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Zane Smith’s Disastrous Rookie Season

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Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

Zane Smith was one of the hottest names during Silly Season in 2023, but that hasn’t translated into success on the race track to this point. As of this week, Smith sits 35th in the standings, last amongst drivers who have started all 5 races. It’s been a disaster so far, but Smith still does have reason for optimism.

  • After four seasons in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Smith joined the NASCAR Cup Series in 2024. He signed with Trackhouse Racing, who loaned him to Spire Motorsports to drive the #71 car. Many felt this Cup Series opportunity was a long time coming.
  • Smith has two DNFs and 4 finishes of 29th or worse in his first 5 races of 2024. Meanwhile, his teammates Corey LaJoie and Carson Hocevar sit 22nd and 24th in the points standings respectively.
  • Fans are a bit quiet on Smith for now since he is a rookie. Rookies tend to struggle in the Cup Series, so Smith’s struggles are not unexpected.

What Happened in the First 5 Races?

Smith’s Spire debut in the Daytona 500 was solid yet unspectacular. He did not lead any laps, but he did put together a 13th-place finish and stay out of trouble. Since then, it’s been downhill.

Smith was forced behind the wall at Atlanta before stage two finished thanks to the DVP, finishing 35th. At Las Vegas, he hit the wall early, and the damage sustained resulted in 13 laps lost in the pits, which put him in 36th at the end of the race.

Smith was slow at Phoenix, as he finished 29th, 3 laps down. Then at Bristol, Smith was caught up in an accident early before going behind the wall after 192 laps to finish 36th. That was his 2nd DNF of the season. The struggles he has dealt with have been both self-inflicted (Phoenix and Las Vegas) and the result of outside factors (Atlanta and Bristol).

Aside from that, Smith has just been a nonfactor in any race this season. He has not made the final round of qualifying at any of the races this season, and his only top-15 start came at Daytona. There has not been much to cheer about outside of Daytona.

It’s especially concerning compared to his teammates. At Las Vegas, Corey LaJoie was in the top 10 for most of the day, and Carson Hocevar finished in the top 15. At Phoenix, Hocevar garnered another top-15 finish while Smith barely cracked the top-30.

Reason for Optimism

However, this is not the time for Spire or fans to completely give up on Smith. Remember that this #71 team is brand new as Spire only had 2 charters in 2023. It’s going to take time for this team to gel and develop, and Smith is only a rookie. He will be given every opportunity to show what he can do.

Smith also has good tracks for him coming up both this weekend at COTA and two weekends afterward in Martinsville. He won the last two Truck Series races at COTA and won at Martinsville in the series in 2021.

Now, Smith does have a longer leash given his contract with Trackhouse, but, he needs to be better than last in the points standings. He has tracks coming up that he can succeed at, so, this could be a critical stretch for him in 2024.

As of right now, Smith is 81 points behind the last Playoff spot (16th in the standings). That target is going to move as the 2024 season rolls on, but, if this deficit does not decrease soon, Smith could fall out of contention. While making the Playoffs is not a must in his rookie season, being in contention keeps him relevant.

Smith has reason for optimism, and it’s by no means time to give up on him. However, it’s been a disastrous start for him, and if he wants to hit his loftier hopes and goals, he needs to start producing.

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