What drivers said after Brickyard 400

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There was a lot of carnage and two drivers made the playoffs and two others fell short in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

We saw Jimmie Johnson eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in his Cup career after a big crash. Others who made an early exit in the race due to wrecks include Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones.

Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer made the playoffs, but Johnson and Daniel Suarez came up short.

Here’s what many of the drivers in Sunday’s race had to say:

Kevin Harvick — winner: “(On NBC frontstretch interview) This is great. I have to say thanks to all the fans. I can’t tell you how much coming to Indianapolis means to me. As a kid, I watched Rick Mears win Indy 500s and I got to be around him as a kid. He was my hero. Coming here and winning here is pretty awesome. These guys just built a great race car. I just can’t say enough on this Mobil One Ford Mustang. These guys on this team built a heck of a race car. This is the same stuff that we took to Michigan and had a great weekend obviously and went to victory lane.

“I know how much this means to everybody. This is a great engine package that Roush Yates has given us. It’s been to victory lane twice now, once at Michigan and now the same engine here. I kept telling myself, get the baby girl (daughter Piper) a trophy. It’s a good weekend to come. She doesn’t really quite know what’s going on, just a lot of noise, but pretty special.

“(What kind of statement is this?) I don’t know if we had the best car, but we had the fastest car. We gave up the lead on one of those restarts, came and pitted and the caution came out and the way the caution flag fell worked in our favor. It gave us control of the race and we kept control of the race and we didn’t make any mistakes and here we are in victory lane at one of the greatest places on Earth to race.”

Joey Logano — finished second: “We were so close to winning here. It means so much to winning at Indy and gosh, I wish we could have gotten it, but I’m proud of the effort of our team. We had a solid run. … Today was all about getting playoff points as much as possible. The 4 (Harvick) was fast and quick and we kind of needed something crazy to happen to get ahead of him. … Overall, I feel strong about our day today and going into a racetrack we won at last time (at Vegas) we were there and make another championship run at this thing. We need to execute there like we did here today. We have to have perfect days all the way through. It’s so hard to recover these days, you know? You’ve got to be perfect. I look forward to the playoffs every year because the time you learn the most about yourself and grow the most, the pressure kind of has the ability to do that, so I can’t wait for that.”

Bubba Wallace — finished third: “Heck of a day. I don’t know to say. We had speed all weekend in our Victory Junction Chevrolet. We never gave up all day no matter what happened on pit road. I still don’t know what happened. We went from the lowest of lows, to the almost highest of highs! It was just a solid day for our team. Smaller organizations having big runs. It is very uncommon these days. Almost like David and Goliath. Everything kind of clicked today for us. These little teams aren’t supposed to run with the big teams. It was a good day.”

William Byron — finished fourth: “(On NBCSN) Unfortunately, we got that damage on pit road at the beginning of the race. Not really sure what happened there. The front crunched in the left rear fender but I was really pleased with how our car was after that, it was really quick. It was a really good top five run for us and we’re really looking forward to the playoffs ahead. We’re pretty optimistic. I think we’ve learned a lot the last couple weeks with the way our car’s been set up and how it’s worked for us. It was a grind today to get track position but once we did, we were really happy with that. Hopefully, it should be a real good track for us.

“(Your thoughts on the playoffs?) I feel like any place that we’re going back to for a second time is going to be really good for us. Definitely going back to Vegas is going to be great. Going back to Richmond is going to be good. The Roval is a new one, but I feel those two out of three in the first round, going back for the second time, can help our team. I would say after these last two weeks we’ve had a better handle. We were really guessing on how much straightaway speed versus corner speed we wanted, and I think we’ve got a good package going into the playoffs.
“(Do you feel like you’re where you need to be to start the playoffs?) Yeah, I think so. I mean there’s no better way to go into than a Top 5 finish. And that’s really good for our team. It kind of helps start our momentum and I hope we can carry that into next week. … Martinsville is tough. Talladega is very unpredictable. I just don’t know. We’ve just got to take one race at a time, obviously, and do the best we can.”

