August 20, 2022

By Bob Pockras
FOX Sports Writer NASCAR

MADISON, Ill. – You’ve probably seen minor league videos called into the major leagues.

Well, NASCAR driver Zane Smith doesn’t have video because his call this week was so unexpected. When Smith got the call Thursday afternoon from RFK Racing driver and team co-owner Brad Keselowski, his knees nearly buckled. And he still woke up Friday trying to figure out if it was a dream.

It certainly wasn’t. On Friday, Smith rode in the No. 17 RFK Racing Cup car at World Wide Technology Raceway (known as the Gateway) replacing Chris Buescher, who will miss this weekend’s race after testing positive at the COVID-19.

Zane Smith on his opportunity to race in a Cup car

Zane Smith on his opportunity to race in a Cup car

Zane Smith said he woke up this morning realizing the opportunity he had this weekend in a Cup car was not a dream.

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“It’s obviously super cool,” Smith told Gateway on Friday. “It’s more like, ‘Man, what am I doing right now?’ Literally 10 years ago I was collecting a die cast of Brad Keselowski, and now he’s calling me to put me in his Cup car. … It’s just unreal.”

Smith has won three races in the NASCAR Truck Series (considered the Double-A in baseball) this season and is considered one of the Cup’s top prospects. He turns 23 next Thursday and had no idea when he would make his Cup debut until that phone call from Keselowski.

“My phone was ringing, and it was Brad, and I answered, and he basically asked if I wanted to make my Cup debut,” Smith said. “It’s something you’ve literally dreamed of since you were a little kid. The knees buckled and I was so happy. … It just went crazy from there.”

Smith drives a Ford for Front Row Motorsports in Trucks, but the manufacturer’s logo on the RFK Cup car is about the only thing like it.

Having never been in a Cup car for practice or testing, Smith had 30 minutes of time Friday morning in the Ford racing simulator to try and prepare for the 1.25-mile track. He was also fitted with a mold to put in Keselowski’s seat insert to help him feel safe in the car.

“It’s been so crazy 24 hours now,” Smith said. “I started my day around 5am and realized it wasn’t a dream and headed for the simulation, I had about 30 minutes of simulation in a Cup car. And then [we] made about half a mold inside Brad’s mold, and just trying to do everything we can – obviously as last minute as possible.”

Smith was 26th of 36 cars in practice Friday. He will start second in the truck race.

“I was definitely a fish out of water,” Smith said of the Cup car. “I’m probably still a fish out of water. … They’re a lot harder to ride, that’s for sure. I have so much to learn.”

Zane Smith on replacing Chris Buescher

Zane Smith on replacing Chris Buescher

Zane Smith says he had about 30 minutes of simulator time Friday in a Cup car. Less than 24 hours earlier, he says his knees gave out when Brad Keselowski called to ask him to replace him.

His goal on Sunday will be to complete all the laps and “to be as spongy as possible”.

“I’m in no position to go into that garage and get shit out of it,” he said. “I would love to. But it’s a huge opportunity they’re giving me.

He also noted that he didn’t want to “destroy the thing just because of my inexperience.

“Yeah, I’m slow right now. But you’re gonna see me on eggshells for the first time. I don’t want to be that guy.”

Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the last 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 after stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR newsletter with Bob Pockrass!

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