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Zane Smith takes ‘nothing-to-lose’ mentality to gutsy runner-up at Nashville

By Cameron Richardson, /

LEBANON, Tenn. – Chaos and opportunity.

Zane Smith’s shining moment in the Cup Series came up just 0.068 seconds short to race winner Joey Logano at Nashville Superspeedway.

From blistering heat, a quick, heavy thunderstorm to the sun dropping underneath the Tennessee sky, Sunday’s Ally 400 saw it all from above and on the track as a scheduled 300-lap distance ballooned to 331 as the Cup Series set a record five overtime restarts before the checkered flag waved.

Within those extra 31 laps, Smith worked his way from 22nd on the first OT restart to a runner-up finish, his first top five at the Cup level.

“It was a great finish for us, Smith said after the race. “That one’s gonna sting a little bit but how our day was going, was definitely really proud of that result.”

RELATED: Race results

Through the first half of the 2024 season, the results were mum for the No. 71 Spire Motorsports team as their best result came in February with a 13th-place run in the Daytona 500. Since then, Smith has only scored three finishes inside the top 20 (COTA, Gateway, Sonoma).

Entering his first full-time season at the Cup level, Smith was no ordinary rookie. He boasted a Craftsman Truck Series championship and was brought on to Trackhouse Racing last summer as a highly-touted prospect before being leased to Spire, as Trackhouse’s two charters were already occupied.

The 25-year-old knows the winning feeling and what it takes to run up front consistently. While this is the first milestone result for Smith at NASCAR’s top level, he’s not riding home with second.

“I’m glad I still have the winning side of me,” Smith said. “I’m not jumping up and down for second place. Obviously so proud of our whole group for pulling that finish off. But it just stings that we were that close to holding a guitar here.”

To keep a young, hot prospect motivated through a rough season, it takes a decorated and experienced leader atop their pit box.

Smith’s crew chief, Stephen Doran, was a member of the No. 4 team when Kevin Harvick was behind the wheel. He won the 2014 Cup title with the Stewart-Haas Racing organization before becoming a full-time crew chief for Smith. While the two are still learning in their respective rookie slots, Doran was able to keep Smith poised to battle for the win.

“We just tried to keep him informed on the status of everybody in front of him,” Doran told “Just knowing who was close to running out, who to look out for on the restarts, not to run into when they run out, and it all worked out almost perfectly.”

Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were all among the drivers who either ran out of gas under green or had to pit under one of the multiple OT restarts for fuel.

As each caution flew, it continued to move Smith up the running order and he soon found himself inside the top-two rows with a real shot of his maiden Cup win and flipping the playoff picture on its head.

Battling Logano and Tyler Reddick on the final restart, Smith could see the victory and coming off Turn 4 on the final lap, the No. 22 Team Penske had just enough left in the tank to make it to the start/finish line.

“You see him shaking it coming to the line,” Smith said. “Just needed a little bit more. I probably could have put together a little bit better [turns] three and four but who knows?”

In a rare occasion so far for the No. 71 team, Smith was able to feel what he could do with cleaner air out front and noticed the significant changes his car went through with fewer cars ahead of him versus when he’s battling in close quarters toward the back of the pack.

“He said to me that it’s so crazy how much better the car handles as you get further forward,” Doran said. “Like all the handling issues we were fighting when we were back in the mess all went away when we got up there and in the top five. So it’s just huge. You got to work your way up there either with strategy or restarts. It’s the only way to get your car to handle getting cleaner air. So I think he realizes that more now than ever and we feel good about the second half of the year.”

Just seven races remain before the Cup Series Playoffs begin, and while a victory for Smith would be nothing short of a miracle, sitting 34th in the Cup standings, he can take advantage of his current position in the series.

“There is a positive to having a really rough year, you have nothing to lose,” Smith said. “You never know how many more shots at a Cup win you’re gonna have.”


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