Clint Bowyer — finished fifth: “We just kept digging. … That was a close call with the 88 (Alex Bowman). It was a wild race. These restarts are everything and you have to try to go for broke and everybody did. We got some momentum. This was key for us with a top-five and some top 10s before that. Teammate obviously won the race so we obviously have some things to work on in these playoffs. Hats off to everyone at Stewart-Haas. … I think we have the ship going in the right direction going to Las Vegas. We were putting ourselves in some bad situations and the driver wasn’t doing a good job of digging ourselves out of them, but I feel like collectively we’ve finally gotten over that, our confidence level is back a little bit. To finally leave some of these racetracks with some positive mojo is definitely important.”

Denny Hamlin — finished sixth: “I knew our car was strong, we just struggled with track position. After a few restarts, we were up in the top six. Then we got shuffled in the last restart to 10th and then got back to sixth in the last couple laps. The car was fast, but just never got a chance. It was a second and a half different between running behind someone and in clean air. The 4 (Harvick) had good car speed, controlled the race and that allowed you to leg it out like he did. It was a good regular season for us, we’re ready for the playoffs and hopefully we’ll get a few more wins before this thing is over. … Everywhere we’ve gone back to a second time, our results have been extremely good. I definitely like our chances when we go back to Vegas and all these other tracks coming up. We’re pretty excited about it. I feel we have as good of speed and handling as we’ve ever had. If we have good clean races, we’re upfront. If we don’t, we have a bad finish. That’s the only thing that’s been holding us back.”

Ryan Blaney — finished seventh: “Overall, I’m proud of thew whole 12 team. Man, I thought we had the car to win but we got back in the pack and got super tight and couldn’t pass anybody. That really stinks. I thought we were actually pulling away from (Harvick) when we got the lead easy. It’s just one of those things, it seems like the norm for this year, so hopefully it’ll turn around.

“(Will the first round be tough?) I guess so. Vegas has been pretty good to us. Richmond isn’t our strongest track and the Roval (Charlotte), you really don’t know what will happen. Hopefully we can have strong runs and no problems, no issues and do what we should and hopefully the runs will get better for us as the tracks get a little better for us. But take it just one race at a time.”

Ryan Newman — finished eighth: “(To NBCSN) We weren’t by any means the fastest car, were tight in traffic, I’m sure a lot of guys were, but we were one of the worst. Excellent strategy by (crew chief) Scott Graves, everybody at Roush Fenway. It’s been a year of progress, learning and a lot of things I feel like a rookie more than I’ve ever been. … We did everything we could and it was good enough but we have a lot of work ahead of us. What happened today could happen in three more races, so we have to put our nose to the grindstone. We have a lot of work to do. We showed we can progress throughout the race, but we have to start qualifying in the top 10 and finish in the top five. Then we’ll prove we’re made of more than what we’re showing.”

Chase Elliott — finished ninth: “I haven’t seen a replay of the pit road incident, but one thing about Indy is pit road is so narrow. You have to start braking before you turn into your box which is typically not the case. I think that was a contributor. I apologize if I didn’t stop quick enough. Once they all started stopping, they stopped so fast, I didn’t get stopped quick enough and about the time I got stopped, somebody piled into me. It was one of those chain reaction things. I hate that it happened, especially that early in the race, but luckily, we were able to piece our car back together and finish the race. My crew worked hard during to get us better. So, it finished alright.

“(On being in the playoffs) Just hopefully having a nice, smooth, uneventful race at Las Vegas would be good. These past couple of weeks have been wild with just a lot of stuff happening. So, we just need to get out there and I have confidence that we can have good cars. We’ve just got to get going in find a little consistency and just get things started off, uneventfully, would be great. (Are there any other tracks you’re looking forward to:) Yeah, the next one, really. I think you have to have the ability to win all of them, or the majority of them, to have a shot at Homestead. We just need to have that mindset going in. This first round is going to be tough. Michigan and Charlotte haven’t been our best two race tracks, so it’s important for us to not overlook it and put some emphasis on the first round and not just think we’re going to breeze right through.”

