NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR Cup Series

Zane Smith looks for second truck series title while driving part-time in Cup

Updated Feb. 10, 2023 9:12 a.m. ET

Zane Smith has a little bit of a luxury that many other prospects don't have in NASCAR.

With a 2023 schedule that features a full Craftsman Truck Series season and then seven NASCAR Cup races, he can focus on results in trucks and take more of a learning approach in Cup.

That doesn't mean his Cup results won't matter. But the primary objective for Smith in 2023 is to win a truck championship and get enough reps in a Cup car so if he does run full time in 2024, he has a strong foundation.

"What we accomplished last year on the truck side is we had a really good year, but I feel like there's still a lot of room to improve there, and I feel like we're on track to," said Smith, the 2022 truck series champion. "On the Cup side, I feel like this is to learn as much as I possibly can and give as much time as I possibly can on the Cup side.

"With doing so, I want to perform, though. And so this is a team I think is capable of doing so on these tracks ... and we'll see where we stack up."

Smith is a top prospect thanks to winning his truck title and seven truck victories over the past three years. He made his Cup debut in June at Gateway, filling in for Chris Buescher (COVID-19), and finished 17th. Brad Keselowski had Smith at the top of his list of drivers to use in a pinch, and Smith performed well considering the circumstances.

[Bob Pockrass ranks the top 20 NASCAR prospects for the next decade]

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"It's super cool to obviously hear your name around, especially the Cup garage and just our sport in general," Smith said. "I'm happy I'm under the Ford banner and happy to be just with the group that I'm with right now.

"I have a lot of good people around me from many different angles. Winning fixes everything in this sport. And so that's where all my attention is."

Zane Smith's celebrates truck series title

Last November at Phoenix Raceway, Zane Smith won the truck series crown after two straight years as the runner-up.

The 23-year-old will attempt to make the Daytona 500, the only one of his seven Cup races in which he won't be automatically entered. He will replace Todd Gilliland in a Front Row chartered car for the other six.

Gilliland and Smith are good friends, but Front Row landed sponsorship for Smith from Centene Corporation for the bulk of the races, something he hopes can build into a long-term driver-sponsor relationship. Smith will replace Gilliland at Phoenix in March, Talladega in April, Charlotte in May, Sonoma in June, Texas in September and the Charlotte road course in October.

Smith, who currently has a multiyear deal at Front Row, admitted to some awkwardness in replacing a friend for a handful of events.

"A little bit," Smith said. "It isn't up to me, and he's been around the sport for a long time and hope he understands."

With 2023 marking the second year of NASCAR's Next Gen car, Smith wanted to get laps as drivers start honing in on the intricacies of this car after its 2022 debut.

"There was a lot of advice I got from guys on the Cup side: ‘Hey, if you have an opportunity to run Cup races, take them no matter what it is. Time in this thing is so valuable,'" Smith said. "I could obviously see that, especially after my one start at Gateway.

"Who wouldn't want to race on Sunday? I have an awesome opportunity."

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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