MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Zane Smith raced his way into the Truck Series championship finale with a Saturday victory in overtime at Martinsville Speedway, where a three-wide scramble to the finish vaulted him into title contention.
Smith was last in the eight-driver field at Martinsville and had to win to earn a spot in next week’s winner-take-all finale. It was his first win of the season.
Smith is looking for a 2022 seat because current team GMS Racing is moving to the Cup Series next year.
“We’re looking for a job right now,” Smith said, “it’s a good day.”
Smith was racing door-to-door on the bottom of the track alongside Todd Gilliland, who was the middle truck sandwiched between Smith and Stewart Friesen. As the trio hurtled to the white flag, Friesen bounced off the wall and into Gilliland, which turned Gilliland and brought out the race-ending caution as Smith snaked across the line ahead of Friesen.
“I wasn’t trying to hook him and wreck everybody there … ran out of talent and wrecked him,” Friesen said. “I take full responsibility for it.”
Reigning champion Sheldon Creed finished ninth and failed to advance to the finale. He exchanged words after the race with three-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton, accusing him of racing without respect in the closing laps.
Crafton advanced, though, after finishing fifth. Smith, Ben Rhodes, Crafton and John Hunter Nemechek will race for the Truck Series title next Friday night at Phoenix Raceway.
Crafton is the only driver with a NASCAR national series championship racing for the title.
It was a close call for Nemechek, a five-time winner and the points leader most of the season who simply needed a clean race at Martinsville to qualify for the finale. Instead, he was crashed out of the race with just under 70 laps remaining in regulation by Austin Wayne Self.
Nemechek bumped Self to move him a little bit to complete a pass, and Self responded by turning left into Nemechek. It sent Nemechek hard into the wall and ended his race.
“He shouldn’t be out here if he’s just going to hook someone in the right rear and turn them in the fence,” Nemechek said. “NASCAR should definitely look at that, it’s playoff contention, you’ve got to have respect and he doesn’t.”
Self said he did not deliberately wreck Nemechek and that he didn’t even know who it was when he made contact.
Nemechek had to watch the conclusion of the race to see if he’d still advance into the finale after finishing 39th out of 40 drivers.
“I wasn’t sitting, I was pacing,” Nemechek said of watching the finish in the Kyle Busch Motorsports hauler. “We did not survive but we advanced.”
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