Paul Menard — finished 10th: “It was an up and down day for us. We qualified really good. We were really tight to start. That has happened to us the last two weeks where we fired off really tight and had to free up throughout the race. We finally got some track position back at the end and had a couple good restarts and got a top 10, so overall, not a bad day.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 11th: “(Your late charge just wasn’t enough to make the playoffs) I was just trying to drive as fast as I could. I knew it was going to be tough but I wanted to be positive. We had 26 laps or something to go, I had fresher tires, but I had track position and this is a track position race. It was a bad timing to get trapped in the pit stop cycle. We could have won the race doing that or we could have lost the race like this. … It just didn’t work out.

“(What will the remainder of the season hold for you?) We’ve been strong in some races and average in some others. As a team, we definitely have some work to do. We were just down in power this weekend. I qualified 20th and one of my teammates got the pole. We just have to keep working hard and trying to put ourselves in better position. I believe in this team and this team is used to win races and I want to take them there.”

Austin Dillon — finished 12th: “Starting off, our SYMBICORT® (budesonide/formoterol fumarate dihydrate) Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was tight in Turn 2 but handled really well everywhere else on the track. Trouble came early though when the caution flag was displayed during Stage 1. We all came down pit road to pit and a big group of cars got jumbled on pit road and started making contact with each other. The cars in front of me started colliding and I made contact with the No. 9 car, then the No. 17 car drove through all of us because someone hit him from behind, too. The craziest part of this entire race is pit road. You’re dodging slower cars and if something happens you have no where to go. You can’t dodge left. You can’t go anywhere. We were able to make repairs to our Chevy, but the damage definitely created handling issues for the rest of the day. We raced our way as high as seventh but the handling was so tight that we lost a few positions at the end to finish 12th. I’m proud of this team. We had a plan and we stuck to it. It feels great to put together a solid race for our partner AstraZeneca and everyone associated with the No. 3 team.”

Ty Dillon — finished 13th: “Today was another solid day for our GEICO team. We continued to make the car better and better throughout the race and were able to miss the accidents in front of us. I battled a tight car for most of the race but Justin (Alexander) and I worked through adjustments together. I’m proud of my team for working hard all weekend and to finish 13th is more momentum for us to carry into next week. We continue to build our program and runs like this show that we are making gains.”

Aric Almirola — finished 14th: “It was a crazy race today. Track position was really important and restarts were crazy and really important. You just have to go. You have to go all the time. You can’t give up spots on pit road or restarts. Once it gets single-filed out it is really tough.

“(What is it like to be back in the playoffs?) To be able to make it back into the playoffs and have a shot to run for a championship is great. Everything has to be better when you get to the playoffs. The car has to be better, the driver has to be better. I have to do a better job on restarts. We have to do a better job on pit road. It all stacks up. It all matters. I think when you get to the playoffs, everybody brings a whole other level and hopefully we can rise to the occasion like we did last year. … (Does last year’s experience help you?) I think so. I feel like going through this last year and the pressure and everything that goes with it really gives me a good understanding. I am not going into it blind. I really know what to expect and I know the level of intensity that is getting ready to come.”

Alex Bowman — finished 21st: “(Are you ready for the playoffs?) Yeah, I love Las Vegas. There’s three or three and a half grooves to run, basically. So, I’m really excited to get there and try to make the most out of a really strong 1.5-mile program for us. I think that’s a place that we can go and be capable of winning and I’m looking forward to it. … (How stressful will 10 straight weeks of playoffs be like?) We’ve just got to go out and perform and not have good days and then bad days, like we’ve had the last two weeks. There are a lot of really good race tracks for us. The second round is extremely good for us. So, I’m looking forward to it. I think our cars are going to be really strong and we can go out there and win some races.”

