Zane Smith roars to NASCAR Trucks victory at Kansas Speedway. Main event awaits Sunday

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Zane Smith knew what it took to lead laps at Kansas Speedway. But that never translated into capturing the final lap ... until Saturday night.

Smith ended three years of frustration at Kansas by dominating the last 111 laps and after a tense restart, winning the Camping World Trucks Heart of America 200.

Going into Saturday, the 22-year-old Smith had led 50 laps in the 2020 spring race at Kansas and finished ninth. He led 37 laps in the fall race and finished 11th. He led 17 laps in 2019 and finished sixth.

But there was no catching Smith this time. Smith wrested the lead from Corey Heim on the 38th lap and would lead a career-best 108 of the 134 laps for his series-leading third win of the season.

“It was mine to lose,” said Smith, in his first season piloting the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford. “Those races look fun, but they really aren’t, mental-wise. “

Smith was coasting with a 5-second lead with 13 laps to go when the engine of rookie Dean Thompson’s Chevrolet blew up, forcing a late caution.

The leaders — Smith, pole-sitter John Hunter Nemechek, Ty Majeski and Chandler Smith — all decided to stay on the track for the final restart. Smith, the only driver with multiple truck wins this season, bolted quickly and beat Majeski by a comfortable 1.653 seconds.

“I feel like I should have a couple of these since I’ve been here,” Smith said, holding the distinctive Kansas Speedway trophy. “Anything in NASCAR is hard to close out. Truck races are crazy. I’ve been on both sides of it. They’re just never over … even with two to go, I thought, ‘There’s going to be a caution.’

“That late-race restart scared me a little bit; good thing we didn’t have another one, because I was stuck in fourth. I really enjoy coming to this place. I’ve been searching for a 1.5 mile win for a while now, and it seems like. I’ve had some taken from me. I thought that late-race restart was possibly going to be another one.”

Majeski, whose second-place finish in the No. 66 Toyota, was a career best, was followed by Grant Enfinger in the No. 23 Chevrolet and Chandler Smith in the No. 18 Toyota.

Smith, of Huntington Beach, Cal., not only has won three races this season, but the victories have come on three distinct tracks — Daytona’s superspeedway, Austin’s road course and Kansas’ 1.5-mile intermediate tri-oval.

Smith believes he should already have won on a 1.5-mile track but was disqualified because of an illegal lug nut during the second race of the season at Las Vegas.

“I told (crew chief) Chris Lawson after Vegas when I was pretty dejected, because we had such a good truck, but I told him, ‘If we bring what we had in Vegas, there was no reason we don’t win at Kansas.’ I’m super excited because we come here in the playoffs, and that one is even more important to win.”

Smith had an inkling it would be a good night for him during driver introductions when he had a conversation with Nemechek, who was coming off a win at Darlington.

“People were asking him, how his truck was, and they were asking me, and John Hunter said to me, he’s only worried about me, and I could say the same thing about him,” Smith said. “But you really don’t know, especially practicing in the heat of the day and racing at night.

“I feel like I’ve gotten way, way better on the 1.5 mile tracks in the past couple of years, and I enjoy going to them, and really love coming to Kansas.”

Nemechek’s opinion of Smith didn’t change after the race.

“The 38,” Nemechek said, “was the dominant truck in the race.”

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