BROOKLYN, Mich. – Zane Smith didn’t appear to be in position to win Friday’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Michigan Int’l Speedway, but appearances can be deceiving.
Smith drove by Christian Eckes on the last lap following a chaotic overtime restart and held on to score his first series victory during the Henry Ford Health System 200.
“Throughout this year I feel like we’ve already given up three wins just from dumb luck and little things from me. Just dumb little mistakes,” said Smith. “Finally we capitalized on those when it mattered.”
Driving the No. 21 Chevrolet Silverado for GMS Racing, Smith wasn’t a threat the entire race until a pair of late-race caution periods allowed him to make a play for the victory.
The first caution came with five laps left when Tyler Hill spun across the frontstretch grass one lap after a restart. Grant Enfinter, who had led most of the second half of the race, maintained his position at the front when the caution flag waved.
The caution period set up an overtime restart. Enfinger opted to restart on the top while John Hunter Nemechek chose to restart on the bottom via the recently introduced choose rule.
When the green flag waved Enfinger was able to hold the lead over Nemechek out of turn two, but behind the leaders Matt Crafton, Brennan Poole and Jeb Burton crashed to bring out another caution flag before the leaders took the white flag.
That led to another overtime restart with Enfinger remaining the leader. Nemechek opted to take the inside for the restart via the choose rule, with Christian Eckes lining up on the inside behind him. On the top, Austin Hill lined up behind Enfinger while Smith moved up several positions by picking the bottom to restart in the fifth position.
“I think I would have lined up technically 12th or 14th or something like that if it was just double file like every weekend,” Smith said when discussing the choose rule. “I think 99 percent of the night we chose the wrong lane. When it mattered we picked the right one.”
When the race resumed Enfinger got a push from Hill, but rather than follow Enfinger into turn one Hill dove low to Enfinger’s inside. Enfinger moved to block the move, but it was too late and the two made contact.
The contact Enfinger and Hill pushed them down the track and into Nemechek, with all three competitors managing to save their trucks. However, they were all out of contention.
Meanwhile, Eckes had avoided the mayhem in front of him and suddenly found himself in the lead with Tanner Gray and Smith in pursuit. Smith quickly dispatched Gray for second and set his sights on Eckes.
Eckes took the white flag with Smith right on his bumper. Smith made his move in turn one, diving low under Eckes in a bid for the lead. Smith completed the pass at the exit of turn two, emerging with the race lead for the first time all day.
“I just timed my run right with the 18 (Eckes) and luckily got by him,” Smith said. “It was pretty much everything I had. It was wreckers or checkers at that point.”
Eckes looked low on Smith in turn three but Smith moved down to block the move, assuring Smith his first Truck Series victory and a place in the Truck Series playoffs.
“The first one is always the hardest,” Smith said after his first series victory. “That feeling of knowing you’re in the playoffs, you don’t have to worry about it anymore is, I mean, the biggest weight taken off your shoulders.”
Eckes came home second for the third time in as many races. He was understandably frustrated post-race.
“I guess he just (got) a better run than I could,” Eckes said. “I went too high and he drove around me like I was standing still. That’s three second-place finishes the last three weeks. Frustrating as hell, but we’ll move on to Daytona.”
Gray, the 2018 NHRA Pro Stock champion, earned his career-best finish in third. Tyler Ankrum was fourth, with Todd Gilliland coming home fifth.
David Gravel, a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series regular and the 2019 Knoxville Nationals champion, overcame a mid-race spin to finish 10th in his series debut driving for GMS Racing.
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