Zane Smith had never turned a lap in a Next Gen Cup car until this weekend. But, he turned all 240 of them in Sunday’s 300-mile race from World Wide Technology Raceway, bringing home the Acronis Ford Mustang 17th in his NASCAR Cup Series debut.
Smith, a three-time winner in the Truck Series this season, was a last-minute fill-in for Chris Buescher, who was sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19 prior to the weekend. The 22-year-old Smith came from the rear of the field and brought home a clean No. 17 machine at a track the Cup Series had never been to.
“I’m super happy with that finish, especially after the beginning,” Smith said after the race. “These guys are so good, and it was just fun to learn this car with such a long race to work on it. It was a ton of fun. Thank you to RFK, Acronis, Ford, everybody that allowed me to do this, just a dream come true.”
Despite a qualifying effort of 32nd, Smith methodically learned and worked his way through the field. One of his early pit stops he showed poise after getting turned entering his pit stall, but fortunately received no significant damage despite sliding into the inside pit wall.
He also avoided a multi-car incident on the front stretch about halfway through the second stage, again avoiding potential trouble. He would advance into the top-25 about halfway through the race overall, finishing 22nd in stage two, and from there only built on his running position.
In a final 95-lap stage that saw a total of four cautions, Smith eventually worked his way into the top-20, and survived a pair of late-race cautions to bring home the 17th-place finish in NASCAR overtime.
The Cup Series heads next to Sonoma Raceway, where race coverage next Sunday is set for 4 p.m. It will air on FS1 for the network’s final race of the 2022 season, with radio coverage set for PRN and SiriusXM Channel 90.
RFK Racing PR