Martin Truex Jr. — finished 27th: “Well I can tell you that I’m glad to be rolling out of Indy. It’s been a pretty crappy weekend for us in general. Felt like we had something for them today at the start of the race. We were passing cars. We had to start way in the back, and then on the first pit stop, of course, we get in a crash. Unfortunate deal. The guys have been doing a good job, and I feel like the Playoff tracks line up well for us. We have a decent amount of Playoff points in the bank to start out with. First round, if we can just go do what we know how to do, be consistent, not beat ourselves, we should be able to move on pretty quickly. Hopefully, we can start to take advantage of the fast race cars. The last five to six races, we have been really strong. We don’t have a whole lot to show for it, so it has been disappointing. It has been frustrating from that point. Knowing that we have the team and the speed to go really far in the Playoffs and be a Championship contender feels good. We will be ready to start that next weekend.”

Kurt Busch — finished 30th: “(What track are you looking forward to the most in the playoffs?) Vegas. That’s my home town. (Describe the emotion and physicality of 10 straight weeks in the playoffs) You’ve just got to be ready for it. All year long you build up toward it. There are sister tracks to some tracks that other tracks that are own their own. Each week is a nice, fresh, restart; and you’ve got to get through three races each time, you know, the three rounds to get to Homestead. So, I kind of look at it as three races at a time and just try to piece together what you chew on.”

Kyle Larson — finished 33rd: “I am kind of happy with how the day went except for crashing myself out. I am proud of the car my team brought. I felt like I had the best car probably. I didn’t get to see the No. 1 car (teammate Kurt Busch), but he seemed fast as well. I was really, really good. I was happy with that, but upset with myself that I crashed myself. I’m looking forward to the playoffs. We’ve had faster, and faster cars every race.
“(Do you have confidence going into the playoffs?) Yeah, no doubt. It’s been a good couple of months. My cars have been good. We’re qualifying pretty well. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging along and hope we get a win and get through these rounds. … (This is your fourth time in the playoffs. You’ve only gotten past the first round once. What will it take to get through more than one round?) I think just having nice, clean days. Days like we have had the last couple of months. Aside from crashing today, we’ve gotten good stage points and good finishes. So, we just have to continue having days like that and eliminating our mistakes. We just have to do the best we can in the stages and the finishes.”
Daniel Hemric — finished 34th: “I felt like we had a good restart there and I got to the bottom, which is where you need to be, then next thing I knew I saw the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) sideways. I saw the left side of his car, his nose through the grass. I thought I had it missed and someone got turned down and caught me in the right side of the Liberty National Chevrolet Camaro Zl1 and turned me into the outside wall. I’m not sure what started it or what happened – just chaos. This was an important day, making my first Brickyard 400 start, all the way up until the point where we were crashed. That’s been the story for this No. 8 team all year. Everybody on this team works too hard to have this many unfortunate things happen to us. We’ll put this one behind us and move on to Las Vegas next week.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 35th: “(From NBC interview) It’s certainly disappointing. Unfortunately we had a bad 25 races that led to the position we were in today. We needed a stellar day and I think we were having a strong day and just really proud of my team and where we were at and what was going on.

“The 1 car (Kurt Busch) had a little bit of trouble on the restart I’m on the inside going into the corner and it was just super tight. It’s unfortunate that happened, certainly not what we needed on that restart. I couldn’t go below the white line, got snipped there and around we go.

“(This will be the first playoff you won’t be part of in your Cup career) It’s pretty impressive the run we’ve been on in the playoffs for this many consecutive years. We have that to be proud of and sure, we would have liked to continue that on. The goal is to win a race. The team is getting stronger each and every week. Cliff Daniels (crew chief) is doing an amazing job leading this group and we’re ready to roll. We’ll dust ourselves off and try to get a trophy.”

