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NASCAR Trucks at Martinsville: Zane Smith wins to claim a spot in the final four

Martinsville, VA, Oct 30/21 (GRW): Zane Smith took the final restart in overtime on the second row behind Todd Gilliland and Stewart Friesen but after they tangled, Smith emerged as the race winner and he qualified thereby for the transfer to the shootout finale at Phoenix next week.

The other three finalists will be Ben Rhodes, Matt Crafton and John Hunter Nemechek, while Sheldon Creed, Friesen, Chandler Smith and Carson Hocevar were eliminated from the final playoff shootout race. Of the four finalists, the one who finishes highest next week at Phoenix will be declared the champion.

Nothing against Smith, but how does he deserve to have a shot at the big championship trophy when Sheldon Creed had won three times so far this year. Or how about Nemechek, who won five times already, and who barely squeaked into the final four. In my book, the process that declares the ‘regular season’ champion is a far more fair way to determine who deserves to be the year’s champion. Of course, that would be Nemechek largely on the strength of his five wins so far.

If there was a story line to this race, it was that the 200-lap race, which went into overtime, was a mish-mash cut up by no fewer than 14 cautions.

Todd Gilliland, who was not one of the eight playoff-eligible drivers here, started on the front row and he won both of the first two Stages. It looked like he had a lock on the race win. He led the most laps, 133 out of 200 but things fell apart late in the final 100-lap Stage.

Zane Smith started the final Stage at the front alongside Hocevar and the two traded the lead back and forth for most of this 100-lap Stage. On lap 174, Gilliland regained the lead coming off the race’s 11th caution – ahead of Hocevar and Stewart Friesen who h ad been running father back in the top ten up to then.

Anther quick caution and it was Gilliland and Friesen lined up in the front row for the restart – and they ran this way until the next caution – and the one after that.

Now the race was going into overtime and Friesen chose to take the high side above race leader Gilliand for the shootout. This did not work out well for either of them, Gilliand spun and Friesen was involved. Both fell back in the field, leaving it to Zane Smith to take the checker and win a transfer to the final race. Creed, was also in trouble; he managed to work his way up to a ninth-place finish but that was not quite good enough to qualify for the final championship four.

Needless to say, given the number of cautions and the high playoff elimination stakes, there were a number of arguments among the drivers after the race ended. No wonder drivers where upset, drivers who had performed in championship style the whole season were now being eliminated by a chance accident in this second-last race. Does a sustained body of work over the whole of the season count for nothing?

Zane Smith was in the spirit of the no-holds-barred elimination race, “I’m looking for a job right now. I have nothing, so it’s a good day.

As for next week’s shootout to determine the series champion, Smith said, “I’ll do whatever it takes to win the damn thing.”

Regular season champion Nemechek survived a hard wreck on lap 130 after Austin Wayne Self hooked him on the backstretch and turned the No. 4 Toyota hard into the outside wall. Nemechek and Crafton made the final four by four points, joining Smith and Ben Rhodes in next Friday’s championship 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,” said Nemechek, who had bumped Self’s Chevrolet in Turn 1 moments before the wreck. NASCAR should definitely look at that. It’s Playoff contention. You’ve got to have respect and he doesn’t. It is what it is. Hopefully we make it to the final four and we definitely will have something for them in Phoenix…

“My motto coming into this was ‘survive and advance.’ We didn’t survive, but we advanced.”

Next week’s NCWTS race will be run at Phoenix on Friday November 5th. This race will be the season finale and it will determine the Truck Series Champion.

• Click HERE for the Race Results

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