By the Numbers: Zane Smith’s JRM Start Compares Well to Byron, Reddick

Ron Lemasters | 6/20/2019

Chicago News PatientPop Zane Smith

Zane Smith has run five races for JRM so far this season and there’s some historical data that says the young driver stacks up very well with a couple of former JRM drivers.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (June 20, 2019) – Zane Smith has run five races for JR Motorsports so far this season, three of them at tracks he’d never seen, let alone raced on. The recently-turned 20-year-old California driver has impressed each time out, earning a top-five finish at Iowa last week and adding a pair of top-10 runs to the total.

There’s some historical data that says Smith, an inaugural member of the Drivers Edge Development program begun this year among JR Motorsports, Chevrolet and GMS Racing, stacks up very well with a couple of drivers from the recent past at JRM.

Those would be 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion William Byron and 2018 NXS titlist Tyler Reddick.

There are differences. Both Byron and Reddick were full-time drivers, and both had driven in either the NXS or the Gander Outdoors Truck Series before assuming full-time duties with JRM. Smith is on an eight-race deal for 2019 in JRM’s No. 8 Chevrolet.

With finishes of 24th at Las Vegas, 11th at Bristol, sixth at Richmond, ninth at Dover and fifth at Iowa, Smith’s average finish for his first five races is 11.0. Reddick averaged 9.0 for his first five starts, including a victory in his first race at Daytona and three more top-10s. Byron was at 7.8 for his first five starts, logging a pair of top-five and four top-10s in that span. Chase Elliott, in his 2014 championship season, set the mark at 5.0.

That was news to Smith.

“That’s the first time I’ve heard that,” he said. “Obviously, if I could end up doing what he’s (Byron) doing right now that would be really cool. I’ve raced against William pretty much since we started and when I got on ovals. He won a lot and I won a lot. He’s putting a really good book together and it’s worked out for him. That’s what it takes to get to the top level...I look in my yard every day for four-leaf clovers, whatever it takes.”

Smith said he thinks he could have done even better had his schedule been consecutive rather than eight races designed to give him a good cross-section of tracks.

“I personally think my average finish could be better too if I got to race the thing every weekend,” he said. “That ticked me off on all the restarts at Dover and Iowa; the first 20 or 30 laps I’m pretty much knocking rust off, and then at the end I’m ready to go. I just run and then I’m ready for the next weekend...but there isn’t a next weekend. I’ve got a four-week break or something.

“The ones where I do race back-to-back are pretty cool, and that’s where I feel we run the best. Seat time is everything. That’s why you see a lot of the dirt guys being so good, because they race not only on the weekends, but all week during the week.”

He’ll get the chance to go back-to-back (in a way), as he’s scheduled to race next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. At least that’s a track he’s raced on before.

“Luckily, I’ve been to Chicago and I like that place,” Smith said. “Still, I think I’ve only been to like four 1.5-mile tracks, if that. That’s still a learning deal for me. I’m horrible in dirty air. I’m still learning as much as I can, and I try talking to my teammates because they have a lot more experience than I do and they don’t get themselves in as many bad situations as I do. I’m just trying to learn as much as possible so that when I’m their age I’m better than they are.”

Taking stock of his first five starts, Smith said that he felt Iowa was his best effort overall.

“Iowa is the best run I’ve had, and that was because I had been there before,” he said. “I had never seen Richmond or Dover or Vegas...it is super tough especially in the Xfinity Series where it seems to rain every weekend and you don’t get any practice. That just makes it that much harder, and you’re racing against pretty darn good guys who have been there for years and years.

“It’s kind of like showing up at somebody’s home track, where they race every weekend, and expecting to beat them. That’s what we signed up for, and in my racing career from the age of 3 in BMX bikes, my dad and I have just kind of sent me to the wolves to see how much better I need to be. I honestly prefer it that way, because the way I look at it, you’re only as good as who you’re racing. I’m all for having the Cup guys in the NXS cars, because when you beat them it’s that much cooler.”

Having the repeat races coming up (at Iowa, Richmond and Dover) is a bonus, Smith said.

“I get to go to these places twice, which was super-smart of Lorin Ranier, who kind of scheduled this out for me,” he said. “I didn’t know that it sounded like a good idea at first, but halfway through the year, I’m happy he decided those for me.”

Ranier is one of the top talent scouts in the industry, and he’s got a lot of experience in bringing young drivers along. He is also a big part of the Drivers Edge Development program.

For his first five races, Smith has done everything right. A late crash at Las Vegas in his first race (ironically enough, triggered by a move Reddick made in traffic) spoiled what had been a fine effort. He was 11th at Bristol, sixth at Richmond and ninth at Dover before posting his first top-five at Iowa.

“I think it could have gone a little bit better, but it’s been realistic as well,” Smith said of his opening quintet of starts. “Iowa and Dover have definitely been the best. Richmond went pretty well, but at Iowa I actually raced up there around those top guys and I feel like I learned the most from that. That’s what I’m using this year mostly for, to learn as much as I can and hopefully turn this into a full year next year.”

Comparing his foray into the NASCAR Xfinity Series to his previous experience, Smith said how close the racing is was the biggest difference.

“I guess just how close it is,” he said. “People were trying to intimidate me with how they drive, but honestly, I love the way they drive. I’m in pretty good equipment, and that made my job a little easier. I would say the competition is a little bit closer and it’s crazy how you have to get everything on restarts.

“Qualifying is so important,” he continued. “Thankfully, in the past, qualifying has been one of my strong suits, so luckily I was able to start near the front. Dover and Iowa were single-car qualifying shots, and I qualified fifth at Dover and third at Iowa. That helps a ton. It makes your day a lot easier from the start.”

Analyzing his most recent start at Iowa, Smith said he was close to bettering that fifth-place run.

“To win one of these, it just takes everything to be 110 percent, and at Iowa we were really close,” he said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road; they killed it. I think I might have asked Taylor (crew chief Taylor Moyer) to over-adjust a little bit on the final stop and that hurt us a little bit. We also couldn’t ever get a top-lane restart at Iowa and those are very important. Other than that, I just enjoy the racing.”

Smith has no shortage of ambition, as is true for most racing drivers. Still pondering how close he is to two NXS champions in their first seasons, he resolved to do Byron and Reddick one better.

“If I am able to do a full year next year, I’ll try to get my average finish in the 4s or below,” he cracked. “That would be pretty cool to top the charts in that one.”

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XFINITY Series Schedule

XFINITY Series Standings

After Ford EcoBoost 300

Homestead-Miami Speedway | 11/16/2019
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Tyler Reddick (P)40400
2Cole Custer (P)4035-5
3Christopher Bell (P)4032-8
4Justin Allgaier (P)4023-17
5Chase Briscoe #2302-1738
6Austin Cindric2294-1746
7John Hunter Nemechek #2253-1787
8Noah Gragson #2246-1794
9Michael Annett2239-1801