High school senior Sammy Smith scored the first win of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career on Saturday (March 11) at Phoenix Raceway.
Smith held off a late charge from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ryan Truex, who came home second. This win was not the result of luck, circumstance or strategy. Smith straight up outran the competition.
The Johnston, Iowa, native led 92 laps and outdueled veterans Austin Hill and Kyle Busch throughout the race. He repeatedly built up sizeable leads and fended off challenges on several restarts in the final stage.
Truex’s runner-up finish was equally impressive. Truex closed the gap in the final laps but ran out of time to get past his JGR teammate.
Sheldon Creed, Riley Herbst and Chandler Smith rounded out the top five. John Hunter Nemechek finished sixth after overcoming a restart-violation penalty and a late brush with the wall. If not for these issues, JGR may have swept the top three.
It cannot be overstated how big this victory was for Smith. The Iowa native is just 18 years old. While some other young prospects have struggled to break through for their first victory, Smith did it in his 13th start. Phoenix is a difficult track with less dependency on draft and aero, and Smith took the field to the woodshed.
Despite fellow Xfinity Series rookie and fellow Smith — Chandler — having much more overall NASCAR experience, the slightly younger Smith has made it to victory lane first. In doing so, he has taken the early edge in the battle for Rookie of the Year. He has also likely locked himself in the playoffs. Your humble author was proven right after I predicted Sammy Smith would be the first new winner this season in a Frontstretch Friday Faceoff two weeks ago.
Truex’s career has been tumultuous and full of question marks. The 30-year-old showed he can take a fast car and run up front with it on Saturday. Truex did not score any stage points but rose up the leaderboard when it mattered most.
The second-place run tied his career-best finish and was his best run since this same race in 2019, where he also finished second. Truex will get another chance to prove himself next week, once again driving the No. 19 car for JGR.
How about Herbst? A driver who seems to be in a ‘prove it or lose it’ type of year finished fourth. He beat his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer yet again…
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