Kyle Busch – finished 37th: “(Did you have any indication the engine was about to go?) “No, we just left pit road and we were just coming up through the gears. Everything was fine. We got to fourth. We made it all the way to turn two on the apron there and then tried to blend up in traffic and it just let go. I don’t know. We weren’t as good as we wanted to be, where we thought we could run with those guys. We were definitely struggling in the long run similar to yesterday. We thought we qualified a little better than we should, and I guess that’s probably why we weren’t quite there for the long haul and keeping downforce in the car I guess. Just too tight overall. I thought we were going to have a solid third-to-fifth, something like that anyways, and try to come out of here with some points or some momentum going into the Playoffs, but we are stuck here. Once it blew up, it knocked the brakes out of it so I couldn’t stop coming to pit road so I couldn’t get out of everyone’s way and not cause a caution. So sorry about that.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 38th: “(That was a wild ride. What was it like for you?) Yeah, I sure would like to see the replay first. We had new tires and we were racing some cars that didn’t have new tires and wanted to make the pass there and got real tight to the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and lost the nose in the air. I was trying to leave room and probably came down on Erik (Jones) more than I thought I did and he got real loose. No air on my car. I hit the wall there. There is this spot on the wall with just an atrocious angle. I don’t know what that spot is for but it does not need to be there, but we found it. That is how racing goes. We find the things. This track really was part of the safety revolution about 15-20 years ago and I think it is time for another.”

“(The TV guys were saying with that bad wall angle, maybe that was a good spot for the tires given the angle of the wall. What are your thoughts?) “That is an interesting conclusion. I am not sure I agree with that. I think there probably should not be weird angles like that to wreck on. It is what it is and I am glad I am okay. It is just a tough day for everyone on the Discount Tire Ford team.”

Erik Jones – finished 39th: “I just got loose and made a mistake. I didn’t think Brad (Keselowski) would be so tight on me and I just lost it. It’s my fault. I feel bad for the 2 (Keselowski) and I feel bad for our team as well. It’s a shame, we had a good Stanley Camry and I just hate seeing it come down like that. I just wasn’t anticipating enough and I drove in too hard for it. It’s all good. We’ll move on. Wish we would have had a good day. Our car was really strong and we had a shot to probably win today. Just didn’t work out.

“(What was the racing like?) Really challenging. That’s part of why I was making that move and being aggressive with it. I was just trying to get track position. I made a mistake on pit road and stalled it. I was just trying to get back up there. We had a good restart and I was just hoping I could get some good track position back. Tried to get in there and get another spot and it just didn’t quite work out.”

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Kyle Busch to run five Truck races for KBM in 2023

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Wednesday the five Craftsman Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch will race this season.

Busch’s Truck races will be:

March 3 at Las Vegas

March 25 at Circuit of the Americas

April 14 at Martinsville

May 6 at Kansas

July 22 at Pocono

Busch is the winningest Truck Series driver with 62 career victories. He has won at least one series race in each of the last 10 seasons. He has won 37.6% of the Truck races he’s entered and placed either first or second in 56.7% of his 165 career series starts.

Zariz Transport, which specializes in transporting containers from ports, signed a multi-year deal to be the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 51 truck for all of his series races, starting this season. The company will be an associate sponsor on the truck in the remaining 18 series races.

Myatt Snider to run six Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Myatt Snider is the latest driver to be announced as running a select number of Xfinity races in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Snider will run six races with the team. Ryan Truex (six races), Joe Graf Jr. (five) and Connor Mosack (three) also will be in JGR’s No. 19 Xfinity car this year.

Snider’s first race with the team will be the Feb. 18 season opener at Daytona. He also will race at Portland (June 3), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7), Las Vegas (Oct. 14), Martinsville (Oct. 28) and the season finale at Phoenix (Nov. 4).

The deal returns Snider to JGR. He worked in various departments there from 2011-15.

“We’re looking forward to have Myatt on our No. 19 team for six races,” said Steve DeSouza, executive vice president of Xfinity and development. “Building out the driver lineup for this car is an opportunity for JGR to help drivers continue to develop in their racing career, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Myatt continues to grow.”

