Chandler Smith claimed the lead on pit road during the opening stage and dominated the rest of the way to win at Richmond Raceway on Saturday night, little over a week after he and his wife delivered a newborn boy, Chandler Smith Jr.
Smith triumphed off pit road under caution on lap 75, during the interval between the first and second stages of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoff, he took control of the second race.
Race dominance was taken by the first truck off pit road. The match was placed in there as Nick Leitz and Playoff driver Carson Hocevar were involved in an accident in Turn 1 that resulted in a caution as the second one happened at the second stage break, and Smith dominated the remaining 175 laps.
“Honey, this is for you…. Junior, This is for you as well. I can’t wait to get home to you guys tonight. The blessings just keep stacking up,” Smith said after his third victory of the season.
With 28 laps remaining and the lone caution for an on-track incident, Smith finished off the victory by doing what he did all night, pushing ahead of John Hunter Nemechek on the restart.
Smith joined Grant Enfinger, who won the Playoff opener at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, in advancing automatically to the second round of the Playoffs with his third victory of the year and fifth of his career.
“[Heck] of a job!” Smith exulted after crossing the finish line 2.790s ahead of runner-up and Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate John Hunter Nemechek. “This truck was really good, I’m not going to lie.”
“I’m taking this in and I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it, but I’m going to soak it in… I like how everything is going now for sure.”
It also helped that the track opened up for Smith following a first stage that was dominated by pole winner Ty Majeski, who took the lead for 73 consecutive laps after Smith did.
Majeski won the first stage by more than 4 seconds, but his jackman, Paul Steele, fell into the front of the No. 66 Toyota as he ran for the truck’s right side. Majeski applied heavy braking to avoid hitting Steele, but the error cost him two positions he was never able to reclaim.
“I saw him trip, and I slammed on the brakes so I didn’t hit him,” said Majeski, who finished third.
“He did a great job… he’s actually first-time tonight. He recovered well; really salvaged that pit stop. He rebounded and had a couple great stops. That’s what teamwork is all about.”
Smith’s pit crew was remarkable because they always got him off pit road first during all three of their stops, eliminating Nemechek’s benefit of having the first pit stall.
“I feel like the track just came to us there at the very end, especially Stage 2,” Smith thanked his crew. “My pit crew did an awesome job…but they deserve that recognition.”
“They did an amazing job, got me the lead, and we never gave it up.”
Enfinger came in fourth place driving a No. 23 Chevrolet that lacked the speed to challenge for the victory. Taylor Gray and Corey Heim, non-playoff drivers, were fifth and sixth, respectively.
Three points ahead of Hocevar, who managed to finish in 10th position but fell to ninth in the standings, Matt Crafton, a three-time series champion, finished seventh and crossed the Playoff cut line.
With just 14 points separating him and leader Zane Smith at the start of the race, defending series champion Ben Rhodes had a difficult night from the get-go. When the first stage came to a finish, Rhodes was almost lapped by Majeski. With roughly 10 laps left in the second stage, he was a lap down on Chandler Smith.
He finished 18th, two laps behind, and was the only playoff contender among the 12 to place outside the top 12.
After the upcoming race at Kansas Speedway on September 9, the bottom two drivers in the standings will be ejected from the Playoff.