By David Morgan, Associate Editor
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Zane Smith will have three weeks to ponder his current position in the NASCAR Truck Series Playoff standings after early trouble in Saturday’s Love’s RV Stop 250 at Talladega leaves him in danger of elimination with one race remaining to decide the Championship 4.
Entering the day some 14 points behind the cut-off line, the defending Truck Series champion needed to steer clear of trouble to be able to keep himself and his team within striking distance of the top-four, but it was anything but an easy day for the driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford.
Smith started the day mid-pack, but after advancing up to 12th by the end of Stage 1, things took a turn for the worse.
As he was coming down pit road to the service of his crew, Smith’s F-150 suddenly broke sideways and slid into the pit box at high speed, directly into the path of one of his tire carriers. After attempting to jump over the incoming truck, the tire carrier, Charles Plank, was struck by Smith, but thankfully was uninjured after the impact sent him flying into the air.
Almost as if nothing had happened, Plank picked up the wayward Goodyear tires that were sent flying as well and went back to work servicing the car. After getting checked out in the moments following the incident, Plank was deemed to be OK and remained on pit road ready to keep on working for the remainder of the race.
However, the day for Smith kept going downhill during the Stage 1 break when he reported clutch issues, forcing him to take his truck back to the garage to try and get the issues resolved and get him back on track.
After a long repair, Smith returned to the race, but was scored way back in 35th place, some 44 laps down, and just ran out the remaining laps to try and make up any ground he could.
Late race attrition allowed Smith to make up a few positions to finish the race in 32nd, leaving him 36 points behind the cut-off line and in a must-win position heading into the last race of the round at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 21.
Smith finished as the runner-up at Homestead last season en route to winning the championship.
“Just a bummer deal that happened on pit road,” Smith said. “I checked my brake pedal and had a pedal…once I engaged the clutch, I just looped it. I feel terrible. I’m glad Charles sounds like he’s OK. I mean, not 100%, he just got hit by a truck. I feel terrible on that side of things. And then our day snowballed with the clutch failing. Just a bummer result.
“I’ve been in this position before, so (we’ll) just go try to execute at Homestead and go win.”