Said Snider in a statement from the team: “With six races on our 2023 schedule, I’m looking forward to climbing into the No. 19 TreeTop Toyota GR Supra with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Having worked with JGR as a high schooler and a young racer, it’s an awesome full circle moment to return as a driver to the team that taught me so much about racing itself.

“It’s good to be reunited with (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff as we have an awesome history working together. With many memories and wins from 2013 and 2014 when I worked on the No. 20 Toyota Camry under Jason’s leadership, the team has always been more of a family relationship to me. I’m glad to be returning to the JGR family and looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a driver.”

Daytona will be Snider’s 100th career Xfinity start. He has one series win and 21 top 10s. He was the rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018.

Tree Top will be Snider’s sponsor for his six races with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also in the Xfinity Series, Gray Gaulding, who will run full season with SS Green Light Racing, announced that he’ll have sponsor Panini America for multiple races, including the Daytona opener. Emerling-Gase Motorsports announced that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in both the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series for the team.

 

Travis Pastrana ‘taking a chance’ at Daytona

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In so-called “action” sports, Travis Pastrana is a king. He is well-known across the spectrum of motorsports that are a bit on the edge — the X Games, Gymkhana, motorcross and rally racing.

Now he’s jumping in the deep end, attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 and what would be his first NASCAR Cup Series start.

Pastrana, who is entered in the 500 in a third Toyota fielded by 23XI Racing, will be one of at least six drivers vying for the four non-charter starting spots in the race. Also on that list: Jimmie Johnson, Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill.

MORE: IndyCar driver Conor Daly entered in Daytona 500

Clearly, just getting a spot on the 500 starting grid won’t be easy.

“I love a challenge,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “I’ve wanted to be a part of the Great American Race since I started watching it on TV as a kid. Most drivers and athletes, when they get to the top of a sport, don’t take a chance to try something else. I like to push myself. If I feel I’m the favorite in something, I lose a little interest and focus. Yes, I’m in way over my head, but I believe I can do it safely. At the end of the day, my most fun time is when I’m battling and battling with the best.”

Although Pastrana, 39, hasn’t raced in the Cup Series, he’s not a stranger to NASCAR. He has run 42 Xfinity races, driving the full series for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 (winning a pole and scoring four top-10 finishes), and five Craftsman Truck races.

“All those are awesome memories,” Pastrana said. “In my first race at Richmond (in 2012), Denny Hamlin really helped me out. I pulled on the track in practice, and he waited for me to get up to speed. He basically ruined his practice helping me get up to speed. Joey Logano jumped in my car at New Hampshire and did a couple of laps and changed the car, and I went from 28th to 13th the next lap. I had so many people who really reached out and helped me get the experience I needed.”

Pastrana was fast, but he had issues adapting to the NASCAR experience and the rhythm of races.

“It was extremely difficult for me not growing up in NASCAR,” he said. “I come from motocross, where there’s a shorter duration. It’s everything or nothing. You make time by taking chances. In pavement racing, it’s about rear-wheel drive. You can’t carry your car. In NASCAR it’s not about taking chances. It’s about homework. It’s about team. It’s about understanding where you can go fast and be spot on your mark for three hours straight.”

MORE: Will Clash issues carry over into rest of season?

Pastrana said he didn’t venture into NASCAR with the idea of transferring his skills to stock car racing full time.

“It was all about me trying to get to the Daytona 500,” he said. “Then I looked around, when I was in the K&N Series, and saw kids like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. They were teenagers, and they already were as good or better than me.”

Now he hopes to be in the mix with Elliott, Larson and the rest of the field when the green flag falls on the 500.

He will get in some bonus laps driving for Niece Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

“For the first time, my main goal, other than qualifying for the 500, isn’t about winning,” Pastrana said. “We’ll take a win, of course, but my main goal is to finish on the lead lap and not cause any issues. I know we’ll have a strong car from 23XI, so the only way I can mess this up is to be the cause of a crash.

“I’d just love to go out and be a part of the Great American Race.”

 

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

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Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”