides. However, there is a major hold-up in those proceedings.

The Charter Issue

Now, Rick Ware Racing does have a charter for both of their cars, so, on the surface it seems as simple as plug-and-play with Zane Smith. Well, there is an extra complication, and that is the performance standard for the charters which reads as follows on NASCAR.com.

Charter teams are held to a minimum performance standard. If a Charter team finishes in the bottom three of the owner standings among all 36 Charter teams for three consecutive years, NASCAR has a right to remove the charter.

NASCAR.com

Here is how Rick Ware Racing’s teams have finished over the last three seasons in owners points amongst chartered teams. To put it lightly, it has not been pretty.

2021

  • #15: 34th/36
  • #51: 33rd/36
  • #53: 35th/36
  • #52: 32nd/36

2022

  • #15: 34th/36
  • #51: 35th/36

2023

  • #15: 32nd/36
  • #51: 35th/36

Both Rick Ware Racing cars finished in the bottom three of the owner’s standings in 2022. Two other Rick Ware Racing charters finished in the bottom three in 2021, but according to Jayski, the two charters that finished in the bottom three in 2021 were transferred to Petty GMS and Spire. The #52 charter was moved to the #51 car, and the #15 and #51 cars swapped charters before the 2023 season.

In short, the #51 charter is the old #15 charter, which finished in the bottom 3 in both 2021 and 2022. The current #51 charter, if it stays in the bottom 3, can be revoked by NASCAR.

This would explain why Rick Ware Racing would not announce Justin Haley’s car number for 2023. They do not know if that car is even going to be allowed by NASCAR to be fielded with a charter. Without a charter, that car would likely not run in 2024 given how rare it is for open teams to enter into races nowadays.

Why would Rick Ware sign Zane Smith if the charter they have may not even be there in 2024? This is what complicates this master plan for Smith to enter Rick Ware Racing in 2024. It could make a lot of sense if the charter is there for the car.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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