You might say Chandler Smith is growing up a little bit more this weekend.
Having turned 18 years old less than two weeks ago, the Talking Rock, Georgia native will compete in his first career 1.5-mile NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series race Saturday at Kentucky Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FS1). It will also be his first Truck start of 2020.
Smith, who made four Truck Series starts last season, with three top five finishes and one other top 10 showing, will be back behind the wheel of the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra once again.
“Overall I’m really excited,” Smith said in a Wednesday video conference call. “I’ve gotten a bit of (simulator) time in and my new crew chief, Danny Stockman, we’ve done a lot of studying together and the whole team feels like we’re gonna go there and we’re gonna be really hard to beat even though it’s my first time on an intermediate (track).”
Smith — who already has two wins this season in the ARCA Menards Series — is going to Kentucky to win.
“My No. 51 JBL crew has already won three races this season (including two wins by Busch),” Smith said. “So I don’t see any problem on making it a fourth win for these guys.
“They’re a very good team. Danny’s a very good crew chief, the chemistry and everything between me and the team is just as good as it was last year when I was with the 51. So I think we’re going to be really tough to beat. But I think the ultimate goal is I’m a rookie and let’s get all 150 laps in and gain experience.”
That may be easier said than done. Not only is this Smith’s first career Truck Series start on an intermediate length track, he also will take the green flag with no actual on-track practice or qualifying time.
“I’m not as nervous about it as I was before yesterday,” Smith said. “I had a meeting yesterday with Danny, my engineer and I told them I think I’m gonna be fine, the only thing to worry about is air. I mean, I’ve been struggling a lot on these bigger tracks (via the simulator) and we’ve been racing around people and getting in dirty air and getting too tight and so forth.
“They kind of helped me there and described a little more and kind of helped me with situations and finding out stuff and I think we’ll be really good now.”
Now that he’s of legal age at least in NASCAR terms to race on all sizes of tracks, Smith is ready for his career to move ahead even further.
“This opens up running for championships potentially now and actually be able to run every single racetrack,” he said. “That’s big for me because anything I’ve ever done before was short tracks, a mile tops like I ran Iowa last year, for instance. So this is gonna be big for me. I’m really excited for it.
“I have expectations for myself and I set my expectations a lot higher than other people do for myself, honestly. And I feel like that’s kind of why I am where I am today because I set those expectations and I’m going to work twice as hard to meet those expectations.
“I’m with the 51 JBL team with Kyle Busch Motorsports and that’s definitely one of the best teams out there right now in the trucks. So yes, there’s a little pressure because how much success the 51 team runs with, but I think with my getting in there and Dany working together, I think the chemistry between me and Danny … is going to be really hard to beat.”
The big boss, Kyle Busch, has also been a key influence upon Smith.
“Kyle treats me great,” Smith said. “I loaded him up with a bunch of questions about Kentucky and he was free handed and we talked for about 30 minutes. He’s a very good dude for me, always been right for me, always put a lot of trust in me and he thinks I’m worthy enough to get into the truck that he’s in. That puts a lot of relief and also pressure on me, somebody else believes in me like that.”