Zane Smith is the defending NASCAR Truck Series champion and based on his schedule for the 2023 NASCAR season, it seems pretty likely that it will be his final full-time campaign in the sport’s division.
Let’s evaluate the 23-year-old driver’s best landing spots as a promotion is coming sooner rather than later.
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Stewart-Haas Racing hires Zane Smith to its NASCAR Xfinity Series program
Stewart-Haas Racing will have at least one open seat in the NASCAR Cup Series due to Kevin Harvick announcing his intentions to retire at the conclusion of the 2023 season. However, the organization has not been linked to Smith as Harvick’s replacement.
Josh Berry, a JR Motorsports driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, is considered the top candidate to replace the 2014 Cup Series champion in the No. 4 car next season. Despite the possibility of Berry to Stewart-Haas Racing, there could be another opening for Smith.
Aric Almirola, the driver of the No. 10 car in the Cup Series, could retire at the conclusion of the season too. Almirola came back for the 2023 season despite announcing his intentions to retire from NASCAR before the 2022 season began.
If this does happen, the organization could pull Riley Herbst or Cole Custer to replace Almirola. This would open up a spot for Smith in Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity Series program for the 2024 season.
While it would not be the best option available, it is still better than wasting another full-time season in the NASCAR Truck Series. Granted, Smith is already getting reps at NASCAR’s top level.
Related: Zane Smith wins back-to-back Truck Series races at Circuit of The Americas
Zane Smith climbs the ladder with Front Row Motorsports
Smith has run three races for Front Row Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series with four more left. Two of those races came in the No. 38 car while the other start came in the uncharted No. 36 car during the 2023 Daytona 500.
The remainder of Smith’s starts will come in the No. 38 car as the entry’s majority driver Todd Gilliland was demoted to part-time efforts with the team. Thankfully for Gilliland, he found help with Rick Ware Racing and will run a full schedule.
If Gilliland moves onto a new organization or is fully kicked out, that would give Smith the opportunity to jump in the No. 38 car on a full-time basis. The defending NASCAR Truck Series champion has not been impressive in his select starts but it is a big step to the Cup Series.
This seems like the most realistic option because Front Row Motorsports should try everything in its power to keep Smith on the team. If Smith were to depart to a different organization, they would lose out on Ford’s top NASCAR prospect.
It will be interesting to see how the situation at Front Row Motorsports develops between Smith and Gilliland; however, the best option might be the one that has been speculated the most as it represents the young driver’s best chance at success.
Related: Zane Smith wins second straight Truck Series opener
Stewart-Haas Racing signs Zane Smith to a vacant NASCAR Cup Series seat
The first shoe to drop would be Almirola retiring but it is definitely a possibility that Smith ends up with Stewart-Haas Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series. Smith was one of two names linked to the organization in a recent report and it makes sense.
The 23-year-old driver is Ford’s best prospect so it will be a priority to make sure he lands in good equipment. Stewart-Haas Racing has struggled during the 2023 season but when the team is at its peak, the cars are really fast.
Front Row Motorsports might not have a spot for Smith if they don’t add a charter, let Gilliland walk, or have the No. 34 car vacant due to Michael McDowell finding a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a driver with his background.
If so, Stewart-Haas Racing would be the only other Ford team that makes sense overall barring something surprising at Team Penske or RFK Racing. There is no way Smith will end up leaving Ford so it realistically has to be through one of those organizations.
Either way, the NASCAR Truck Series driver will have plenty of options available for the 2024 season. It will be interesting to see what Ford can come up with for Smith as he looks to make the jump to NASCAR’s top level eventually.