It is not the way he would have liked it to happen, but Zane Smith is set to make his NASCAR Cup Series début. Due to Chris Buescher testing positive for COVID-19, Smith has been tapped to drive the #17 RFK Racing Ford Mustang in Sunday’s race at Word Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
Buescher is the first driver of 2022 to skip races for positive tests, a fate that previously claimed fellow Cup peers Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, and Justin Haley. The news adds to what had been a rough week for Buescher, whose Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday ended with a wild roll through the infield grass that resulted in a red flag, though he was unharmed. He is currently twenty-first in the standings with three top tens and a pole at Dover, though his points position will certainly drop as only eight points separate twenty-first through twenty-fourth (Michael McDowell, who sits twenty-second, is just one point back while Bubba Wallace is three behind and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. eight).
Buescher tweeted on Friday, “Getting some rest today. Thanks everyone for the well wishes. @zanesmith77 I’ve seen your success in trucks this year, the 17 is in good hands”.
While the Camping World Truck Series is a level below the Xfinity Series, RFK turns to Smith as the Trucks are supporting Cup at Gateway while Xfinity is in Portland. In spite of Smith’s lack of Cup experience, he is easily the top choice among the three full-time Ford Truck drivers as the only one with a win in 2022 (three, in fact; he is the only driver so far with multiple victories this year) and is third in points. He has also placed runner-up in the championship in two straight years.
In three career Truck starts at Gateway, Smith has two top tens and a best finish of fifth in 2018.
“First off, I hope Chris has a fast recovery. I can’t help but be excited and reflect on how lucky for this opportunity,” said Smith. “There’s been countless times where I thought my career was coming to an end and I didn’t know what was next. All I’ve ever wanted to do was race on Sundays.
“To do it for a team like RFK is unbelievable. I can’t thank Bob Jenkins, Front Row Motorsports and everyone who’s helped get me to this point in my career. Brad Keselowski, Ford, and RFK, I hope to make the most out of this opportunity.”